Last Monday, I was sitting courtside at Crisler Center preparing for Michigan vs Northwestern, with my phone on the scorers table. All of the sudden my phone started lighting up, vibrating, dinging non-stop. I picked it up to see what Earth-shattering news was upon me, it was a trade alert notification, followed by Twitter notifications, followed by texts messages: “Pistons Trade for Blake Griffin”. I immediately open up every sports application that I have to find out the details of the deal:
The Detroit Pistons trade Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, the 2018 protected 1st-round pick & the 2019 second-round pick in exchange for Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, & Willie Reed.
The way I read that, 2 starters & 2 picks for 1 All-Star caliber player. Avery Bradley’s deal was going to be coming up at the end of the year & he had been underwhelming in Detroit to say the least. Losing Tobias Harris & my beloved “Tobias twenty-point tracker” was another story. Is Tobias good enough to take the Pistons to the next level? Can he ever be an elite offensive player? Is he good enough for the offense to run through him on a consistent basis? The answer to all of those questions, is unfortunately “no”. Tobias is a wonderful complimentary player for a dominant point guard (which Detroit doesn’t have) or a dominant Forward/Center (jury is still out on Andre Drummond with those two paired together), but Tobias Harris isn’t going to go get you 25 points every night on average with a high efficiency rating, nor is he really going to elevate the play of those around him. With those facts known, the Pistons had been left in a strange space with no clear-cut direction or star to establish the roles of guys like Andre Drummond or Reggie Jackson.
Insert Blake Griffin.
Here’s the catch, the former #1 overall pick from Oklahoma has played 80 or more games in a season just three times in his career & hasn't played in more than 68 games since the 2013-14 season. Fluke injuries have plagued the high-flying star since he entered the Association. The injury concern isn’t anything that Pistons Head Coach Stan Van Gundy has ignored stating: ”The guy's a five-time All-Star. He's been an All-NBA guy, [one of] top 15 guys in the league. He's only 28 years old. We know the injury history -- that's the risk on it. But that risk was worth it because of the talent we're bringing back”. That’s just it. The talent that the Pistons would receive back would be exponentially better than anything they have had in quite some time. "Our thinking was this: The hardest thing to do in this league is to get a proven star… It’s just very hard to do. It's hard to do in free agency. It's hard to do in trades. You get very few opportunities to do it.”
The Pistons saw an opportunity to grab a caliber of player that Detroit just hasn't had. That’s nothing against anyone from the “Bad Boys” generation or the Pistons that appeared in 6-straight Conference Finals in the early 2000s. Those “teams” were just that, teams. No individual from either of those glory days was a perennial All-Star by themselves, none of them ever needed to be. Isaiah Thomas would’ve been great anywhere & probably would’ve garnered more respect had he played in LA or New York, but a majority of the guys from both eras were studs because of the compliment of players surrounding them.
Blake Griffin is an electric type of talent. A high-riser, high-flyer, who can cram on anyone in the blink of an eye. His immediate impact as a rim-rocking star is obvious, but it’s the other aspects of his game that make this move even more intriguing. His Field Goal percentages may have declined over the past 4 years, but any time you shoot from further away from the hoop, the percentages will always drop. Blake’s mid-range game is very much improved; whether it’s his shot from the wing inside the arc off glass or his 15-footer from straight away, he is an improved jump shooter. While his jumper has improved, so has his free throw percentage. Blake’s ability to get to the rim off the dribble and ability to take contact, make him prime for high free throw attempts. Griffin averages roughly 5-8 free throw attempts per game/per year. His free throw shooting percentage has been on a steady incline & over 71% since the 2013-14 season. Here’s Blake Griffin’s shot chart in his first 3 games in a Pistons uniform. He’s shooting: 41% from the field, 31% from 3-point range & 82.4% from the line.
Another bright spot in Blake’s game is his consistent improvement distributing the basketball. As a player adjusts to the speed of the NBA game, the game then slows down for the player to be able to make the right reads in anticipation to pass the basketball. Griffin’s assist numbers continue to improve year-by-year, already averaging 6 assists per game while in the Pistons uni.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down AB! It’s been 3 games! What’s 3 games?!”
I know, I know, I know… I can hear you right now, just hootin’ & hollerin’ at me. Three games is just a minuscule 3.6% of the season. But, with the Pistons shorthanded 125-114 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers back on January 31st, they have now won 4 in a row (3 of which Blake Griffin has played). The Pistons are back to being a .500 ball club at 26-26 & sit just 4.5 games back of the 3rd place Cavaliers (30-21) & 4th place Washington Wizards (31-22). Three games for Blake Griffin & his numbers look like this: 34 minutes, 20.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6 assists, 0.7 blocks per game while shooting 41% FG, 31.3% 3PT, 82.4% from the line.
Blake Griffin in just 3 games has already asserted himself as “the guy” on the Pistons team as he is touching the ball on almost every possession, and that’s not a bad thing! Andre Drummond will improve because of Blake’s presence & passing ability. Blake’s command on offense with the ball in his hand will also open up opportunities for others as he can draw bigs away from the paint, garner the double-team, & open up shooters on the perimeter. I also believe that once Reggie Jackson returns to the lineup, we will also see a more efficient version of Jax, who won’t have to try to fill a role that he can’t - being a team’s #1 option, that’s now Blake Griffin.
The Pistons play next on Wednesday, February 7th, against the Brooklyn Nets at Little Caesar’s, tip-off is at 7:00pm.
-Anthony Bellino hosts “The Fox Sports Morning Blitz” weekday mornings from 7am-9am on Toledo’s Fox Sports Radio 1230.