The Detroit Pistons are undefeated in the Blake Griffin era after surviving a scare from the Memphis Grizzlies 104-102. It’s way too early, the players have had no practice time, and things will evolve ... BUT let’s not let that get in the way of reading way too much into things.
Here are five takeaways after one game with Blake Griffin in a Detroit Pistons uniform.
1. The team has found its leader
There have been several unfortunate themes of the Pistons in the past nine miserable years, and even as the quality of the play on the floor has improved one nagging question has remained — who the hell is the leader on this team?
We now have an answer to that question — Blake Griffin. Griffin isn’t only going to take the most shots on this team, he’s going to command most of the attention, spotlight and oxygen on and off the court. Griffin was a commanding presence in game No. 1, and his new teammates were happy to oblige.
He knew how to control the clock, set the tempo, knew when to push, get his own, look for teammates and make sure everything was set. Being a star isn’t just about being the best player on the floor, it’s about knowing how to use those skills to control the game. That’s what Griffin did, and that’s what’s been missing in Detroit since Chauncey Billups left.
2. Drummond might struggle to find his way
It’s just one game but it was clear that Andre Drummond didn’t quite know how to fit in, and it was his game that was most disrupted by Griffin’s arrival. He spent a lot of time (too much time) in the post, and was not nearly involved as a facilitator as he has been throughout the season. Blake is a domineering presence, but he’s also got a variety of offensive skills. I’d rather Stan Van Gundy keep Drummond perfectly in this comfort zone he’s found himself in this season and fit Griffin’s skills around that so they can both be effective.
3. Having a player who can rebound and get to the free-throw line is useful
Blake Griffin has played one game as the starting power forward for the Detroit Pistons. He already has as many 10-rebound games as former starting forward Tobias Harris. Rebounding is important.
Also important is having a player that can draw contact. Perhaps the weirdest thing about watching Griffin was seeing a Pistons player driving the lane and aggressively drawing contact, and the refs even giving him the benefit of the whistle. Harris certainly dcouldn’t do that. Hell, no Detroit player could do that. And I don’t even mean this year. I mean for a long, long time.
Griffin has averaged 7 free-throw attempts per game in his career and sits at 6.6 this season. The last time the Pistons had a player who drew that kind of contact you have to go all the way back to Jerry Stackhouse in 2001. Yeah, it’s been a while.
4. The bench is going to be a big issue
The bench had a -22.6 net rating tonight and the wing rotation was particularly heinous. Luke Kennard made several poor decisions on both ends of the floor, Galloway did nothing to win back Van Gundy’s trust in his 4-minute stint on the court and Dwight Buycks helped puked up a big Pistons lead early that gave Memphis life. Eric Moreland was dreadful and Willie Reed managed to pick up 3 fouls in five minutes. Through trades and injury, the Pistons have lost a ton of depth and the team can’t afford off nights like this.
To be fair, however, Buycks was able to turn things around and his aggressive play paid off. Anthony Tolliver hit a couple 3s, but he also did some typical Tolliver things including some late-game heroics when he replace Drummond in the last three minutes. He dove for a loose ball, won the jump ball, hit some key free throws and smartly fouled the Grizzles late when they were down 3 and were limited to two free-throws.
5. Nobody is going to benefit from this trade more than Reggie Bullock
Bullock has been a bright spot for the Pistons all season, but with the loss of Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris he goes from feel-good story to integral member of the Pistons’ rotation overnight.
Luckily, there is probably no Piston better suited to playing alongside Griffin than Bullock. Griffin commands so much attention while also being a terrific passer. Bullock knows how to get himself open whether through opportune cuts, curls off screens or finding a gap in coverage and moving himself open for a 3-point shot. Bullock had 15 points against the Grizzlies and I think that’s going to be the rule more than the exception going forward. Oh yeah, he also leads Detroit in true shooting percentage on the season. More minutes, more shots and more responsibility given to Bullock is good news for the Pistons.