Blake Griffin is showing a more refined version of his game this season, but without the right personnel in Detroit, the Pistons can’t make the most of it.
Having to move from Los Angeles to Detroit is a pretty good analogy for the big difference in teammate quality Blake Griffin is experiencing by going from the Clippers to the Pistons. For most of his prime run in L.A., Blake had Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan on his squad. The three of them were formidable at their best, even if they never broke through to the Western Conference Finals.
Now he’s got Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, and the Pistons missed the playoffs in Blake’s first half-season there. If the season ended today, Detroit would miss out this time around as well. His new team’s failures are not on Griffin’s shoulders.
Blake had a reputation as not much more than a dunker in his time with the Clippers, something he admitted resenting in Kevin Arnovitz’s recent feature story. His doubters should’ve probably taken into account that there’s not much playmaking to go around on a Chris Paul team, and when CP3 was out Blake tended to do much more offensively. The detractors didn’t realize Griffin could do more, but the Pistons sure did.
Griffin has become a playmaker and shooter in his time in Detroit, averaging 23.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game as a Piston while shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point territory. Blake handles the ball most of the time he’s on the floor now, and he’s done a pretty good job of it. Combined with his ability to attack the rim in different ways, he’s become a more versatile and dangerous offensive player.
The Pistons, on their part, have not done a good job in getting the correct pieces to go around him. Seven members of the Pistons make at least one 3-pointer per game (not counting Henry Ellenson, who has played just two games all season). Of those seven, just three are shooting 35 percent or better from 3-point range: Griffin, Luke Kennard, and Reggie Bullock.
That’s not a lot of great shooters to go around! To put the matter in perspective, the Miami Heat, a middle of the road team in both 3-point attempts and percentage, have 10 players who make at least one 3-pointer per game, and five of them shoot at least 35 percent from deep.
When all three of Blake, Kennard and Bullock share the floor, Detroit is more potent offensively. The Pistons scoot up from a 105.9 offensive rating on the season to 108.0 with those three on the floor together. Unfortunately for Detroit, that group has been abhorrent on the other end, giving up 115.8 points per 100 possession.
The Pistons need some shooters that can play on both ends of the floor to compliment their best player. Without capable threats from distance, defenses can clog the lane and make life very difficult for Blake. He’s scoring more than 25 points per game regardless, but the wins won’t come without a more sensible roster.
The need for two-way shooters is intensified considering the Pistons’ second-best player, Andre Drummond, isn’t any sort of a threat away from the basket — 90 percent of Drummond’s shots come within 10 feet of the hoop. Still, those two have been winning the minutes they play together. Sometimes talent is more important than fit.
A stretch five ala Brook Lopez would fit Griffin the best because, much like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Blake does his best work with the ball in his hands and with space between him and the rim. Griffin shoots better and does everything else worse than Giannis, but the premise is roughly the same.
Blake Griffin is playing really well, and it’s a shame seeing him having to work on a team so ill-suited for his talents. The Bucks had trouble winning too, until they brought in a new coach and more shooters to space out the offense. Suddenly they’ve got the best record in the NBA.
At this point, the Pistons should consider grabbing a shooter or two from the G League if they have to. Rolling with a bunch of guards and wings who can’t shoot just isn’t getting the job done in Detroit.
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