February 22, 2024

Why Quentin Grimes, even in his current state, gives Pistons the type of role player they badly need


The Detroit Pistons were the league’s most active team before the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline, executing a bevy of trades to move on from some veterans and shake up what has been the worst team in the league this season.

Their two biggest moves, however, clearly revealed their goals. Throughout the season, Detroit has been missing players who could be effective on offense and defense. They have a lot of players who thrive on one side of the court, but not many who could hang in on both. In acquiring Simone Fontecchio from the Utah Jazz and Quentin Grimes as the headliner in a trade with the New York Knicks involving veterans Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks, Detroit began the process of changing that.

Ideally, every five-man unit a team uses should be well stocked with a collection of several key skills: Perimeter point-of-attack defenders, playmakers, ballhandlers, shot creators, rim protectors, shooters, floor spacers for ballhandlers, drivers who can pressure the rim, stout individual stoppers, smart team defenders who make timely early rotations and scramble to cover for others’ mistakes, unselfish ball movers, detail-oriented court readers who can adopt on the fly and more. You’ll notice that’s a lot more than five skills, so the only way to be a successful NBA team is to have a lot of players who can check as many of those boxes as possible, both offensively and defensively.

While I have not been impressed with how new Pistons coach Monty Williams has doled out playing time and constructed his team’s lineups, he’s also been constricted by the roster at his disposal. General manager Troy Weaver and the Pistons’ front office have done reasonably well with their draft picks, but have managed those players and assets spectacularly poorly thereafter. For example: Detroit traded a total of eight second-round picks to acquire and remove Marvin Bagley III and James Wiseman from the roster — two to acquire Bagley from the Kings, four to acquire Wiseman from the Warriors, and two to trade Bagley’s negatively-valued contract away to the Wizards. The result is a roster full of one-way players who do not fit together, making it difficult to evaluate the talent on hand.

For the sake of Pistons fans, hopefully the trades for Fontecchio and Grimes are the start of a much-needed philosophical change. Fontecchio, a 28-year-old forward from Italy, is more of a proven commodity who averaged nine points and 3.5 rebounds per game while shooting better than 39 percent from 3-point range and holding his own on defense. He should help Detroit, and the Pistons will have the inside track on re-signing him as a restricted free agent.

But it’s Grimes who represents the best chance for the Pistons’ midseason makeover to bear fruit. I thought the 23-year-old was the best asset traded by any team on deadline day, and while he’s struggled this season, he’s still a good investment for the Pistons as is, with the potential to be far more if he can recapture his form from last season.

I understand the circumstances behind Grimes’ Knicks tenure not working out by the end. The Knicks signed Donte DiVincenzo this past summer, and coach Tom Thibodeau had been averse to playing him and Grimes together. They only shared the court for a total of 89 minutes this season; Grimes, by comparison, played 820 minutes without DiVincenzo, while DiVincenzo played 1,178 minutes without Grimes.

Unfortunately for Grimes, DiVincenzo is playing the best ball of his career. The former Villanova teammate of Jalen Brunson has been on fire from 3, hitting 42.2 percent of his seven attempts per game, and is a better on-ball player than Grimes. DiVincenzo’s combination of shooting and ballhandling, mixed with his defense, makes him more functional offensively for the Knicks than Grimes in both starting and bench alignments. With Thibodeau refusing to use the two together, Grimes lost most of his high-leverage court time.

Grimes’ own offensive woes this season made it difficult for Thibodeau to give those minutes back. He is making 36 percent from 3 this season, but after converting on better than 60 percent of his 2-point shots in 2022-23, he’s down to just 46 percent this season. He’s created fewer looks for himself inside the arc on drives and cuts, which has resulted in nearly three-quarters of his shots being 3s as opposed to about two-thirds last season. Those drop-offs, combined with DiVincenzo’s emergence, caused Grimes to lose his starting spot.

Meanwhile, Grimes’ game wasn’t a great fit with Knick bench units that struggled to consistently create offense, especially after the team traded Immanuel Quickley and R.J. Barrett for OG Anunoby. The Knicks needed a better shot creator in the backcourt, so Bogdanović and Burks will help them more than Grimes has this season.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Why has Quentin Grimes vanished from the Knicks’ offense?

