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The Close Out: A new beginning, starring Blake Griffin

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Detroit snaps eight game losing streak and goes 3-0 after acquiring Blake Griffin.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Seven days ago, the Pistons’ storyline centered around the season slowly slipping away.

Four short days later, I made the case for the Pistons to consider the eastside in regards to their clearly evident championship parade route.

Very few things can change the seemingly already determined course of a season in such short time, but the acquisition of a legitimate superstar does just that.

The championship parade was an obvious (I thought, anyway) tongue-in-cheek take but the trade definitely gave Detroit—and their fans— a new lease on playoff aspirations.

Blake Griffin is an in-his-prime star whose front-court teammate is now All-Star Andre Drummond. It’s a hell of a one-two heavyweight punch in an Eastern Conference that doesn’t need the viciousness or precision of a shoeshine combination to compete.

If you determine the success of this trade by “championship rings” then, yes, in your eyes, it will unceremoniously fail.

To me, that’s unfair.

To state the obvious, only one team wins every year, and the Golden State Warriors have a monopoly on talent for the foreseeable future. Blake Griffin doesn’t put the Pistons in the same altitude as the high-flying Warriors, but it does put them in a better position to capitalize on basketball-manufactured luck. Luck—basketball or otherwise—is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Should anything unforeseen (injury, free agency, card game beef gone horribly wrong) take place in The Bay, Detroit is better prepared to exploit the unforeseen than they were a mere week ago.

The Pistons are now one name (and health) away from real contention of teams not named the Warriors. With Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris in uniform, Detroit was the organizational version of a never-ending Bruno Caboclo loop.

I’ll take the Griffin route.

It’s safe to say a majority of DBB didn’t shed a tear when they heard Bradley was shipped out west. The same can’t be said for Harris and, for some, Boban Marjanovic - we’ll miss those guys.

The draft picks? Well, those precious draft picks have just a good of a chance being an Austin Daye-type as they do producing a key rotational cog.

For this trade to succeed, the only thing that matters is the ongoing health of Griffin. If he’s able to stay on the court, then his skillset convincingly backs up the hefty price tag. Given his injury history, though, it’s an undebatable risk.

The Pistons, however, are in their tenth year of rebuilding. At some point, it’s time to throw away the calculator.

I’ll take the Griffin route.

Below, we’ll go over everything Blake, revisit Stanley Johnson’s career game against the Cavaliers and pay homage to the resourceful Reggie Bullock.

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.

With any big change, there is going to be an adjustment period for all involved. Time and reps are the only remedies proven to smooth over any significant focus shift. In the meantime, Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons will rely on vanilla but effective tactics—on both sides of the court—to stay afloat.

After only two games, two things stick out like a green hat with an orange bill: the bully-ball post play and transition playmaking.

Griffin’s post game is half older-brother-in-the-driveway and half bumper-bowling. His bullish strength combined with gymnastic-like balance makes him a nightmare to defend:

Having someone who captures the attention and eyeballs of defenders in the post opens passing lanes that didn’t exist pre-Blake. It also helps that he’s a willing passer:

Detroit already hung their hat on scoring quickly after a possession change and the arrival of Griffin only compounds that strength:

Scoring on a live-ball rebound or turnover is a momentum-shifting play. Someone missed a shot, someone turned the ball over, someone didn’t get back in time and someone is definitely going to get reamed out.

As expected, the Pistons didn’t show any worthwhile (or new) sets but that’ll likely change as they continue to probe and explore the capabilities of their new power forward.

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.

Postive

The non-highlight highlights of Reggie Bullock

Major kudos to all those in DBB-land who continually believed in Reggie Bullock. Writer/editor Steve Hinson was one of those fearlessly fighting off the Bulllock-hate seemingly single-handedly (I’m sure there were others, feel free to name yourselves).

Unfortunately, my preseason take on Bullock will not hold up well in the official DBB Book of Records. Essentially, my opinion was “Meh, I can take or leave him”. Well, thank the Basketball Gods we took him.

Bullock has become a master of the “how the hell did he get so open?” type of plays. Case and point, offensive off-ball movement.

How the hell did he get so open?

Cutting—like passing, effort, laziness, basically anything and everything—then becomes contagious.

The Bullock-cut already gets much-deserved love but the purity of the trait never gets old to revisit (and revisit and revisit...).

