'Same dude': The Thunder played a large in Jerami Grant's NBA development
DENVER — Jerami Grant smiled sheepishly as he returned to his locker from the cold tub. He apologized for taking so long after the Nuggets game Thursday. But it was no surprise — he had never been among the first out of the locker room in OKC either.
“I’m the same,” he said. “I’m the same dude.”
The same dude whose length, athleticism, defensive prowess and offensive versatility made him a prototype of Thunder player development. And now, OKC has to prepare to face those qualities, heading into Saturday's game at Denver.
“Oof, we know that, we know what he brings,” Thunder center Nerlens Noel said after practice Friday. “It’s a whole different facet to the game that he can bring. With his switching ability, with his stretching-the-floor ability, his IQ of the game. He’s always taking good shots, making the right plays.”
So, why did the Thunder trade Grant for a 2020 first-round draft pick this summer?
That trade cut expenses and added to the Thunder’s already expansive draft capital as OKC changed course and charted its way toward a rebuild.
After years of the Thunder spending like a large market team, in order to keep its championship hopes alive, the Grant trade drove home something even OKC granting Paul George’s trade request didn’t. Thunder fans had to come to terms with the fact that their team's championship window had closed.
At Nuggets Media Day, Grant compared being traded to getting “out of a sinking ship.” But he clarified to The Oklahoman on Thursday that he didn’t mean any offense by his comments.
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“To lose two superstars in one year,” he said, referring to George and Russell Westbrook, “it would have been a tough year.”
Grant went from a team without championship hopes to one that remains among the top five in the Western Conference, despite a recent three-game losing streak.
As for Grant’s skillset, “I think it fits mightily (with Denver),” said Noel, who has known Grant since high school and played with him in both Philadelphia and OKC. “I think it’s what they were missing.”
OKC helped mold Grant into a player the Nuggets coveted. He spent three seasons with the Thunder, from Years 3 through 5 in the NBA. He played everything from small forward, to power forward, to small-ball center.
“I got a lot better in Oklahoma City,” Grant said. “Whether it was my shooting, ability to read the game, slow things down, driving, staying on balance, things like that, just a lot. … I definitely think it helped me to get to where I am.”
Just before Denver’s 114-99 win over Portland on Thursday, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Grant’s transition onto the team had been “solid” overall. Grant proceeded to prove Malone right. He knocked down five 3-pointers on his way to 20 points off the bench.
“He’s a hard worker,” Nuggets forward Paul Millsap said, “and a guy like that, you want to see him make shots. To see that, it was a proud moment.”
After the game, Grant wrapped an arm around Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony, and the two caught up at half-court.
“He was just telling me, keep playing, keep going,” Grant said.
Their teammates headed for the tunnels, but Grant and Anthony remained. Two reminders of a past era of Thunder basketball, parked next to the Nuggets logo.
Different jerseys. Different cities. Same dudes.