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.