Jerian Grant: Opening Night starter?


It’s tough to take anything away from preseason play.

Teams aren’t at 100% strength and there’s no urgency for either side. Some teams, like Indiana, are making major adjustments with their offense and rotation. Others, like Cleveland, are without several of their top players, resulting in increased playing time for ancillary players. Because of that, it’s tough to make any declaration based on preseason play.

But I found myself thinking about two things, based on the play I’ve seen. The first was how good Kristaps Porzingis looked. There are things he’ll have to work on, but the 7-foot-2 (I refuse to call him 7-foot-3) forward showed a bit of everything for Knicks fans to dream on. He can shoot, but he’s mobile, he sets good screens and his length will be a factor on the defensive end.

If he puts it all together, the Knicks are going to have an excellent, two-way center in the very near future.

The second is that the Knicks might have a starting point guard and his name is Jerian Grant. His stats won’t blow you away (8.0 points, 3.0 assists, 2.2 rebounds, 26.3% shooting), but the way he plays on both sides of the ball and his overall mannerisms on the floor just resemble that of a starting point guard.

Last season for Notre Dame, Grant was the lead man for one of the nation’s best offenses. According to Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency statistic, the Fighting Irish were the second best offense in all of college basketball, ranking only behind Wisconsin. Part of that had to do with Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey and his intricate offensive sets, but Grant and his ability to run it, was crucial to the team’s success.

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Grant finished his career as a member of the Irish with a great season, leading Notre Dame to the elite eight and earning the title of first team All-American. Grant averaged 16.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists with a 59.2 true shooting percentage, en route to becoming a first round pick. On draft day, the Hawks and Wizards completed a draft day trade, but the Knicks swooped in and ended up with the senior guard.

Now, he might be the best point guard option the Knicks have on the roster.

The Knicks have a couple of players vying for the point guard job in Grant, Langston Galloway and Jose Calderon. Galloway, at this stage of his career, looks more and more like he’d thrive off of the ball, rather than a playmaker. As for Calderon, I’ve been adamant in believing the addition of actual NBA players would result in his renaissance, but with zero defenders on the wing, he’s only adding to the problem.

Grant provides a steady dose of the playmaking and ability to run the offense that Calderon provides, while being a stout defender at the point guard position.

Against Bauru and Washington, his statistics didn’t flash off the score sheet, just eight points and four assists in his first game and eight points and two assists against the Wizards. He looked like a rookie at points – perhaps over-dribbling a bit offensively and his defense, while solid, could use some refinement, as he is jumpy on occasion. Both are small quirks any wing player can adjust with time.

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Despite the small concerns, Grant looked like he was a classic pick-and-roll guard in his two preseason games. He ran some excellent plays, both in the pick-and roll, and also finding the open man, resulting in a handful of baskets for Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn. He made some great play in the team’s half-court sets and in transition, showing the ability to change gears on multiple occasions.

Offensively, you see what makes him a solid player. He’s capable of shooting the ball, but it’s ability to penetrate a defense that’s vital for the Knicks. Last season, the Knicks finished in the league in drives, part of it by design, but most of the Knicks’ deficiencies last year came from the fact that they had no one who could attack the rim.

From glances, he looks like he could become something from the Jrue Holiday phylum – an explosive, two-way guard who can score inside and outside, while understanding when it’s time to operate the offense and get others involved. The only difference is that Grant seems more capable of getting to the free throw line, whereas Holiday has always struggled in that aspect.

During draft day, the Knicks made the trade, giving up a struggling Tim Hardaway Jr. to Atlanta for Grant’s draft rights. Now, after impressing in summer league, training camp and in the first two preseason games, Knicks head coach Derek Fisher will have to consider starting Grant on opening night.

He at least earned that.