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The Close Out: Blake Griffin’s impact is only starting to be felt in Detroit

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Griffin’s fingerprint is already stamped on every Pistons’ possession, but it’s just the start.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We’re two weeks into the Blake Griffin era - so DBB, how do you feel?

The record sure looks great (two shitty fourth quarters away from looking much better) but let's not kid ourselves as the schedule certainty aided in the transition. Both the home-stand combined with playing tired legs made the overhaul a smaller pill to swallow, but that’s not the Pistons’ fault.

Admittingly, I’m still in the honeymoon phase. As of now, Blake Griffin can do little wrong looking from my fancy Pistons-tinted glasses.

Forgot to take the garbage out? No problem, it happens. Don’t feel like mowing the lawn? Ok, I’ll do it.

You wanna dribble the air out of the ball? You’re right, it looks a little over-inflated. Another spin move? I love it.

In all seriousness, my initial reaction to the franchise-alerting trade was overwhelmingly positive and after six games under the new look, I feel even better about the future of this team.

Why?

There are two reasons. The first being: I go to bed early.

Much like you, I love the NBA and spend more time than I care to admit watching, reading, tweeting, and everything in-between all things NBA. But all that watching, reading and tweeting is within the strict confines of the eastern standard time zone.

West coast games? Naw, I don’t play that.

I can hold an intelligent conversation with anyone about the Detroit Pistons but that’s where my (self-proclaimed) expertise abruptly ends. I’m smack dab in the middle of a never-ending loop of playing catch-up during the season in regards to everything outside Detroit.

That’s a long-winded way of explaining Blake Griffin isn’t who I thought he was.

Early in his career, he was pigeonholed as a phenomenal and exciting athlete with decent acting chops but not much else. On the court in a Pistons’ uniform, has he done anything suggesting his current style of play isn’t sustainable? Is he relying on quickness or an out-of-this-world jumping prowess to average 20 points per game? What part of his game won’t age well?

Nothing we’ve witnessed (albeit “so far”) makes a 31 or 32-year-old Blake Griffin less relevant or effective. It doesn’t mean he’s not a considerably above average athlete, it just indicates he’s not solely dependent on it.

He’s a banger. Even better, he’s our banger.

In fact, the only thing scaring me is off the court. A Kardashian/Jenner story has never ended well but I can hardly blame him. Just make good decisions, Blake. Nothing good happens after midnight.

The second reason is that of all the fashion from the 80s slowly making an unwelcome comeback.

Basketball—like 80s fashion—is cyclical and all it takes is one player or team to change the course of the entire league.

I really liked what the New Orleans Pelicans had going on with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. With obtaining the talented and gigantic duo, the Pels nailed the hard part, but still needed to surround their bigs with the proper teammates.

Now, I’m not saying Detroit and their big ball is on track to conquer the Golden State Warriors and their small ball but you’re not going to beat the champs at their own game. If someone is going to upend the Warriors in the foreseeable future, it’s not going to derive from duplicating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

What if Greg Oden’s knees worked?

What if Andrew Bynum enjoyed basketball half as much as he enjoyed bowling?

Had those guys panned out to the level we expected, teams would need multiple large bodies on their roster to check them. Somewhere, there is seven-foot teenage post player with impeccable footwork that is going to make true bigs cool again. People are currently wearing fanny packs on purpose - it’s just a matter of time before bigs are back in style.

Like New Orleans, the tricky part for the Pistons will be the supporting cast. With limited money to play with, it’s going to be a challenge. The Chris Paul-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan era Clippers didn’t fail because of their big three. They continuously fell short because of bad luck and the revolving door of former Doc Rivers’ players didn’t fit. The pairing of Griffin and Drummond is a good start, but the overall success depends on who they share the court with.

Below, we’ll take an extended look at how has Griffin fit in with the playbook, go on a muscle alert with Stanley Johnson and take a peek at a couple ugly defensive trends.

Inside the Pistons’ playbook

Like any team, the Pistons have a go-to collection of sets and play types. Here we’ll break down the plays used often by the Pistons, along with variations and break down the process and the results.

The addition of the offensively-gifted Griffin means Stan Van Gundy and his staff inherit a problem every coaching staff loves to have: how to incorporate incoming talent into their scheme. For Detroit, this includes properly fusing Griffin’s powerful post-game within a pre-Blake post-less offense.

Anytime you hear the word “punch” in the context of hoops strategy, it signifies a post-touch is forthcoming:

Above, this Punch set’s main goal is to get Griffin in his post-up happy place - the left block. From there, we’ve already witnessed the damage he can inflict which included closing out the Brooklyn Nets:

Whether by design or simply within the flow of the motion-based offense, Griffin on the block adds a significant dimension into their offense that didn’t exist in a world with no Blake - a world in which I have no desire living in ever again.

Griffin meshed with Drummond almost immediately, including feeding the post:

A Drummond post-up is a touchy subject around these parts, but it’s hard to argue the above looks.

Detroit has since put him in a manufactured two-man-games with Reggie Bullock:

Part-time Piston player Langston Galloway:

And a PNR set with Luke Kennard:

The Horns double-screen / staggered screen is still a staple but Detroit has mixed in initiating the look closer to the free throw line:

Setting up Griffin as the main ball-handler:

If Griffin’s defender continues to go under, the shot is going to be open. From there, it’s a make-or-miss league.

To run a sideline pick-and-roll between Smith and Griffin (or Tolliver), the Pistons will use a ram screen to chip away at the screen-setters’ defender:

With a built-in counter for slow or sloppy defenders:

Speaking of counters....

