Way Too In Depth Blake Griffin Season Preview.
This is the 3rd season preview. Stanley Johnson's will be appearing on hashtag basketball soon.
About Last Year:
Griffin, of course, came to the Detroit Pistons just before the deadline last season in a blockbuster deal that sent Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and the Pistons first-round pick to the Clippers.
Griffin took some time to get settled in with Detroit, having trouble with efficiency and defense in the early going, but he finished the season very strong. In his last 14 games, he put up a line of 20.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6.9 assists (nice) while shooting 45.9% from the field and 41% from deep. Even though his rebound totals were not high the Pistons rebounded at a much better rate when he was on the floor. When Griffin and Drummond were on the floor together the Pistons rebounded a whopping 52.8% of all misses, 25.7% of their own and 80% of opponents. If stretched out over the entire season those numbers would be good for the best overall rebounding percentage in the NBA, third-best defensive and tied for the second offense. Griffin is a good rebounder.
The Pistons failed to make the run for the playoffs that so many were hoping for, but Griffin settled in nicely after a rough start and showed enough to give real hope for the team going forward if he can manage to remain healthy.
What to expect next year:
Griffin is likely to fill, by and large, the same role he filled last year with the Pistons. He is obviously going to be the starting power forward and will operate as the central offensive hub for the Pistons. A (hopefully) healthy Reggie Jackson should allow Griffin to carry a lighter workload on offense than he did with the Pistons last year, but he will still have the ball a lot. They will let him isolate and post up when he wants, while also having him play a two-man game with different players, and run pick and rolls. Griffin will be the engine that powers the Pistons offense.
The one question as to his role will be if the Pistons opt to experiment with Griffin playing minutes at center again or not. The Pistons gave this a try right after the trade last year and it was a mixed bag. Griffin has never played center in even limited minutes before, but when both Jackson and Griffin are healthy it makes sense, in theory, to keep one of the two on the floor all the time. Offensively, Griffin at center should be a home run, the idea of him at center, surrounded (mostly) by shooters while he mashes backup bigs is quite appealing. The problem is that Griffin really struggled with defense at center. Hopefully, the Pistons at least explore the possibility of this even if they decide to shelve it.
On offense, the hope is that the way Griffin finished the season was a sign of what is to come. While he is unlikely to shoot as well from deep as he did over that stretch, everything else should be fairly replicable. The problems with efficiency early on are forgivable when you remember that Reggie Bullock was literally the only capable three-point shooter he played with most of the time and the fact that there was very little offense put in place for him right away.
There are two big things that will be interesting to see this coming season. First off, how do Griffin and Jackson split ball-handling duties when they are on the floor together? Griffin suffering an injury at the end of last year robbed us of any meaningful sample-size for how they may coexist which makes this an open question.
It is worth mentioning that I don't really see this as a potential issue, Griffin and Jackson are both high-IQ players who are good passers and at least competent shooters. Especially given the way Jackson fit so well into the motion-heavy offense the Pistons ran early last season, I have no doubt that they will be able to co-exist effectively. It will still be interesting to see how Dwane Casey elects to split duties between the two.
The second thing to watch will be how much time Griffin spends on the perimeter. With the Pistons last year, Griffin shot 5.4 three-pointers per game and hit 34.8% of them, which is actually a pretty decent mark given that a lot of them were tough pull-up looks, which is a pretty high number for such a dominant inside player.
Regardless of all that, Griffin is the right combination of scoring and passing ability to be a legit #1 option in a good offense. He's a matchup nightmare that can mush smaller guys in the post and dribble around most big guys, there are all sorts of fun things you can do with someone as big as him with his passing abilities as well. If he can hover around 35% from deep like he did last year it would be a huge victory as well and would significantly lessen the worries about potential spacing issues for the Pistons. On that note, when playing with Reggie Jackson the supposed spacing issues are not likely to be nearly as bad as many have suggested. Per Synergy Sports, last year Griffin ranked in the 90th percentile and an "Excellent" rating as a spot-up shooter. 36% from deep should be attainable this year for him.
For all the talk of how he's declining the reality is that when he's been on the floor he's remained a dominant offensive player. Over the last three years, three years where he has failed to make an all-star team due to injuries, he has averaged 21.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game with a true shooting percentage of 55.4%. Those are elite marks by pretty much any stretch of the imagination. His rebounds will likely be lower than that given that he has clearly shown that he is content to just box out his man and let Andre Drummond swallow up boards, but something around 20/6/6 should be the expectation for Griffin and he is almost certain to reach it. Health is the only worry.
With all my confidence in Griffin's abilities out in the open, there is one place where I feel like he must improve from his time in Detroit last season. He must become a factor when the ball isn't in his hands beyond simply hitting enough of his three-point shots. Far too often when he didn't have the ball he simply went through the motions while waiting to get the ball back.
