Film room: Jerami Grant – not Corey Brewer – is OKC’s biggest X-factor

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MARCH 6: Jerami Grant #9 of the OKC Thunder handles the ball against the Houston Rockets on March 6, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Sr./NBAE via Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MARCH 6: Jerami Grant #9 of the OKC Thunder handles the ball against the Houston Rockets on March 6, 2018 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Sr./NBAE via Getty Images) /

OKC Thunder head coach Billy Donovan appears to be warming up to Corey Brewer, and quite rightly so. But that shouldn’t stop him from realizing the Thunder’s biggest X-factor is still Jerami Grant.

As the OKC Thunder beat the Sacramento Kings 106-101, the final box score screamed ‘perfectly unspectacular’, except for one player’s contribution. Behind the fanfare for everyone else, Corey Brewer quietly put up a tidy 16 points in 32 minutes.

However, when Steven Adams failed to return on-court after a hip contusion, it became clear who the Thunder’s biggest X-factor is. Since coming into the team as a rangy wing, Jerami Grant has established himself as the Thunder’s best – and only – option after the Big Kiwi. Last night’s game showed that if the Thunder want to have any success in the postseason, a lot will come down to how well Jerami Grant covers for Steven Adams.

Trouble is Brewer-ing

At first glance, Corey Brewer appears to be a solution to the Thunder’s hole at the shooting guard position. Brewer is one of the best in the league at leaking out for transition baskets. Compared to the likes of Josh Huestis and Terrance Ferguson, this attribute immediately takes pressure off the rest of the team. But, Brewer’s defense is probably the worst out of the three. Come Playoff time, when possessions are scrappier, Brewer could find himself struggling for playing time.

Watch how Brewer closes out on his man poorly, both in terms of footwork and picking his rotations. Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Adams all do their best to cover Brewer’s mistake up, but the Thunder end up giving up three easy points.

The Thunder’s game is built on defense, specifically one that hinges on perfect help rotations. Corey Brewer may offer the most offensive potential out of the Thunder’s stable of wings. His defensive ceiling, however, might be too low to allow him sufficient runtime during the playoffs.

Permission Grant-ed

Earlier this year, Thunderous Intentions broke down why Steven Adams is so important to the team’s floor spacing. Because of Adams’ physical presence around the rim, defenses are forced to bump down on the roll man. When this happens, Westbrook enjoys much more space to operate out of the pick-and-roll.

After Steven Adams, no other big man on the team comes close to Jerami Grant’s finishing around the rim. Even when receiving the ball far out, watch how Grant uses his length and athleticism to get to the basket. He might not have the softest touch, but Grant’s incredible hang time helps make up for any shortcomings.

On paper, Patrick Patterson may be the Thunder’s backup center. The game film says otherwise. Jerami Grant is the one stitching together the Thunder’s bench unit by offering the same sort of play Adams does with the main unit. Rumbling loudly to the rim, Grant is the only man for the job, and he has been a pretty good job at that.

Homework done

On the defensive end, Jerami Grant has also worked hard to pick up Steven Adams’ defensive tendencies.

In this clip, Grant does two things crucial to the Thunder’s defensive strategy. First, he smartly rotates over to the ball-handler without committing a foul. For a long time, Grant was seen as an over-zealous shot blocker. But, his defensive instinct and discipline have clearly improved.

Secondly, Grant makes it a point to box his man out. Like Adams, the Thunder does not need Grant to snag too many boards. But, whenever Grant is the biggest body on the court, it becomes absolutely necessary that Grant fights hard against his opposing match-up. Defensive rebounds are the finishing touch to a perfect defensive play. In the same way, Grant will never be the main course of the Thunder’s elite defense. But, his effective backup play has the chance to be the final screws on a masterclass.


In simple terms, Jerami Grant is the OKC Thunder’s biggest X-factor because the team will go as he goes.

Yes, wing depth is arguably the Thunder’s biggest concern. And that is why Corey Brewer’s addition is important for the team. But, Brewer is too immediately flawed to be a real difference maker. At the end of the day, Billy Donovan will still need to pull out some rotational gymnastics to navigate opposing lineups.

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On the other hand, Steven Adams is so critical to the Thunder’s success, it is almost frightening. One of the worst-kept secrets around the league is that Adams is the OKC’s secret weapon. The problem with this is that the Thunder have so little depth behind him. The last thing Billy Donovan wants is for the bench unit to tear down everything the starting line-up built.

That is why Jerami Grant is the OKC Thunder’s biggest X-factor. Not because he is going to be a difference maker. No, in fact, his job is precisely to make sure there is no difference between him coming in and going out of the game.

Next: Grading the Thunder's tight victory against the Sacramento Kings

Keep the style of play the same, while offering Billy Donovan extra options like being a small ball 5. Do that, and the Thunder’s Big 3 should have more than enough firepower to carry the team through. Fail, and Jerami Grant will be the puzzle piece no one blames, but truth be told, made all the difference. In an unsuspecting way, the Thunder’s post-season success could come down to how well Jerami Grant plays.