Despite the ceremonious rise of Chicago Bulls point guard Kris Dunn from Tom Thibodeau’s scrap heap to stat-sheet stuffer, third-year point guard Jerian Grant has still averaged 20.1 minutes per game. However, it just doesn’t feel like he plays that much or has much of an impact because we unconsciously pay more attention when Dunn is out there than when Grant is running the show. Plus, with the Bash Brothers (Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis) playing so well, Lauri Markkanen playing better, and David Nwaba doing things it’s easy to lose Grant in the shuffle.
But last night in the Bulls 119-107 win against the Indiana Pacers, Grant forced fans to pay attention with his best performance of the season.
Informed minutes before tipoff that he’d be the starter with Dunn sitting due to left knee tendonitis, Grant responded with a career-high 12 assists to go along with seven rebounds and 11 points on 4-for-9 from the field (3-for-6 from behind the 3-point line). He was a +5 in 33 minutes.
.@JerianGrant played a key role in last night's win, recording a career high with 12 assists.— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 30, 2017
Hear what he had to say in BullsTV's Inside the Locker Room, brought to you by @CinkciarzPL: pic.twitter.com/ThAGNQfCXq
Grant takes some criticism for his assists piling up due to ‘easy’ passes instead of attacking and playmaking, but the results speak for themselves. This season, he’s averaged 5.1 assists per game (the highest of his career by far) and is tied for 23rd in the NBA in this category. Per 36 minutes, he averages 8.0 assists which is 17th in the NBA.
Plus, the offense is simply better when he’s out there. In 748 total minutes this season, the Bulls offensive rating has been nearly five points higher with Grant in the game than when he has been on the bench.
After a disastrous shooting start to the season (22.2 percent through the first 15 games), Grant has also begun to pick up his 3-point shooting. Since taking over the reigns of the second unit on Nov. 21, he’s shooting it 42.9 percent from beyond the 3-point line (over a 20 percent improvement).
The return of Mirotic, and having him and Portis on the second unit to spread the floor and create open shots for everybody else has probably helped Grant rediscover his shooting stroke. Since Mirotic’s return on Dec. 8, nearly 75 percent of Grant’s shots have classified as “open” or “wide open” according to NBA.com.
The two-man lineup of Grant and Mirotic has been good for +18.4 points per 100 possessions and Grant combined with Portis has only been -3.8 points per 100 possessions worse than an average lineup. I say “only” because Grant is an average of -8.4 points per 100 possession worse than average in two man lineups with Justin Holiday, Markkanen, Robin Lopez, and Denzel Valentine (guys who have started consistently this season.
In contrast, a five-man lineup of Grant, Nwaba, Portis, Mirotic, and Paul Zipser (a fairly prototypical second group since Mirotic returned) has been worth 7.5 points more per 100 possessions and has a 4.9 net rating in 78 minutes together this season.
After being dismissed as a non-NBA level talent after struggling in his minutes as starter for the Bulls earlier this season, Grant has quietly eased very nicely into his role as the Bulls second unit point guard. Per The Athletic writer Darnell Mayberry.
“I really think he’s tried his game around since moving into a new role,” Hoiberg said of Grant. “He’s played key minutes for us and made big shots.”
Obviously, Grant still has his flaws. The Bulls are 5.1 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Grant sits than when he is in the game, and Darren Collison put up 30 points last night. Also, Grant still habitually over-dribbles aimlessly, getting into the air on drives without a plan which leads to bad turnovers (however, an unscientific eye test suggests he’s improved both these flaws recently).
Regardless, Grant has defaulted to others on offense which is what you want when a red-hot Mirotic is on the second unit. If Grant continues to do that while keeping up his own hot 3-point shooting he should be able to carve a role for himself in an offense predicated on 3-point shooting and ball distribution.