Dwane Casey spoke in depth about Blake Griffin’s role in convincing him to accept the Pistons head coach job. Casey was impressed by what he heard from his network about Blake, particularly his leadership, vision, and work ethic.
But for Pistons fans, perhaps the most exciting thing Casey recognized was Griffin’s potential as a passer.
“My goal for him is to be the best passing power forward in the league, which he can do,” Casey says. “People look at Draymond Green, they look at all these other guys—point fives and point fours. Blake can be a prototypical point four because he’s very intelligent, he has great passing skills. What’d he average last year? 6.5 assists per game with the Pistons? There are a lot of ways to measure success beyond just points, and Blake has the ability to do that.”
This absolutely true.
Only one other big man in the league had a higher assist percentage than Griffin: Nikola Jokic. Of course, the Joker become well known for his passing prowess and it’s well deserved. The guy is a blast to watch.
But what’s wild is that Griffin was nipping on Jokic’s heels statistically. Jokic had a 29.6 percent assist percentage and Blake was at 28 percent. Jokic averaged 9.3 assists per 100 possessions and Griffin matched that mark during his time in Detroit.
He’s not as flashy of a passer as Jokic, but he’s effective. And there’s the potential for even more.
The Blake and Bullock Show
We may have lost Bobi and Tobi, but the Reggie Bullock and Blake Griffin was the bromance sliding under the radar.
Griffin took a minute to get comfortable with his new roster in Detroit, but Blake and Bullock clicked from the start. Here was Griffin’s first assist to Bullock:
They would go on to do that about a million more times throughout the season.
Griffin and Bullock only played together in 24 games. Yet Griffin dished 55 assists to Bullock, more than any other teammate last season. The second most? Lou Williams at 30 assists. In just 24 games, Reggie Bullock received nearly twice as many assists as any other teammate. That’s remarkable.
But not really. Their styles fit together perfectly. Bullock is probably the most active player moving without the ball for the Pistons and Griffin rewards that type of behavior. And while Jokic may specialize in a wizardry style of passing, Blake’s is straightforward.
He’d find Bullock on #BullockCuts:
And that crazy simple dribble handoff they showed with their first connection:
Which opened up more DHOs:
On passes received from Griffin, Bullock shot 53.3 percent from three. After the Griffin trade, Bullock averaged 14.5 points per game on a shooting line of 47 percent from the field, 44 percent from three, 86 percent from the free throw line, four rebounds and two assists per game.
These two need to be joined at the hip this season. Bullock simply needs to be in the starting lineup, if no reason other than because that’s where Griffin will be. But also, the guy is genuinely an excellent player. Yet he remains extremely underrated, even among Pistons fans.
The Pistons have historically had such a difficult time generating easy buckets. The Griffin-Bullock combo gets easy buckets.
Now all they need is a cutesy nickname. Reggriffin? Bullake? Bull & Griff? Ugh. Send help in the comments.
Drive & kick
Casey described his vision for Griffin’s role to be similar to what he did with DeMar DeRozan in Toronto:
“We’re going to empower him to expand his game, a lot like DeMar DeRozan in Toronto,” he said. “Expand his game out to the 3-point line, have some point-forward responsibilities with the basketball out on the floor bringing it down. Because he’s more than just a back-down, post-up player.”
While Griffin and DeRozan don’t even play the same position, this could really work.
Going back to Mike Snyder’s breakdown of Casey’s tendencies in Toronto was the emphasis of the drive and kick. As Mike pointed out, DeRozan was constantly attacking the rim with more than 16 drives per game. He finished the season with the second most in the league last year.
But DeRozan ended up with a field goal attempt on less than half of those drives, averaging just 6.8 attempts per game off drives. The goal was as much to collapse the defense for the kick as it was to get a shot for DeRozan.
Detroit didn’t use Griffin nearly as heavily in that role, averaging just 5.8 drives per game. But he was effective when he did, often generating a reasonably high percentage shot, trip to the free throw line, or assist. It’s a role he showed he can thrive in.
Typically when Detroit put Griffin in the position to drive, it was coming off the elbow. Casey’s vision of backing that up to the three point line should open up even more for Griffin and hopefully get a little more creative than the “Give Blake the ball and get out of the way” set.
Griffin was already able to create quite a bit without the offense getting too unorthodox last season. But how fun would it be to see him running the pick and roll with one of the wings? Let’s get weird. Besides, he might have an easier time staying healthy if the offense involves more than just having him barrel through the entire opposing team and seeing what happens.
A ball movement mentality
Over the past decade, the Pistons’ best players have generally been guys who like to shoot. And sure, Griffin takes plenty of shots. But he seems to genuinely enjoy facilitating. That kind of attitude can be contagious. I mean, when you’re making plays like this...
Improved ball movement is one of the biggest needs for the Pistons this season. DeRozan embracing his role as a facilitator last season, going from an assist percentage of 20 percent to 25 percent (a career high) even though it dropped his usage rate from 34 percent to 29 percent, helped the Raptors go from last in the league in assist percentage in 2016-17 to 11th last year.
The Pistons haven’t finished outside of the bottom five in the league in true shooting percentage in seven years. Griffin should help them break that streak and it’ll start with his passing. Coming around to that point earlier about Griffin being as good of a passer as Nikola Jokic, I think that deserves it’s own emphasis - Blake Griffin is as good of a passer as Nikola freaking Jokic!
It’s easy to discount Griffin. His shooting percentages were down last year. He’s paid a lot. He gets injured a lot.
But he also brings a dynamic that very few players in the league can match. If the Casey can make the most of that dynamic, it could be the thing that breaks the Pistons out of their decade of ineptitude.