On the other hand, Grimes had an outstanding 2022-23 season, playing like one of the best second-year players in the NBA. He averaged 11.3 points per game last season while shooting 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3. He was a consistent, engaged defender who took on tough perimeter assignments, showing point-of-attack physicality to defend bigger wings and quickness to stay in front of speedier guards. One all-in-one metric, Taylor Snarr’s Estimated Plus Minus-based model, had Grimes adding 6.1 estimated wins last season, a top-15 mark in the league among shooting guards. It’s rare for a second-year player to be a league-average starter; only 14 other second-year players have posted an EPM above +1 in the last three seasons (Grimes was +1.3), including All-Star quality players like Anthony Edwards, Zion Williamson, LaMelo Ball, Desmond Bane, Evan Mobley and Alperen Şengün.

Many of those skills remained on display this season. He fights hard to get over screens and recovers well when initially beat. His motor remains high, on or off the ball. He closes out well and understands when to run out hard to force a 3-point shooter off the line and when to stay on balance against a stronger driver.

Here’s an example of Grimes’ excellent on-ball defense from a game against the Celtics earlier this season. After picking up Celtics star Jayson Tatum in transition, Grimes makes sure to get his left foot around Luke Kornet’s, allowing him to get over the top of Kornet’s screen, stay in front of Tatum and force the step-back, contested 3.

Grimes’ simple willingness to fight on defense will go a long way on a Detroit roster devoid of that quality. He competes all the time. On this play against the Clippers, Grimes  tags a rolling Ivica Zubac, effectively plays cat-and-mouse to slow Zubac’s decision-making down after he gets the ball on the short roll, then closes out under control on Paul George — a challenging task given George’s high release point and adeptness as a driver — to force a tough, contested shot.

I don’t trust any other Pistons player, possibly outside of 21-year-old rookie Ausar Thompson, to consistently do what Grimes did in that clip.

On the other end, Grimes can at least shoot from the perimeter. Outside of Bogdanović and Burks —neither of whom were on the age timelines of youngsters Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and Thompson — and, at times, rookie Marcus Sasser, Detroit did not have any reliable catch-and-shoot players in its rotation. The Pistons are dead last in the NBA in 3-point attempt rate, a sign they aren’t doing enough to space the floor for Cunningham, Ivey and Duren to execute the pick-and-roll. Grimes, even in a down shooting season, needs to be run off the line. He has made 38 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s this season and he drilled 40 percent last campaign.

Things can get a bit hairy for Grimes if teams do force him inside the arc, as Charlotte’s Brandon Miller did in this clip. Grimes let the Hornets off the hook with a midrange jumper, rather than recognizing that Precious Achiuwa has drawn Charlotte’s P.J. Washington into the play with a 45 cut from the wing, thus leaving Josh Hart and DiVincenzo open at the top of the key with 14 seconds left on the shot clock.

Grimes’ decision-making tree isn’t always detailed enough in these situations. He has a tendency to attempt big dunks that get swatted at the rim rather than making simpler plays. He’s exhibited more tunnel-visioned this season, a strange occurrence for a young player who grew up playing as a lead guard and is gaining more experience in the NBA. His assist rate has dropped by about 25 percent this year.

Still, if Grimes’ shot starts falling a bit more and he can simplify his decisions on his drives, it’s easy to see him returning to the positive level he showed in 2022-23. The track record of players who are that useful to their teams this early in their careers is quite strong.

At worst, Grimes should be a legitimate 3-and-D wing, which this Pistons core desperately needs. Even if the rest of Grimes’ offensive game never returns to the level that looked possible in flashes during his second season, he can be effective by staying within his role, hitting shots and playing aggressive defense. If the rest of his skillset does, in fact, return to its previous trajectory, the Pistons will have a versatile wing for the long haul who can play a complementary role next to Cunningham, Ivey or both.

Grimes doesn’t project as a star, and shouldn’t be treated like one when he becomes eligible for a rookie contract extension this summer. However, he should provide value for the Pistons moving forward, and he’s on the right age timeline to grow and mature with the rest of their core. It’s hard to find players this young on the trade market who have actually provided real value for winning teams, as Grimes did for a second-round Knicks playoff team last season.

The Pistons weren’t likely to get a lottery pick for Bogdanović in a deal, and they didn’t in this trade. But in taking a swing on Grimes as an undervalued asset in the middle of a messy season in large part due to moves made around him, Detroit might end up getting something resembling that value after all.

(Top photo: David Dow / NBAE via Getty Images)





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