Just past the midpoint of the season, the Atlanta Hawks still appear to be headed to a pick between 16 and 19 in the 2014 NBA Draft. The premature mock draft season has the Atlanta Hawks linked with Syracuse sophomore forward Jerami Grant with the #16 pick. It is unique to have a player linked to a team later in the first round, so multiple analysts externally see a fit between the Hawks and the Syracuse product.
Prospects from Jim Boeheim's vaunted matchup zone defense are more difficult to evaluate for NBA readiness than any other elite college program. Four Orange players have been selected in the Lottery since Carmelo was taken with pick #3 in 2003. While Michael Carter-Williams and Dion Waiters look to be headed to successful NBA careers, Wesley Johnson and Johnny Flynn are two of the biggest busts of the last decade. How does a team look at a Syracuse player and know if they are getting a serviceable NBA career out of a prospect like Hakim Warrick (#19 pick in 2005) or an NBDL-bound bust with Fab Melo (#22 pick in 2012)?
Hall of Fame coach Boeheim gets even star players to understand the value of playing a role and commit to team play. While loaded with freshmen talent nearly every year, Donte Greene is the only freshman to choose the "one-and-done" route since the NBA changed its draft eligibility rules. The commitment players make to the Syracuse program and Boeheim's zone defense leads to prospects with a good knowledge of spacing on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, good team defense also hides defensive deficiencies. The zone does not prevent players from being great professional defenders, but limits assessing how well players defend the point of attack at the collegiate level. A player may be a good rebounder and shot blocker within the zone, yet unable to translate the skill when more physical play in tight space is demanded.
Jerami Grant, son of former NBA forward Harvey Grant, has shown an ability to play both in the back and on the wing of the Syracuse zone. He is a very active defender who avoids overplaying jumpers when closing out as other Syracuse wings. While not statistically a great shot blocker, he does not chase after blocks by leaving his position as many young defenders. Offensively, he has a soft touch and a nice free throw stroke to complement an elite ability to for highlight reel put-back dunks:
Jerami Grant | Highlights and Dunks | 2013-2014 (via Captain Jilliams)
Before getting too excited about getting your poster for Jerami Grant joining the Highlight Factory, he does not have a clear NBA position. His body and defensive skills fit best at small forward but his ball-handling and shooting touch would seem to limit him offensively. Without many post moves and a slender frame, it is difficult to know if he can hold up as an undersized everyday power forward. Additionally, he has a bad habit of rebounding with one hand and plays a little high on the perimeter when defending the point of attack. Given the progress he has made in his sophomore season, I suspect he will continue to improve on weaknesses which are capable of being improved. As a player willing to play within his limitations, he could be special given that he has few physical weaknesses. If everything goes well, he could even live up to the possibilities raised by ESPN's Chad Ford:
What if Josh Smith had just been content doing the things he does well instead of launching ill-advised long 2s and 3s all game? Hawks fans probably stay up late at night wondering that. Well, Grant might be your answer. Like Smith, he's a freak athlete who has versatile skills. Unlike Smith, he knows he's not a great 3-point shooter and has taken just five all season. -Chad Ford, ESPN
Jerami Grant could take flight in Atlanta as a power forward able to occasionally play small forward. If he develops a consistent jumper, he could be a special two-way wing player. While DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott and Paul Millsap would appear to all be in his way next season, he still seems to be a reasonable fit on the Hawks roster. If he is the best player available when the Hawks are on the clock, Grant could be the type of prospect that could fit J-Smoove highlights into the competitive character of the Hawks new system.