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How would you coach a player with the talent of a Blake Griffin?

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Explaining the the thought process of coaching a superstar.

Detroit Pistons v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Everyone views and watches Detroit Pistons’ games differently. By “everyone,” I really mean everyone. Some fans just want the team to be competitive, others own a championship or bust mentality. The last guys on the bench don’t view the game like the starters. The Chicago Bulls are more interested in favored Pistons’ tendencies than Andre Drummond alley-oop highlights. In short, formulating a take on the Detroit Pistons is directly related to your point-of-view.

I’ve always been fascinated with the coaching POV. The gameday strategy, managing egos, speaking to the media, dealing with fans, handling expectations and disappointments, what’s it like to coach a guy like Blake Griffin, it’s all so very interesting to me.

That last one, “what’s it like to coach a guy like Blake Griffin” is a fun one. So much so that, below, I do my best ball coach impersonation as a way to describe what it’s like to coach Griffin from Dwane Casey’s point-of-view.

It’s either going to be really fun, or really dumb. Either way, boys and girls of DBB and visitors alike, I’m no longer Mike Snyder....

I’m Dwane Casey.

Go Cats.


We all watch film and hear random stories from around the league but you never know how good (or bad) a player actually is until you continually see him up close and personal. The entirety of the talent and basketball-related idiosyncrasies can only be truly appreciated from a day-to-day lens.

My experience with Kevin Garnett is the epitome of what I’m referring to.

Before accepting my first NBA head coaching job in Minnesota, there was a vague idea of who I thought Garnett was floating around aimlessly in my head. My “idea,” however, sold the former MVP drastically short. Immeasurable ability combined with enough quirks to last a lifetime made coaching KG a once-in-a-generation opportunity that will be in my back pocket wherever this wonderful game takes me.

Look here, I’m still only 30-ish games into my tenure with the Detroit Pistons, but I can already tell you coaching Blake Griffin has been a remixed version of that same Garnett song.

Worrying about the Hollywood rendition of Griffin, while coaching in Toronto, was a “best case scenario.” The NBA Finals were the only time we’d run into the Clippers with any real meaning as squaring off twice a season was merely a blip on the radar. Like Garnett, I had an idea of Griffin’s capabilities, but they were nowhere near reality.

Let me say this: Blake Griffin is an absolute stud.

Perhaps the biggest surprise thus far has been Griffin’s inclination to hit the floor with no regard for the accompanying bumps and bruises. Loose balls, charges, diving into the stands, you know, whatever it takes. Griffin doesn’t make business decisions, rather, he makes winning decisions:

Examples like above happen multiple times in every game. Some guys don’t do that. A lot of guys don’t do that.

Having your best player be first in line to scrap for every inch is a fairytale dream shared by all coaches. If the $30 million-dollar-per-year guy has floor burns after each game, there is no reason everyone else on the roster shouldn’t have them too.

In the NBA, the critical role of team leader is usually reserved for the best, or most important player. Of course there are exceptions to all rules, but, by-and-large, the guy(s) with the gargantuan contract and shoe deal is the same guy the coaching staff leans on, in one form or another, to steer the locker room clear of cancerous debris.

Look here (Mike’s note: although I’ve never heard him say it, I feel Casey says “look here” a lot), if your top dog is guiding the team with the enthusiasm of a grounded teenager, or has the attention span of a goldfish, I don’t care how good that player is, it’s going to be a long season. Griffin’s easily checked off every leadership box we’ve thrown at him - and that’s just as important as the nightly triple-double threat he provides.

On-court accountability was comically void before Griffin’s arrival, and the Pistons’ organization was in desperate need of, not just a face, but a voice. While Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Avery Bradley and draft picks are all valuable assets, they didn’t, and couldn’t establish that much-needed tone. Clarity in voice and message, which Blake naturally oozes, spawns accountability.

To modify a decade’s long culture of average, you need shake the snowglobe. When Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Bower pulled the trigger on the Griffin trade, it wasn’t for his retweeted dunks or Nike commercials, it was for the culture.

I, the previous regime, nor Blake himself, might not be around to witness or experience the fruits of the Pistons’ lifestyle change, but don’t forget where and when it started. My good buddy SVG died for this.

Look here, Griffin isn’t perfect, and I bet he’d be the first to nod his head in agreement. As a coach, we don’t mind mistakes, in fact, we encourage them. Basketball, after all, isn’t a game of perfect. What grinds my gears, though, is correcting the same mistake. Best believe I’m on him about careless rock protection like this:

Once, maybe. Twice? Three times?! Go ahead, make mistakes, all I ask is they’re new mistakes. Cut the shit, son.

Part of our defensive philosophy is curbing our opponents’ three-point attempts. To do this, we stay at home on our checks more often than not in an effort to limit long help-recoveries and rotations, and we run dudes off the three-point line. Sometimes, the defense breaks down and we’re left scrambling, placing Blake into a vulnerable spot. I’m sure you’ve seen these types of perimeter closeouts:

Yes, get him off the line, but the job wasn’t done. Below, not only does Griffin run Jaylen Brown off the line, but he sticks with him long enough to contest the shot:

Multiple efforts wins basketball games. I know this. Blake knows this.

On my end, I’ve got to figure out how to reduce those situations, which, ultimately, will reduce the needless wear and tear on Griffin, too.

Offensively, our entire identity has been Blake Griffin, and it needs a tweak or two. I know this. Blake knows this. Look here, we’ve already experienced a few games that our “prevent offense” failed us down the stretch. When the court shrinks, and play after play becomes a glorified Griffin isolation possession, it’s a win for the defense:

Like my football coaching amigos always say “the only thing ‘prevent defense’ does is prevents you from winning the game,” we gotta right our crunch time wrongs.

Overall, we’ve struggled putting the ball through the hoop, but don’t put the blame on Blake Griffin. If we start hitting shots at a reasonably normal NBA clip and fuse those newly found makes with a guy who can consistently make these types of plays, watch out:

There are a lot of players in the league who can do one or two of those things. I can count on one hand, however, the players in the league who can do them all like Blake Griffin.

Look here Detroit, there is no shot clock to do things the right way. During my coaching career, I’ve seen too many teams lose patience and bite the lolipop to get to the core faster. Too many organizations fail their plan instead of letting their plan fail them. Sustainable success doesn’t work like that. I understand you’re clamoring for a trade, but before we can make a move, I need to be 100-percent confident we tried our initial way - to its fullest extent - first.

I was the Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season, if I was wrong about all this stuff, don’t you think I’d know?

One thing is for sure: Blake Griffin is at the forefront of any Pistons related strategy moving forward because he’s our Robert McCall.

He’s Detroit’s Equalizer.

P.S Take it from me, coach Dwane Casey, DBB is the best place on the internet for Detroit Pistons talk. In fact, it’s the only hoops site I regularly visit. Get me on the pod!

Also, I’m getting paid for all this, right? Mike?