The Pistons have been staggering the minutes of Griffin and Drummond to make sure one of them is on the court at all times (until the Atlanta game). The possessions in which Blake is on the bench look much like Detroit’s offense prior to his arrival. For example, these two early fourth quarter DHOs against Portland:

Eventually, Portland had enough of Kennard whipping around Drummond’s sun-blocking sized screens and on the next trip down the court they decided to face-guard the Pistons’ rookie. Only one problem: no one told Portland’s bigs.

Cutting to the hoop is the right counter-punch with no Blazer eyes on the baseline.

This Week’s Trends and Dead Ends

A closer look at the habits —both good and bad—of players, coaches, and maybe even DBB commentators. Discover what the Pistons are doing really well, and understand what to look out for going forward.

Positive

Blow the whistle

I’ll briefly touch on Griffin’s defense below but one of the smaller yet significant positives is how many seemingly random calls and loose balls go his way on that end:

Essentially, they’re turnovers, so I’ll take ‘em, right?

Muscle behind the hustle

On DBB’s last podcast, Laz Jackson mentioned Stanley Johnson is now playing downhill while looking to actually finish the play. It’s something my good buddy Zach Lowe made note of too:

What does that look like?

This:

And how about these dimes?:

Thoughts, Reggie?

Basketball foul-calling 101: to the aggressor go the spoils. Keep it up, Stanley.

End of the clock

In Griffin, the question of who has the ball in their hands for the final possession of a close game has been answered. It also qualifies for situations in which the shot or game clock is winding down:

To be fair, though, how many misses will it take in isolation before Griffin gets the Marcus Morris treatment from the fanbase? My lord, another midrange Morris iso possession?

Again, I love the work in the post, but Detroit can’t just twiddle their thumbs at the three-point line and watch Griffin. Keep it moving.

Relentless Ish Smith

  1. Never gives up.
  2. Never gives up.

It’s pretty self-explanatory.

Negative

Nonchalant outlets

You’re already playing with house money on possessions created directly after turnovers but there should be no rush to give your hard-earned money right back to the dealer. Below, Drummond does just that:

Casual Drummond outlets are nothing new.

Weakside help

By and large, the Pistons’ half-court defense has been up to the task all season, but recently, their inability to cover the rolling/slipping big has been a loud talking point. Usually, the blame lies on the weakside low man:

Above, Kennard, Bullock and Langston Galloway are all guilty of failing to rotate over from the weakside to — at the very least — make the rolling big pause for a one-Mississippi count as the help comes.

Take a look how Tolliver (the weakside low man) lends a hand on the rolling Montrezl Harrell (while Drummond recovers) before he jets back to contest the three-ball:

Defense is — and always will be — a team effort.

Kick ‘em out

There is a good chance Draymond Green is the smartest defensive player in the league today. He certainly holds one of the highest BBIQ’s I’ve ever seen.

The Warriors —led by Green — are masters of the triple switch. Below, watch how Green kicks out his smaller Golden State teammate who switched onto rolling the Rudy Gobert:

It’s on-your-feet-thinking at its quickest and finest.

While the scenario below isn’t the exact same, the principles are:

Ish Smith is the mouse in most houses and if Tobias Harris is allowed to catch the ball that deep against Smith, it’s an automatic two points. The mismatch starts to develop a mile away, and Tolliver should’ve kicked out Smith.

Next time anyone tires to get tough with the six-foot-nothing Smith, Tolliver should hit him with one of my favorite lines ever:

“You knocked him down; why don’t you try knocking me down?” (a loose interpretation of mumbled words).

Rocky is the best, he’d triple switch.

Griffin’s late response

I’ll give Griffin another week before The Close Out starts to unapologetically dig into his defense. Long story short: Too much standing around.

But since we’re on a team defense kick, I’ll throw this out there.

Below, Griffin is low man on the weakside on near identical Austin Rivers’ drives:

Ideally, Griffin would meet Rivers on the strong side block with Bullock (on the first clip) and Johnson (second clip) rotating down to take his man in case there was a pass out - kinda like this:

All bets are off next week on Griffin’s team defense, but for today, I promise not to showcase anymore Griffin-standing-around-lowlights the rest of the way.

Ok, starting now.

High/Low: One Highlight, One Lowlight of the week

Not all good and bad plays are created equal. Some stick out and make you take notice. Or they’re just so funky they deserve a special place of their own.

High

Johnson muscle part two:

Textbook boxout, takes a shove to the back but continues to play, and the basketball Gods reward his hard-nosed approach.

Low

Stanley, get out of the way:

Proper spacing is everything and, nothing personal, Johnson’s services are not needed on this possession.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

With the upcoming All-Star Game, there are only two games on deck and both are at home with the New Orleans Pelicans and Atlanta Hawks paying a visit.

I’d hope for a 2-0 week, with a split acting as worst case scenario. Right after the break, Detroit hosts the Celtics before heading out on the road for five of their next six games which makes winnable games —and the Pelicans/Hawks are— borderline must-wins.

For me, I’ll be looking how Detroit continues to shove Griffin down their opponents’ throats. SVG has only scratched the surface of Griffin’s capabilities but it’s on Stan and the entire coaching staff to continue to push the creative envelope.

Defensively, Drummond has been on a tear and doing pretty much everything we’ve begged him (at length) to do. It must continue for this to work.

Finally, the rotations gotta be solidified at some point, right?

Enjoy the break!