No fans booed or cried in disappointment when the Knicks traded for Jerian Grant on draft night. The belief was that they had found their point guard of the near future, one with some pretty impressive genes.
Grant has shown flashes, albeit few, of what made him a standout guard at Notre Dame. Not enough for him to get consistent minutes in Derek Fisher’s rotation, or stop the Knicks from pursuing established veteran point guards in trades or free agency.
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This is nothing new. Looking for and needing that difference-making point guard predates the current Knicks regime by many years.
Knicks fans will be reminded of what could have been Sunday night when NBA MVP Stephen Curry visits the Garden. The Warriors took Curry seventh in the 2009 draft. The Knicks went next and selected Jordan Hill.
But Grant, who has a quiet confidence, believes he eventually will show that he can be a quick, penetrating guard who can impact the game on both ends of the court, just what the Knicks need.
“It gives me extra motivation,” Grant said. “I’m here. I’m here right now. I can get better and I’m going to get better. That’s why I’m putting in the work, putting in the time, because I know there’s a great opportunity here.
“I want to be that guy and I think I can be that guy. It’s just going to take a lot of work.”
Good genes, work ethic
Grant, 23, was considered further along than Kristaps Porzingis. When Porzingis was picked fourth, fans were upset, but he has changed their feelings.
The fans probably want Grant to play ahead of Jose Calderon, but Fisher has relied on the veteran because of his experience, savvy and ability to run a team.
Calderon has helped mentor Grant, who was acquired for Tim Hardaway Jr., and Grant is a grinder. Fisher says he is in the gym two hours before practice shooting and working to improve. That’s Grant’s way.
The son of 6-8 Harvey Grant and nephew of 6-10 Horace Grant, who had 11- and 17-year NBA careers, respectively, Jerian grew up in NBA locker rooms, practice facilities and arenas. As a ballboy for the then-Washington Bullets, he watched players go from seldom-used to valuable.
“I’ve seen a lot of players in Washington grow and grow and get better and better,” Grant said. “It came from a lot of hard work. Being around my dad and my uncle and basketball so long, you see how long it takes some guys to develop. You see how some guys get a lot better each year.”
Rod Strickland was Grant’s favorite player to watch. Grant noticed how Strickland attacked the basket and got others involved. That’s what Grant did in college.
“Jerian’s a guy who’s going to make his teammates better,” said Trail Blazers rookie Pat Connaughton, who played with Grant for four years at Notre Dame.
At 6-4, Grant can guard both backcourt positions. He’s not a great shooter, but he was a very good pick-and-roll player for the Irish. Grant could read defenses, get to the basket or drive and kick to open shooters.
The point guard position is the toughest to play, especially for a rookie. Grant is adjusting to the speed of the NBA game, facing better players and learning the intricate triangle offense.
He’s averaging 5.0 points and 2.5 assists and shooting 35.0 percent in 16.3 minutes. Grant has had 11 zero-assist games and no points 10 times. He has played less than 10 minutes seven times and didn’t play in three games.
Grant played extremely well Jan. 12, finishing with 16 points, eight assists and no turnovers to help the Knicks beat Boston. But it wasn’t the breakout game everyone hoped it would be. He totaled six points and six assists in the next four games. In the five games since, Grant has averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 assists, and that included a zero-point, one-assist night.
These ups and downs are what Harvey Grant calls “typical rookie growing pains.” But Jerian’s college experience helped ready him for what he’s facing now.
Notre Dame experience helps
Grant was redshirted as a freshman and left the team during his junior year because of an academic issue, but he was one of the top point guards in the country his senior year. He helped lead the Fighting Irish to their first ACC Tournament title and the Elite Eight, where they lost to Kentucky by two points.
Now Grant’s fluctuating minutes make him work even harder.
“I look back on when I was struggling or when I wasn’t playing,” Grant said. “How did I get back on that top, top level? It was staying in the gym. That’s what helps me to realize I’m going to get there as long as I keep putting in the work.
“I’m a player that gets better every year. I’ve proven that. With my work ethic, I’m going to get better.”
Mike Brey has no doubt about that. The Notre Dame coach keeps tabs on Grant. Brey calls occasionally and sends Grant text messages, telling him what he sees and giving him advice.
Brey has noticed Grant looking “back on his heels” and passing up shots. But Brey said Grant will work through it and prove that he can run the Knicks.
“He’s not a 19-year-old rookie,” Brey said. “He’s had tough stuff happen to him in college. That’s to the Knicks’ advantage, that when he’s banged up, he’s not playing well or there on his [butt], he just comes back and works because he’s older.
“He’s got a brilliant basketball mind. He’ll get better and better. There’s just so much good stuff there. He’s a big-picture guy and a long-term guy. I think he’s mentally tough enough to figure it out. He’s like a fine wine. It’s going to take some time; just let him figure it out.”
All in the family
Harvey Grant played forward for Washington, Portland and Philadelphia during his 11 NBA seasons. He has two sons in the league. Jerami, 21, who is 6-8, plays for the 76ers.
They’re experiencing different kinds of struggles. Jerami plays more than his brother does, but Philadelphia is 25-104 since he joined them.
Harvey’s advice to both sons: Keep working, be patient and things will change.
Harvey believes Jerian is handling it well. “He knows it’s a privilege to be in the NBA,” he said. “There’s probably 10 million guys who want his job. The type of guy he is, he’s going to keep working until that door is open. His love for the game is second to none.”
Fisher agrees that Grant is handling himself well but noted that “his facial expressions don’t really change,” so he can’t tell what Grant is feeling.
Fisher just wants to see Grant have the same energy every game and continue to show he can make good decisions and play solid defense. That’s how he will get consistent minutes.
“He has all the tools necessary to be a good player for us going forward,” Fisher said. “We like a lot of things about him. Even with his struggles and sometimes his performance may not be there, we still believe in him. We’re still invested in him. He’s invested in himself. We like his future.”