Jerian Grant’s basketball IQ could be smart fit for Suns
PHOENIX — With the best-player-available caveat chaperoning the Suns’ approach to the 2015 NBA Draft, we are reminded that intelligence should be considered a skill.
Intelligence — or basketball IQ — was a frequent reference following Friday’s six-player, pre-draft workout on the U.S. Airways Center practice court.
We heard the "I" word used by Coach Jeff Hornacek, general manager Ryan McDonough and some of those subjected to this tryout-level scrutiny.
But what made this particular gathering the most compelling thus far was the presence of a player projected (by people who don’t actually make any selections) to fall within the Suns’ range at pick No. 13.
And, based on efficiency of production, Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant — a consensus, first-team All-American — seems to have that smart thing working in his favor.
"I think I have a high basketball IQ," said Grant, a rare lottery-type prospect with a four-year collegiate resume. "I really study the game, you know. I’ve been around it my whole life. Just making the right plays and knowing what plays to make and how to take care of the ball is, I think, important."
Before going into statistical evidence of this wisdom, please note the 6-foot-5 Jerian is the son and nephew, respectively, of long-time NBA players Harvey and Horace Grant. Younger brother Jerami was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers last year.
The 22-year-old Grant was third in the nation (per basketball-reference.com) in overall win shares and second in offensive win shares. For more conventional metrics, try these: he averaged 16.5 points (on 48 percent shooting overall) and 6.6 assists per game during his senior season. The high assist rate was accomplished while working alongside Demetrius Jackson — a card-carrying point guard — in the starting Notre Dame backcourt and coughing up a mere 2.2 turnovers.
"Just reading the defenses," Grant said when asked for the secret to his relatively clean turnover sheet, "and knowing what to do out there."
With an advanced feel for the game listed as a trait the Suns don’t exactly have in abundance, McDonough certainly has an appreciation for how Grant protected the rock in college.
"I think some of that is basketball IQ and intelligence," McDonough said, "some of that is coaching, how certain teams have good systems, they value the ball and don’t turn it over. Notre Dame’s one, Wisconsin comes to mind as another.
"You can see some of their players are pretty well trained. A lot of that is instinct . . . he (Grant) made some nice passes out here today, especially in the 3-on-3 action."
In addition to growing up in a basketball family, having four years of experience and overall intelligence, Grant benefitted from developing in a Notre Dame program that operates a pro-style offense.
"We kind of play loose," Grant said of the Irish. "A lot of a ball screens, a lot of movement. We’re not just sitting there running certain sets every time down the floor, and that does give me an advantage."
He also has the advantage of being large enough to handle some work at either guard position . . . well, assuming the team he eventually suits up for actually chooses to make such positional distinctions.
In Phoenix, where Eric Bledsoe is under contract for a while and restricted free-agent Brandon Knight could be, being able to share playmaking obligations and defend ballhandlers of all sizes is appealing.
"Size-wise, he’s bigger than what you’d think of as a traditional one, maybe a little smaller than a two," said McDonough, who believes Grant can handle various defensive assignments. "But he’s got decent strength, decent length . . . pretty good quickness."
While his lack of production on defense at Notre Dame has been listed as a potential knock on Grant’s game, the Suns appreciate his overall versatility.
"I think Grant’s intriguing because he’s a combo guard — he can play a little bit at the one, a little bit at the two," McDonough said. "He had a very good career at Notre Dame.
"He shot the ball well. He comes from a good pedigree, a good basketball family. His brother’s in the league, with the 76ers, his dad and uncle obviously played a long time. We value that. We like the way Notre Dame plays, we like how they get up and down and play the way we play, or would like to play. He’s an intriguing guy . . . we’re going to get a chance to spend some more time with him after the workout. He certainly showed well today."
It’s not surprising.
Despite the grind of auditioning for NBA teams over a vast draft range, Grant — whose average of 37 minute per game at Notre Dame was first in the nation — did well Friday battling the likes of Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan and wing man J.P. Tokoto of North Carolina.
"Well, they’ve seen me play for four years, so it’s not like there’s something I’m going out there to prove," Grant said when asked what he’s attempting to accomplish during these trials. "Maybe going out there and knocking down open shots I think is something I’d like to do."
After converting only 31 percent of his attempts beyond the college 3-point arc, showing some accuracy from NBA range certainly couldn’t hurt. But demonstrating the ability to work on and off the ball is something that would play well in Phoenix.
"I know they like to get up and down and, you know, like you said have two point guards," Grant said, "two guards that can handle the ball, something I’ve kind of played my whole life.
"I don’t think it’d be a big adjustment. It’s something I’ve done my whole life."