Jerami Grant is the key to the Thunders' recent success

Last week, ESPN writer Zach Lowe published his 'ten things I like and don't like' piece, a weekly must-read for any NBA fan, and made mention of "Jerami Grant, rounding out the Thunder". Which made me think, how much better has Grant made the Thunder since entering the starting lineup?

Entering the 2018 NBA offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder had a ton of question marks. They found answers by resigning all-star Paul George, adding a promising young defensive big man in Nerlens Noel, and inking Jerami Grant to a three year/$27million deal.

There was no doubt that Thunder owned the NBA offseason, with even USA Today grading the Thunder's offseason moves as an "A". Questions still remained though, as many didn't know how far the Thunder's new starting power forward Jerami Grant would develop.

After a 0-3 start, coach Billy Donovan inserted Jerami Grant into the Thunder's line up for Patrick Patterson, and in the words of the popular rapper Drake: "nothing was the same". Since adding the fifth-year man out of Syracuse into the starting lineup, thus increasing his usage and minutes, the Thunder have a record of 16-5 while climbing to atop of the league in defensive rating (101.4 Defensive Rating).

Much of the Thunder's success over their last 20 some-odd games has obviously been on the defensive end of the floor, but also has a lot to do with Grant's ability to stretch the floor on the offensive end.

Prior to this season, Grant posted a 30.1 3P%, not great for a small forward in today's NBA. As the game has shifted, this has moved Grant's position to power forward and has made it imperative that Grant learns to shoot threes at a more efficient clip.

This year, Grant is shooting the three at a 37.8% clip while attempting 3.2 threes per game. Both of these are the highest numbers in his five-year career. 48.8% of Jerami's three-point attempts come from the corner and he's drilling them at a 37.5 percentage, up from 27.3% last season (and he's making them at crucial moments of games). No shot was bigger than this recent one in the fourth quarter on December fifth against the Brooklyn Nets.

Not only has Grant's shooting improved, but also his ability to get to the rim and finish off alley-oops. The Thunder's ball movement has been much more successful this season, as it seems that everyone has fit into their roles much better. The absence of Carmelo Anthony, the increased role of Jerami Grant, and the addition of Dennis Schröder have all made the Thunder more effective on both ends of the floor. Grant has scored in double-figures in 19 out of the Thunder's last 22 games.

Grant's newfound ability to be a reliable three-point shooter has given the Thunder a much-needed boost on the offensive end, as they currently rank in the middle of the pack (16th) in offensive rating out of all NBA teams. His offensive effort has helped skyrocket the Thunder into the top of the Western Conference standings and into the conversation of teams that could possibly knock off the Golden State Warriors in this year's NBA playoffs.

The Houston Rockets nearly beat the Warriors in the 2017-18 NBA playoffs and they did it through defense, holding Warriors to under 95 points in pivotal Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder's recipe to beating the Warriors is going to have to come on the defensive end of the floor, as it's nearly impossible to try and only outscore the Warriors' ferocious offensive output.

Jerami Grant is not only helping the Thunder's offense, but is also boosting their defensive abilities. One of the most incredible stats in boosting Grant's defensive output is the fact that he's never posted a negative defensive box plus/minus in any of his years in the NBA. Last season, Grant's DPBM was a 0.2 and this season it's a 2.1 according to basketball-reference, a major improvement.

Grant's ability to block shots and steal the basketball (2.0 combined steal & blocks per game this season) has helped the Thunder get out in transition and turn defense into easy buckets. The length of Grant and Noel on the floor has been a nightmare for opposing offenses. When both of those guys are on the floor together, a total of 99 minutes this season, the Thunder have posted a 90.2 defensive rating, making that one of the best two-man lineup combinations for the Thunder's defense.

Making an impact on both ends of the floor has sewn up any doubts that critics of the Jerami Grant signing may have had, and has bolstered the Thunder's chances of competing among the best teams in the difficult Western Conference.

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