Plays like this:
I'm not asking for crazy effort here, he's a star, stars generally slack off in some areas. But at least set good screens and do something other than standing uselessly with your hand in the air calling for the ball.
This is where it is a bit questionable. Griffin is in the nightmare zone of being a big who can't really protect the rim. While Griffin's girth and athleticism allow him to occasionally be somewhat of a deterrent in the paint at times, his T-Rex arms keep him from being an effective rim protector. Griffin is obviously not a total bum guarding away from the hoop, for his size he is actually quite agile, but he still struggles to keep up with good perimeter players. One hope here is that the new coaching staff stresses how important it is for Griffin to have better discipline on the defensive end. Even if he is not quick enough to handle elite ball-handlers away from the hoop, if he spent more time on his toes and less time flat-footed, lunging and reaching, he would fare much better.
Perhaps the biggest issue on defense is that Griffin is best served in a more conservative scheme that allows keeps him closer to the paint. The problem, of course, is that his fellow front-court mate, Andre Drummond, thrives in attacking ball-handlers on the perimeter. Asking the perimeter players to essentially execute two different schemes depending on which big is with them is tough for anyone. It will be a challenge for the new coaching staff to find a happy medium that allows Drummond to take advantage of his considerable talent without taxing Griffin too much. Once again though, I do think some extra focus on defensive fundamentals would help Griffin a lot.
Another big thing on defense for Griffin will be consistent focus and effort. I'm not expecting any above and beyond effort, stars take plays off and when you have such an offensive burden as Griffin will handle you have to conserve energy somewhere. Simply be disciplined and execute the scheme. We know he is a smart enough player to do so and a good enough athlete to do so.
Griffin is mostly good, sometimes flawed, as far as his attitude goes. Other than the notoriously prickly Chris Paul, Griffin has mostly liked and been liked by teammates. He is both a talented and willing passer on the floor who doesn't mind doing some of the dirty-work of boxing out and setting screens. He keeps himself in great shape and clearly works incredibly hard on his game when you look at all the ways he has improved over his career.
The downside is that Griffin is, undeniably, a diva at times. It is part of the trade-off to have a guy of Griffin's talent, very few guys of this caliber are Tim Duncan, but it is still a downside. Griffin's temper gets the better of him occasionally and he will stand and argue with the refs instead of getting back on defense at times.
That said, as a star player goes, he is fine. He works hard and isn't a selfish player. Perhaps most importantly is that, by all accounts, he and his teammates in Detroit have been really getting along, although Andre Drummond probably gets a lot of the credit there since he's seemed to consistently be a positive influence in being such a friendly guy all the time.
Biggest Question for the coming season:
Can he stay healthy? That is it. There can be some fluctuations in his play, how will he hold up on defense? Can he crack 36% from deep? But no matter what, we know that Griffin will be excellent when he is on the floor. Griffin has played 35, 61, and 58 games the last three years. The Pistons need him on the floor. My tentative number remains that the Pistons will need at least 135 games between Griffin and Jackson this season.
Best Case Scenario:
Griffin plays 80 games for the first time since 2014 and is healthy for the playoffs. Finally healthy for the first time in a couple of years, with teammates and a coach that he really likes, Griffin has an MVP caliber season. 24/8/8 on good efficiency is the end result and he even dedicates himself to being a solid defensive player to boot. Griffin leads the Pistons to a surprise spot at the top of the Eastern Conference where they fight to the Finals where they are the annual sacrifice to the Golden State Warriors.
Worst Case Scenario:
Before the season even starts, whether it be a preseason game or in training camp, Griffin gets dinged up a bit and misses the start of the season, he comes back but doesn't look right and then something else happens. This process continues the entire season, he plays 40 games and never really settles into being himself even when he does play, the Reggie Jackson joins him on the injury train and the Pistons miss the playoffs for the 3rd straight year and even the most optimistic of us (me) have to admit that it may be time to totally tear it down.
So in conclusion...
Wink knowingly at your friends if:
Griffin plays 75+ games.
He builds on a strong start to long-distance shooting and is a legit threat from deep.
He, Jackson, and Drummond form a killer combination for a deadly offense where Griffin is fully weaponized.
Run for the hills if:
"Griffin will be re-evaluated in 3 weeks"
Not only does Griffin not build on last year's deep threat but he goes backward and struggles to crack 30%.
Whatever offense Dwane Casey tries to install doesn't fit with Griffin. He looks uncomfortable and out of position a lot.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
36% from deep on 5.5 attempts.
All-star and 3rd team All-NBA.
What do you think? Can Griffin stay healthy? How will he shoot from deep?