The Thunder signed Grant Jerrett to a contract late last season with no intention of playing him. Jerrett didn’t even suit up for a game.
But the offer was extended for two reasons — an act of loyalty toward a draftee who accepted the franchise’s initial plan to stick him in the D-League and a chance for that franchise to get a better read on Jerrett’s future outlook.
And apparently he impressed.
Throughout the Thunder’s dramatic playoff run, as hordes of media members flocked into the practice gym to chat with OKC’s cornerstone stars, Jerrett was the unknown and unbothered player working out on an adjacent court.
For two months, he routinely practiced with the team and then stuck around afterward for additional individual work. Darko Rajakovic, Jerrett’s coach in Tulsa last season and the Thunder’s newest assistant, put him through various drills, working on his strength, driving ability, ballhandling and agility.
But at some point, the session would always return to his outside shooting. The other skills remain a work in progress. His future in the league may hinge on their eventual development.
But for the foreseeable future, Jerrett can call himself an NBA player because of his rare and coveted ability, as a 6-foot-10 power forward, to accurately shoot the three.
Despite never playing an NBA minute, OKC recently locked up the former second-rounder to a four-year, nearly $4 million deal.
On the surface, it may seem like a risk. Jerrett is unproven and currently injured, expected to miss the next 4-6 months after ankle surgery.
But only the first two years of his contract are guaranteed. And for the price OKC has locked him in at — $816,482 this season, $947,276 next season, per ShamSports.com, a site that provides NBA data and analysis — the Thunder feels it could be a potential bargain.
In his only college season at Arizona, Jerrett shot better than 40 percent from deep. Last season in Tulsa, while averaging 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds, Jerrett’s 3-point percentage dipped to 36.4.
But as a guy who projects as a stretch four — Jerrett once compared his game to New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson — his shot chart remained appealing. For the 66ers, he made 43 percent of his corner 3-pointers, including seven of his 14 attempts from the right corner.
In the Thunder’s star-driven offense, led by Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, those are the types of shots Jerrett is likely to get and would need to hit.
He’s still a long way, physically, from being able to get on the court. And once healthy, it projects as an even steeper road to actually make an NBA impact, with the Thunder’s frontcourt stacked with trusted veterans and emerging youngsters.
But with Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison set to hit free agency after the season, Jerrett seems to be part of the team’s long-term planning. His recent deal is the latest and greatest example.