As the Point Jimmy experiment has evolved from a cute idea to “this is how the Bulls should play all the time,” the Bulls have struggled to find a second guard to play alongside Butler who compliments his strengths and fills in the gaps. Butler is most dangerous with the ball in his hands and an uncluttered path to the rim in front of him. Paired alongside Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo, non-shooters who need the ball in order to impact the offense, Butler is unable to realize his best self.
The ideal backcourt mate for Jimmy is a Patrick Beverly type: someone with a point guard body but a shooting guard skill set, who can space the floor and help the offense without the ball in his hand, and defend opposing point guards.
Patrick Beverly types don’t grow on trees. Just ask the Milwaukee Bucks, who last summer shelled out $38 million for Matthew Dellavedova as their answer to the question of who should play alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. And the Bulls front office, bless them, did not seem to realize that this type of player is something they need to build a contending roster around Butler.
But, in classic Bulls fashion, the team may have lucked into acquiring just this type of player in exchange for Derrick Rose last summer. Jerian Grant, recently added to the Bulls starting lineup, has taken huge strides in his second NBA season as a shooter, and may be developing into an ideal off ball guard to compliment Butler.
Grant’s three point percentage has improved each month this season, from a lowly 23.5% in November all the way up to a scorching 50% on 18 attempts in February. While his overall percentage is still a tick below the league average (typically about 36%), it represents a huge boost for Grant from a rookie season where he made just 22 of his 100 three point attempts. Grant, who’s already taken 92 threes this season, is on a particularly hot shooting streak that hopefully is related to a growth in his comfort level within Fred Hoiberg’s offense.
Grant, like most NBA players, has been most effective shooting from the corners than from deeper parts of the court. Grant is connecting on 41.6% of his corner three point attempts, compared to just 32.8% from above the break, per NBA.com. However, 67 of Grants three point attempts have come from above the break, and a rejiggering of his shot locations could lead to further improvements in his overall percentage.
Planting your point guard in the corner could lead to easy transition baskets for the other team, but Chicago’s elite offensive rebounding ability forces teams to dedicate more resources to securing missed shots and slows down the fastbreak attack.
Grant has benefited from the attention Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade garner from the defense. Of the two threes a game Grant shoots on average, 75% of them are either “open” or “wide open” according to NBA.com. A similar ratio of Grant’s three point attempts are in catch and shoot situations. Grant does not have the quickest release on his shot:
But playing with Butler and Wade gives Grant the luxury of having an extra beat to get his shot off as his man scrambles back to contest after initially worrying about slowing down a drive.
Should Grant further improve his three point making ability, perhaps defenders will be less willing to leave him alone in the first place, and give Butler or Wade some extra space to penetrate the defense.
The Bulls thought they were adding another pick and roll threat when they traded for Grant last June. But Grant, who spent four years running spread pick and roll at Notre Dame, has struggled mightily in that position this season. On the 42 possessions he has finished as the pick and roll ball handler, Grant is averaging .6 points per possession, and is turning the ball over 21% of the time. Grant has not displayed the quickness or dribbling skills necessary to break down the defense. It seems as though the struggles of his rookie season go beyond being forced to play in the unfamiliar triangle.
But if Grant’s newfound competency from beyond the arc proves to be real (a HUGE ‘if’, by the way, as Grant was a 34% three point shooter in college and just 79% from the line) the Bulls may have found a long term solution at point guard to play alongside Jimmy.