The place where Bullock warrants a little more fanfare is on defense. As a wing defender, there is no shortage of talent to spar with. His humdrum defensive box score won’t jump out at you but that’s why they invented film:

Navigating through screens, rearview contests, sliding with The King, contesting without completely taking yourself out of the play (won’t mention any names) - these are all non-stat recording winning hoops plays.

Congrats to Steve and to all the other Steves out there, you were right.

Stanley Johnson vs Cleveland

Someone lit a fire under Stanley Johnson’s ass this week.

His rollercoaster play took a turn for the better, starting against the Cavs. Johnson finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Please bottle that up and take a generous sip before each game moving forward.

Now, the Cavaliers own a remarkably bad transition defense, but that’s not our fault nor problem. Good teams and players make their opponents pay for their glaring short-comings and Johnson did just that by pushing the pace:

While these Johnson defensive efforts led to immediate Detroit Pistons’ points:

You know what really grinds my gears? Assists. Particularly the way they’re recorded.

Johnson earned four “assists” in the Cleveland game but numbers only tell half of the story (if not less). In my box score, plays like these are just as significant and noteworthy:

Johnson keeps test-driving the role of playmaker. If he ever consistently grabs the wheel, he’ll be a much-needed force on both ends.

Look-alikes

Above, Ish Smith and Blake Griffin’s change-of-pace dribble creates space in an effort to find that open place to erase the on-ball defender, all while in a race to the hoop to leave the defense in total disgrace.

There are precious few Andre Drummond post-moves that get the green light from The Close Out but the face-up rip-through is one of them:

We’ve seen it before, and I like it.

How many guys in the entire league get these types of rebounds?

A handful, at most.

Negative

Defending gravity

Percentage-wise, the Pistons are one of the five worst teams in defending the long-ball. In the half-court, a healthy chunk of those looks derive from a rolling big like this:

Kennard has no choice but to take the slipping Deyonta Davis threat seriously, which opens passing and shooting lanes on the perimeter.

The potent stroke of Kyle Korver makes bumping the roll by the weakside a strategical catch-22:

Man, defense is tough.

Drummond’s, um, difficult shot selection

Just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.

We’ve all witnessed Andre Drummond finish a play demanding us to pick our collective jaws off the floor, but it can lead to negative reinforcement to replicate such highlights:

  1. Dre’s got to give that ball up.
  2. Degree of difficulty is too high and not worth the lost possession.

Besides the travel, besides the make, this is a poorly selected shot:

He’s made an honest effort in decreasing the total amount of low-percentage shots, so please don’t revert back.

Talk it out

Getting back on defense is the easy part, communication is the tough part:

Two difficult defensive concepts for young guys to grasp is keeping your feet (not biting on the pump fake) and not having tunnel vision on “your” man/responsibility. Johnson and Kennard both qualify as young, and both are guilty of the latter.

Dead defense

Dead-ball defense remains an issue. The Heat — alone — scored quickly on three possessions:

Pistons rank No. 23 in defending possessions after a baseline out-of-bounds (BLOB) play.

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

Last week, I bitched about the lack of re-screens for the non-shooting Ish Smith on the pick-and-roll. Apparently, all I had to do was ask:

Extra credit:

There is going “under a screen” and there is going “under two”. Below, Isiah Thomas goes under both the DHO and his teammate in a determined effort to keep Smith out of the paint. He failed:

When I grow up, I’d like to be half as quick as Ish Smith.

Low

Drummond still has lapses on defense but he’s clearly getting better at recognition. Below, he must offer Dwight Buycks some sort of assistance:

Dwyane Wade isn’t Dwyane Wade anymore, but if allowed to catch the ball with both feet in the paint and basically at the rim, he’s going to convert more often than not.

Peering into the Crystal Ball

What to look for in the next week.

It’s a four game work-week for Detroit: home to Portland, Brooklyn, and Griffin’s former team the Clippers, before heading to Atlanta.

4-0 doesn’t seem to be out of the question but the goal should be 3-1.

Griffin’s arrival sparked new-found interest in Detroit Pistons’ basketball. They’re a talking point on national podcasts and tv shows while even the locals seem to be tuning in.

As someone who doesn’t recognize any other sport, I love it.

But....

Sooner or later the honeymoon will end, and the Pistons will lose a couple winnable games. How they respond in those situations will tell us more than the wins over Memphis and Miami did.