Rajon Rondo probably isn’t going to play another game for the Chicago Bulls, which is fine considering how mediocre the team has been with him at the helm. But his benching and likely eventual trade or release means Chicago has to find a replacement at the point guard position.
Jerian Grant, one of the players acquired in the Derrick Rose trade this past summer, has been given more playing time than usual over the course of the last week, perhaps as a way to test if he could be a short-term (or even long-term) solution there.
In his last three games, Grant has averaged 21.7 minutes per game, up significantly from his season average of 14 minutes. While his stats haven’t necessarily gone up with the added floor time, he absolutely is aware that this is his time to make a lasting impression with the coaching staff and front office.
“This definitely is my shot,” Grant told kBaBasketball. “Hopefully we’ll get some more wins and it will be better. To be able to be out there these past three games playing consistent minutes is fun.”
More than that, though, it has allowed Grant to begin developing more of an everyday routine rather than stepping into the arena every night unsure if he’ll play three minutes or 23 minutes.
“It can be really difficult. It definitely is [difficult] with the inconsistency of minutes,” Grant said. “You’ve got to be ready whenever they’re going to come. I was inactive the first four games of the season, and then three games later I was starting, so you’ve just got to be ready. And when your opportunity comes, you show them what you can do. It’s tough, but it’s part of the NBA.”
Grant experienced some similar issues during his rookie season in New York, where he was asked to play in an offense he knew very little about. The Triangle has vexed many players before Grant, but for a rookie playing in it for the first time, the system can be especially trying.
“As a point guard you like to play with pace, play faster, play with a lot of pick-and-roll, and being able to create and do the things you’re used to as a point guard [like] playmaking and making plays for your teammates as well as making plays for yourself,” Grant said. “What makes the Triangle hard is not being able to use ball screens or kind of just create off the dribble or off the bounce. It’s more of whatever the offense gives you is what you take. That was the hardest part.”
Grant, always more of a pick-and-roll point guard back at Notre Dame, admits he has felt much more comfortable in the Bulls’ less stringent offense, even if his numbers haven’t been drastically better thus far.
“Playing here [in Chicago] has been a lot easier than the Triangle,” Grant said. “I’m doing whatever I can do when I’m in the game, and at this point that means just making shots. I think that’s where we struggle at that position is making shots. When Jimmy [Butler], D-Wade, Taj [Gibson] and guys have the ball and they’re getting double teamed or kicking it out, I’ve got to find a way to put that ball in the basket.”
In that regard, at least, Grant has made improvements this season. He is taking and making more three-pointers, knocking down 29.5 percent of them this year compared 22 percent from long distance a year ago. Those percentages aren’t elite, but they do show improvement. On this team especially, even a relatively modest boost in three-point shooting is as valuable as an attic shoebox full of Honus Wagner cards.
The season is coming up on its halfway mark, and Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is only just now figuring out what to do with Grant. The talent is there for the young point guard to make an imprint, but he’s still trying to find his way with his new team – his second franchise in only two years in the league.
“Coming into a new situation, you’ve got to get used to your teammates,” Grant said. “That’s the thing that’s been the toughest – obviously having to get Jimmy and D-Wade the ball, trying to figure out where they like it and stuff like that. As a point guard, you’re used to having the ball in your hands all the time so just learning how to play without it a little bit has been tough.”
Despite all that, he loves his new opportunity in Chicago, a place where his uncle Horace Grant once played alongside Michael Jordan in the organization’s best years.
“It’s great to be in a place where they want you,” he said. “You can benefit from that, so the hard part is just starting over. New guys, new coach, new organization. I’m just trying to figure out where [I] fit in.”
The coaching staff is trying to figure out the same thing in hopes that they’ve got a Rondo replacement already on the roster. Grant hasn’t popped just yet, but he’s trying.
Without making a trade, Hoiberg might not have many better options this season, so for now it makes sense that the team would explore what they’ve got in the sophomore floor general.
Expect Grant’s January numbers to be the best of his career, and expect Chicago to keep his minutes-per-game in the mid-20s from here on out. Hopefully, that’s enough for Grant to finally get comfortable in his NBA shoes.
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