76ers’ Jerami Grant using late nights to become most-improved rookie

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BOSTON – After many home games, 76ers rookie Jerami Grant goes about 15 north to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

There, he uses his key (or sometimes the help of a security guard) to access the locker room and gym the team uses for practice. He works on whatever skills failed him during that night’s game. Sometimes, he bumps into coaches reviewing film, but this work – which has lasted until 1:15 a.m. – largely occurs alone.

“It helps me think,” Grant said. “It allows me to think of what I need to do.”

If it sounds as if Grant’s mind is constantly on improving as a basketball player… so do the results.

Grant – the No. 39 pick – has probably progressed more than any other 2014 draft pick since last season. The forward has gone from second rounder to possible All-Rookie second teamer.

Sure, those gains might seem modest. But on a tanking 76ers team that has traded all is best players the last two years, Grant shines as a bright piece for the future.

Nerlens Noel deservedly gets plenty of attention for his production since the All-Star break (12.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.4 steals per game). Grant’s season numbers (6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 19.8 minutes per game) are comparatively weaker, but don’t overlook Grant.

“He’s been as big a story as Nerlens has,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.

Grant sprained his ankle early in training camp, missed the entire preseason and the first 15 games of the regular season.

Brown told him most rookies in that position wouldn’t get an opportunity until after the All-Star break. But the coach also assured Grant he’d get his chance immediately when healthy.

Deep down, though, Brown believe Grant would be too far behind to earn playing time.

“I really thought I wasn’t going to see much of him during the course of a year,” Brown said.

Grant doesn’t mind the mixed message.

“I guess he just tried to give me as much confidence as he could by telling me that,” Grant said. “Just him giving me the confidence actually helped me to go forward.”

Grant doesn’t mind the words of his previous coach, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, either. Boeheim, completely misrepresenting the facts, said Grant wasn’t ready for the NBA.

“I was going to prove him wrong – just like everybody else,” Grant said. “I’ve been proving people wrong my whole life. It’s just another person that I had to prove wrong.”

Did Boeheim give him any second thoughts about turning pro?

“Not at all,” said Grant, the son of Harvey Grant and nephew of Horace Grant. “I know my work ethic. I know how talented I am.”

Both traits have shown.

After not making a single 3-pointer during his sophomore year at Syracuse (0-for-5), Grant is shooting 36.1 percent (39-for-108) in the NBA. He’s learning defensive positioning while guarding everyone from point guards to power forward, using his 7-foot-2 wingspan to hound his man and contest shots.

Grant, a 6-foot-8 combo forward, is one of just three players – with Serge Ibaka and Danny Green – who’s shooting at least 35 percent on 3-pointers (minimum 100 attempts) and blocking at least a shot per game.

Brown sees Grant’s versatility, length and broad shoulders and compares him to Kawhi Leonard.

“He’s way beyond what I expected him to be at this stage,” Brown said.

Jason Richardson, Philadelphia’s oldest player, also gushes about Grant.

“Jerami could be really special in this league,” Richardson without even being asked about the rookie.

For now, Grant is focused on improving. He signed a four-year contract before the season, eschewing the one-year route of former teammate K.J. McDaniels. Grant enjoys the 76ers’ emphasis on player development, and he has the freedom to augment it with his own workouts without worrying about burning himself out before meaningful games.

Grant says he’s comfortable in Philadelphia, where he has proven he can grow.

“It’s an ideal situation for a young guy like me,” Grant said.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.