The Detroit Pistons shocked the NBA when the team traded for supremely talent, oft-injured, highly paid Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers.
It had less to do with what the Pistons gave up — sure, Tobias Harris was unquestionably a really good young player on a great contract who had taken a step forward this season. And giving up a first-round pick should always hurt. But Avery Bradley was a disappointment due a big payday this offseason and Boban Marjanovic was a scratch off lottery ticket that never paid off.
No, it’s about all those injuries. And all those years left on Griffin’s deal. And all that money. So, so much money.
Stan Van Gundy the GM and Stan Van Gundy the coach are both fighting for their respective jobs, and when that happens these are the kind of things men are wont to do.
The truth is, the Pistons needed to make a move and it needed to be big. They either needed to swing for the fences and add talent or start a proper teardown and start over. Their biggest need since the moment Reggie Jackson twisted his ankle in December was to secure a starting caliber point guard.
The only problem is they couldn’t find one. So instead they got the next best thing — 6-foot-10 point guard Blake Griffin.
Griffin is not only a gifted scorer who continually adds range to his game -- he is an extremely gifted facilitator who can operate out of the high post and find open teammates.
In the last four seasons Griffin has had assist percentages of 26.2, 27.2, 24.5 and 26.6. Comparatively, Tobias Harris has had percentages of 8.8, 10.6, 8.8 and 10.0 over the same span. Heck, over the past 15 games, Blake’s assist percentage this season would best starting point guard Ish Smith’s mark of 25.7 percent.
The Pistons are taking a huge gamble here. And that can’t be stated enough. The ceiling of this team might never be high enough for this move to make sense. That also can’t be stated enough.
But Detroit’s season was going to be truly lost unless they could solve some fundamental flaws on their roster, and this move addresses those flaws and then some.
In Blake Griffin you have:
1. A player who can draw double teams and has playmaking ability and gravity that forces defenses to react as a way to open up open shots for others.
2. Someone who can create for themselves in crunch time when everything comes out of half court sets.
3. A good rebounding presence at the power forward position for one of the worst-rebounding teams in the NBA.
How he fits with Andre Drummond will be of the utmost importance and he functioned very well alongside a similar big man in DeAndre Jordan. Or Jordan’s assisted baskets nobody passed to Jordan more than Griffin other than Lou Williams.
Griffin also gives Van Gundy the ability to play Griffin as a small ball five with additional shooters if an opponent forces Drummond off the floor.
There’s also this — you might associate the Detroit Pistons with a few things that have been in painfully short supply the past 10 years — FUN. And not just fun but a creative, versatile offense.
The Pistons now have two of the best-passing big men in the NBA and a handful of shooters (but little depth) to put around them. Sure the Pistons still don’t really have a point guard that can get the team buckets in crunch time — but when you have the possibility of a fun two-man game with Griffin and Drummond. Or a Drummond DHO off a Griffin screen leading to an open look for Reggie Bullock — well, I’ll take it.
This could be an unmitigated disaster or it could inject a new level of fun and function to Pistons basketball — either way, it’ll be damned interesting.