Blake Griffin Earned The Right To Be Believed In

This is the 4th season review. Previously was Reggie Jackson, Bruce Brown, and Wayne Ellington. Also my apologies because I just realized that I forgot the “Best thing from this season” and “Looking forward” sections from the previous three.

The Basics:

Griffin had a spectacular season that saw him earn 3rd team All-NBA honors, the first Piston to do so since Andre Drummond three years ago, and even though he fell just short of making it through the entire season without a major injury he finished a close second to Andre Drummond in total minutes played over 75 games.

Griffin posted the remarkable stat-line of 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game .He did that on a remarkable true shooting percentage of 58% and shot 36.2% from deep on 7(!!) attempts per game. He came just short of the franchise record for threes hit in a single season and had he not gotten hurt he almost certainly would’ve.

By almost every marker, this was Griffin’s second best season ever behind only his legendary 2013-2014 season.

Offense:

Griffin was the fulcrum that the entire Detroit Offense revolved around. Especially early in the season, the Pistons rarely did anything that didn’t have Griffin as the centerpiece. While Griffin wasn’t perfect in his role as the offensive fulcrum, he was pretty close.

Simply put, Griffin has fully become the all-around threat that you need in order to be a true #1 option. A match up nightmare who is too big and strong for defenders nimble enough to stay in front of him and too nimble for most defenders strong enough to stand up to him. He demands double teams whether he is backing guys down in the post or putting it on the floor to drive to the hoop, he finishes through contact and if teams totally cut him off he’s a good enough passer to slice teams apart by hitting open shooters. (if the Pistons had better shooters he would’ve had more assists this season)

One of the big standouts is that Griffin is officially a deadly three-point shooter. He shot 36.2% on incredibly high volume while having just 56.1% of his threes be assisted. When he was off the ball he worked effectively as essentially being a floor-spacer and when he had the ball he was liable to pull up from deep at any moment, including some spectacular step-backs that a man of his size has no right to be able to pull off.

One of the places where Griffin has especially been effective in a Pistons uniform is running a two-man game on the perimeter with various Pistons wings and guards. The dance of screening and re-screening with the ball bouncing back and forth is a joy to watch and a highly effective tool in the Pistons offense. One of the best developments here is that as the season went on he and Reggie Jackson started to click together.

For all that, Griffin wasn’t perfect. First off, while Griffin was obviously very low on the real reasons for this, the Pistons had just the 21st ranked offense in the NBA this season and at least some of that comes on the shoulders of the centerpiece.

In terms of more tangible issues there were really only two. First off, Griffin did at times get a little bit of tunnel vision with the ball. For a guy who is as brilliant a passer as Griffin, he has a lot of moments where he ends up in a crowd of defenders. This is a fairly minor complaint, Griffin is such a strong finisher that he makes it work fine, and the reality is that often that help was coming off someone who was such a bad shooter that passing the ball to them wouldn’t do any good anyways.

The bigger complaint, and the only really significant one, is that Griffin was largely useless when he didn’t have the ball in his hands. To be clear, this is somewhat a reality of having a ball-dominant offensive superstar on your team. They take plays off. But there were times that it simply went too far. Griffin was almost comically reluctant to roll after setting screens, spent very little time being active off the ball, and sometimes inexplicably started to walk back on defense well before the possession was even over. That last one is the one that is most upsetting. Once again, most superstars are not Tim Duncan, they take plays off and laze around when they don’t have the ball. But with how well Blake is shooting, even if he wants to just park himself at the three-point line and do nothing else, he is still providing some value to the offense, but when he starts to leak back on defense so early he is taking away even that basic value. It’d be great if he could take a page from Andre Drummond and become a super active screener and roller, even away from the ball, but that’s probably not realistic. At the very least stay on the right half of the court when the possession is still very much happening.

Defense:

A bit of hit or miss here. On one hand, he had some really great moments. Griffin is an incredibly stout post defender and when he is in position a solid protector of the paint. He drew a ton of charges and even if his arms are not long enough to be a great rim protector in a traditional sense, he’s wide enough that it’s hard to get a clear line to the hoop and he’s still got the hops to block the ever-loving-hell out of fools occasionally.

On the other hand, the effort was often just not there. Lazy and non-existent rotations were regular, the number of times other players had to make extra long rotations because Blake simply decided he didn’t feel like moving was incredibly high. This is made extra frustrating since we know that Blake knows the rotations he’s supposed to make because when he locks in he is excellent at these things. Once again, however, this is a reality of having an NBA superstar on the roster.

One thing, once again, is inexcusable even with the “Well he’s a star he takes plays off” and that is his closeouts. Holy goodness Blake Griffin may the most breathtakingly piss-poor close-out defender in the history of basketball. He bit on even the most pathetic of shot fakes to leap into the air and go flying way past the shooter (often deciding to just continue going towards the other end of the court, which resulted in his free man getting an offensive rebound on several occasions) or not even bothering to really close out and simply allowing the open shot. Even when he did manage to make the basic closeout AND stop in front of the shooter he was always so stupendously flat-footed that even the slowest of players put the ball on the floor and drove past him. Stretch 4s having huge nights was an epidemic for the Pistons and it largely falls on Blake’s shoulders.

Once again, I’m well aware of the reality of NBA stars, Blake is going to take plays off on defense and that’s something you just live with. But being able to do a basic closeout is something that he has to be able to do. The Pistons can live with the lazy rotations and trying to leak out too early, they can’t have every power forward in the league who can shoot torching them. If he can straighten that out then he will easily be the sort of “often lazy but competent enough that it’s fine” level of defense that you need out of your stars.

Best takeaway from the season?

Blake and Andre work together just fine. When they shared the floor they were +5.1 per 100 possessions and the Pistons were even positive when Griffin and Drummond shared the floor in the playoffs. It isn’t the prettiest, at times it was awkward, but in the end talent almost always fits. As the season went on they got more comfortable with using the space they created for each other, the one thing is that Griffin needs to make more his his passes to Andre lobs. He tries to bounce a lot of them for some reason, Andre is very tall and jumps very high, toss it up.

Biggest worry from this season?

He didn’t quite make it. The worry about Griffin was his health, it’s been 6 years since he got through a season without a serious injury. He almost did it this season, but he broke down at the very end. That injury likely cost the Pistons a spot or two in the playoffs standings, nearly cost them a playoff berth altogether, and killed any shot they had at being competitive with the Bucks. In the end it didn’t change much for this season, no matter what seed they were and even if Blake is healthy the Pistons are losing in the first round. But like, what if a bunch of stuff clicks for the pistons next season and they basically they are fighting to have home-court advantage in the playoffs next season and this happens again? It remains a worry.

The Verdict:

Incredible season from Griffin. He combined volume and efficiency at a great level, and he did so in low-creativity offense that often had at least one guy on the floor with him who opponents didn’t guard. On an individual level, Blake had as tough a task as you can give an NBA player and he passed it with flying colors. Health remains a concern and his contract is still huge, but Griffin is worth watching every night. it’d be great if he would even out a few effort things, but hopefully with some improved teammates next season he will have a little more energy to give. Probably the best individual season by a Piston since Grant HIll and possibly longer, and a immensely fun season to watch from a player. It also furthered a belief I’ve strongly held from the moment the Pistons traded for him: If Blake stays healthy, no one will complain about his contract.