Evaluating Blake Griffin as a Piston
The Detroit Pistons put all of their chips on the table and said, "Let it Ride" when they traded for Blake Griffin before the deadline. It was a win now move the Pistons made to get fans in their new arena and escape the lottery. Detroit has missed the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons. Two years ago they made it as the eight seed but were swept by Cleveland. That team appeared on the rise, but they traded to Marcus Morris to Boston for Avery Bradley, which all but ensured they would lose Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Then they traded Bradley and Tobias Harris for Griffin at the deadline. Only Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson remain from that squad. Jackson has never been the same due to injuries and inconsistency, and while Drummond is having a career year, he can't do it all by himself.
Evaluating the Griffin Trade
Griffin is likely done for the season with an ankle injury, so now we can evaluate his time as a Piston. By the way, the Pistons technically still have a .6% chance of making the playoffs according to ESPN's playoff odds (Editor Update: The Pistons have been officially eliminated from the postseason). Their schedule is easy, but it would take a collapse by either Milwaukee or Miami for it to happen. I am going to go ahead and say they won't make the playoffs.
Detroit got Griffin to make the playoffs, and it looks like they will fall short. The Pistons were 23-26 before they got Griffin and are 11-14 with him in the lineup. They have won their last three games without him, but with him, they were about the same as before. So, did Griffin make a difference? How much is he to blame for the Pistons struggles? Did he and Drummond work?
To be fair, the trio of Griffin, Drummond, and Jackson rarely got to play together. We never saw the Pistons at their best. The trio played four games together going 3-1. It's a small sample size, and the three wins were against the Suns, Bulls, and Lakers, but the Pistons did average 110 points per game during this stretch compared to 103 for the season and only allowed 96 compared to their season average of 103. The trio played 83 minutes together and had an impressive +18.5 net rating. They killed it on offense, with a 110.1 offensive rating to go along with an impressive 91.6 defensive rating. Again tiny sample size, but it gives hope for the future.
Detroit needs hope with this group. Improvement will need to come from within, as the Pistons don't have a lot of assets to get better. Thanks to Griffin’s arrival, they have very little cap room and no first-round pick in this year's draft. To make this thing work, Griffin, Drummond, and Jackson will have to be at their best, and either Luke Kennard or Stanley Johnson will need to pop.
Griffin’s Performance as a Piston
Griffin didn't have Jackson for most of the season, so as the Pistons number one guy, how did he do? Before the trade in 33 games with the Clippers, Griffin averaged 22.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists on 44% shooting from the field, 34% from three and 78% from the line. In Detroit, Griffin averaged 19.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists on 43% shooting from the field, 34% from three and 78% from the line. Similar numbers, but a slight drop off in Detroit.
The main reason his points were down was he got to the free throw line less in Detroit. His attempts went down from 6.6 per game to 4.4. Griffin spent more time as a facilitator. Detroit didn't have a point guard, and Griffin instantly became Detroit's best passer. Griffin was second to Jackson on the team in assist percentage, and his assists went up in Detroit due to more time with the ball in his hands.
Griffin’s usage in Detroit's was one of the highest in the league, and he was one of the best passers in league with such a high usage rating, but his scoring efficiency dropped. It's tough to be hard on Griffin because this was out of necessity, but there needs to be more balance between getting his teammates involved and getting more efficient scoring opportunities.
Here is Griffin showing his excellent passing. Stan Van Gundy did an excellent job in unleashing Griffin’s passing, and he helped Detroit get into their offense earlier.
Griffin re-screens for Luke Kennard at the top right of the key and then gets the ball at the top of the key. He takes one dribble towards the paint to get the defense to commit and then kicks it out to Anthony Tolliver on the wing who drills the three. These were the extra passes the Pistons weren’t making earlier in the year and Griffin gives them a playmaker who can see and make these passes.
There are a couple of things the Pistons and Griffin can do to improve his scoring efficiency. First, more post-ups for Griffin. He is still strong and can draw fouls; this is an excellent way to get his free throw attempts. Griffin is not the athlete he once was, but he is still more athletic than most of the players in the league. He finished in the 67th percentile in post-ups, and it’s a great way of giving him scoring and passing opportunities.
