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Questions Surround Jerami Grant’s Inaugural Trail Blazers Season

The Blazers are banking on a big acquisition, but for what?

2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers are playing their hearts out in Santa Barbara, California this week in their annual Training Camp. Optimism reigns as the start of the season approaches, with a new lineup and new potential configurations breathing life into what had become a fairly stale roster.

That same sense of newness also opens up questions for the Blazers that simply didn’t exist for the last decade when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum remained pillars of constancy.

Over the next couple weeks, we’re going to examine some of those questions, particularly ones highlighted as important by Blazer’s Edge staff and readers.

Yesterday we asked how Lillard would fare following abdominal surgery and his 32nd birthday. Having inquired about the most important returning player on the roster, we now move to the most important addition: starting power forward Jerami Grant.

Acquiring Grant was Portand’s biggest move of the off-season. They purchased him from the Detroit Pistons for a 2025 first-round draft pick originally owned by the Milwaukee Bucks. That’s a low price for a starting forward, particularly one with Grant’s accomplishments.

The eight-year NBA veteran averaged 19.2 points per game last season, down from 22.3 the year prior. He added 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 31.9 minutes per game, all starts. Grant gives the Blazers a fifth player capable of scoring 20 in any given contest, joining Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, and Jusuf Nurkic.

Grant also plays defense. He’s not an All-NBA defender, but he’s been on the cusp for several seasons. At his best, he’s active and mobile. His combination of defense and scoring was enough to earn him a spot on the 2020 Team USA gold medal Olympics team alongside Lillard.

Why was Grant available for a relative pittance? His contract status was the major factor. His deal expires at the end of the current season. Detroit had no guarantee that he’d stay after the last check cleared. Indeed, they had some assurance he wouldn’t. Once that knowledge became semi-public, his trade value dipped.

Even when playing to his strengths, Grant falls in the “good, not great” category. His defense is solid, occasionally inspired, but hasn’t been game-changing for any of the four franchises he’s suited up with so far. Increased offensive production has been accompanied by plummeting shooting percentages. Grant shot 42.6% from the field last season, 35.8% from the three-point arc. Those are well off his 53.5% and 38.9% career highs, respectively. Grant’s conversion to near-#1 option status came at a cost.

Traditionally, players who have joined Lillard (and, once upon a time, McCollum) got a boost to shooting percentages, as attention drawn by the guards left secondary shots open. Grant may be able to take advantage of the new Lillard-Simons backcourt to similar effect.

But that same newness will require a reshuffling at the formerly most-stable positions in Portland’s rotation. Simons and Lillard have things to work out. Nurkic has tenure and also likes to be a major part of the offense. Hart can’t be ignored, and the buzz out of training camp has rookie lottery pick Shaedon Sharpe opening eyes. The same lineup depth bolstered by Grant’s addition also makes his place less evident. He won’t be the first option in Portland’s offense. He might not even be the second, certainly not clearly.

If you dial down Grant’s offensive production, what’s left? The defense is still good, but he’s not a pure shooter, nor a good rebounder. He’s flexible and versatile enough to play with multiple lineups, but turnips are versatile enough to be included in many dishes too. That doesn’t mean you’d want them in a featured role. Versatility alone does not a supper make.

Grant is better than a turnip, but we still don’t know how close to his peak he’ll get and, just as crucially, how much he’ll be able to show it. He cannot take a back seat in a contract year. The front seats are already occupied. He hasn’t been able to carve out a unique, singular spot in any of his previous stops. And he’s about to get really expensive.

These questions aren’t unusual for a new starter coming into a system when said starter isn’t a star. But recall how we started this article. Grant is Portland’s big, difference-making acquisition for the year. If this is going to work for all parties involved, he’s going to need to start providing answers soon.