With the addition of Illinois transfer Jacob Grandison, Duke’s 2022-2023 roster is largely set. Grandison is a known quantity, starting 23 games for Big Ten regular season champion Illinois last year while averaging 9.6 points in 25 minutes per game, including 41% shooting from 3. That high-major experience and consistent three point shooting were arguably the biggest holes on Duke’s roster for this fall.
If Grandison can simply replicate his performance last season, the Blue Devils will be an improved team for his presence, especially after Joey Baker chose to pursue other opportunities with his extra year of COVID eligibility. But is Grandison just an improved version of Baker, or perhaps someone with a higher ceiling?
At first glance, Grandison’s shot not only looks accurate, but quick. In this highlight package, Grandison showcases an ability to quickly set his feet and execute a repeatable, compact shooting motion that starts and stays high. Multiple of his makes also come when facing legitimate close-out pressure.
Perhaps more intriguing is Grandison’s ability to finish at the rim, both in transition and off of multiple set out of bounds plays. It’s hard to judge the consistency of these skills in a highlight package, but it’s notable that the Illini seemed to run set plays for Grandison on a team on which he was just the fourth leading scorer. Grandison also shows the ability to create his own mid-range shot off the dribble. While the projection of these skills is less straightforward than his shot, it is evidence that Grandison is not just a shooter. The fact that these highlights came against Big Ten opposition (including a multitude of shots in hostile road environments like the Breslin Center) is another plus for the newest Blue Devil.
As Ant Wright breaks down, Grandison also plays a high IQ style of basketball. (Wright, it’s worth noting, played college ball at Michigan and previously focused his writing on Michigan basketball, meaning his Big Ten bona fides are proven.)
Nonetheless, Grandison’s ability beyond the arc will be his calling card at Duke. As this shot chart highlights, Grandison is an elite corner shooter, hitting at a 63.2% clip from the right corner and 47.8% from the left corner. One can imagine he’ll get plenty of those opportunities off of drive-and-kicks from Jeremy Roach and the gravity that the Blue Devils’ elite young front court should generate.
There are indications that Grandison could be more than just an offensive presence, however. As a junior, Grandison was seen as the archetypal “glue guy” by his Illinois teammates. In his expanded role as a senior, teammates praised his ability to keep that attitude while stepping into a bigger role. Andre Curbelo said early last year that Grandison “never takes a play off” and that, “When you have all those guys who bring a lot of energy like Jake, That’s contagious.”
Meanwhile, head coach Brad Underwood went out of his way to praise Grandison’s offensive and defensive versatility, noting, “He’s always going to be able to guard any wing for that matter, at really any size.” Grandison’s positive presence on the defensive end is also noted in Wright’s breakdown, as he was rated in the 74th percentile in overall defensive efficiency last season. He ranked higher in guarding spot up shooters, using his 6-foot-6 frame to challenge shots with success. It’s worth noting, though, that his defensive rating was less complimentary, at 103 last season, although this could be a symptom of often being tasked with guarding an opponent’s best wing scorer.
The question for Grandison’s defensive upside in a Duke uniform likely depends on how head coach Jon Scheyer utilizes him. If freshman Dariq Whitehead lives up to his billing as a plus defender, especially against smaller and quicker shooting guards, Grandison projects as a plus defender in his own right against more traditional small forwards. If Whitehead struggles against traditional shooting guards, Grandison has experience at Illinois guarding the position (Wright notes that Grandison would often switch 1-through-4), even if it isn’t his strength.
Perhaps most exciting is the versatility Grandison brings to a young Blue Devil squad. Grandison should immediately be Duke’s best three point shooter, and his experience playing 2-through-4 at Illinois will allow Scheyer to get his shooting prowess on the floor in multiple ways. Grandison is already being projected as a potential starter alongside Roach, Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski, and Dereck Lively. But Grandison can also easily play alongside a smaller backcourt of Roach and Tyrese Proctor, which would ensure his defensive matchup is more natural.
Perhaps most tantalizing is Grandison’s experience as a small-ball 4, which opens up a potential lineup of Roach, Proctor, Whitehead, Grandison, and one of Duke’s talented, albeit distinct, bigs. With Filipowski, Scheyer could put a team of five legitimate three-point threats on the floor. With Lively, Grandison’s shooting prowess will open the lane for pick and roll attacks where Lively can use his athleticism to finish lobs. Meanwhile, Ryan Young was known as a solid back-to-the-basket scorer at Northwestern, so he might benefit from getting isolation looks in a 4-around-1 system. Against smaller teams, Duke could even elect to put freshman Mark Mitchell at the 5 and emulate Golden State’s vaunted “death lineup.”
Grandison’s floor is a role player who immediately solves three of Duke’s most pressing issues: perimeter depth, experience, and three-point shooting. His ceiling is a true glue-guy and leader who provides defensive versatility while feasting on open looks he’ll get playing on an uber-talented offensive squad. Regardless of where in that range Grandison’s career as a Blue Devil falls, there’s no doubting that Scheyer’s first team got significantly better with Grandison’s commitment.