Second, Detroit should use Griffin as a spot-up threat. He is now average from the three-point line, so teams at least have to respect him from out there. This opens up his lethal pump and drive game. Griffin finished in the 88th percentile in spot ups. Griffin is still a pretty good finisher around the rim, shooting 68%; more spot-ups lead to more drives and more free throw attempts.
Griffin gives a dribble hand off to Reggie Bullock and then rolls to the corner. Bullock gives him a pocket pass and Dragan Bender rushes to a close out a Griffin three. Griffin pumps and two steps later he is dunking all over the Suns. Also, Alex Len wants no part of Griffin. It wont always be this easy, but this may be the most lethal part of Griffin’s offensive game.
Spotting up and posting up, will take Griffin out of the mid-post, which is where Griffin gets himself into trouble. Too often he settles for a midrange jumper, and he's not a great midrange shooter. Griffin takes 40% of his shots from midrange, yet only makes 33% of them. That is bad, and Griffin needs to shoot way less of those.
The Pistons were better with Griffin on offense and he was second on the team in offensive rating only behind Kennard. The defense was not as good as Griffin was 7th, but Blake still had a 3.6 net rating with the Pistons, good for second on the team. Let's talk about his defense.
Individually Griffin is a good defender. While he doesn't get a lot of blocks or steals, he knows where to be and rarely fouls. According to Synergy, Griffin rated in the 95th percentile on defense, ranking well in each category. He is at his best defending spot ups, and surprisingly good switching onto smaller players, sometimes skilled pick and roll bigs can give him problems, but overall pretty good. Watch Griffin hang with the unguardable Fred Van Fleet here.
Van Fleet gets the mismatch and has Griffin on him at the top of the key. After sizing Griffin up, Van Fleet attacks and as he goes up for the layup, Griffin shows great anticipation and hands by stripping him of the ball and then wrestling for the ball on the ground until it is called a jump ball. Impressive stuff from Griffin.
Team defense causes Griffin more issues. He can get caught ball watching, and miss rotations and his willingness to rebound has continued to go down year by year. Too often I think Griffin assumes Drummond will get the rebound, so he doesn't try to get it, and that's why his defensive rebounding percentage was eight on his team. Since he doesn't make a lot of defensive plays, he must improve his rebounding. He will never be an elite defender, but he is better than a -.18 defensive RPM, which is 62nd among power forwards. Still, teams were -4.0 in points allowed per possession with Griffin on the floor. He was a positive on both ends.
Griffin and Drummond had a +3 net rating on the floor together in 594 minutes. They developed chemistry early, and the duo worked, but the surrounding pieces around them were not the best. The Pistons were slightly better on offense with the two of them with a 105.8 offensive rating, compared to 104.5 and on defense they had a 102.8 defensive rating compared to 104.5 for the season. Griffin was an upgrade, and the two can work together on both ends. Drummond has improved his defensive significantly this year, and while his energy can come and go sometimes, overall he is a positive.
Playing with DeAndre Jordan for so long helped Griffin get on the same page with Drummond early, and they formed a nice lob connection from the start.
Griffin runs the break and at the top of the key uses a hesitation dribble to get Marc Gasol to take one step towards him. Once he does that Griffin attacks and gets Gasol to commit. Drummond does a good job of running the floor and Griffin awards him with a nice underhand lob that Drummond finishes. This duo is one of the best frontcourts in the league.
Detroit is tenth on defense and 20th on offense, so despite what most people thought the offense is the more significant problem. A full season of Jackson should help, Kennard will get better, but they need Stanley Johnson to pop. Trading for Griffin might have trapped the Pistons into mediocrity, but Griffin was good for the Pistons, he needs to be better to lift the Pistons and I am not sure superstar Blake exists anymore. The good news is he showed he could make it work with Drummond; he played with good energy, and the Pistons were better with him on both ends of the court. Griffin worked, Griffin and Drummond worked, and the Pistons just don’t have the surrounding pieces for either Griffin or the duo of Griffin and Drummond to reach their potential. Now with limited assets, Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons need to find a way to capitalize on the Drummond/Griffin pairing, and the clock is ticking rapidly.