Blake Griffin was magnificent last season. There’s no other way to put it.
He put together not only his best individual season, but the best by a Detroit Pistons player in more than a decade – or two? He scored. He rebounded. He got on the floor for loose balls. He was a leader. Griffin was EVERYTHING the Pistons have – most times, haplessly – chased after since the “Going to Work” era ended.
The Pistons finally have a star, and he’s damn good. There’s no questioning what Griffin means to Detroit: the answer is everything. What everybody, skeptically, hopefully, wonders is: What’s his encore?
Few players have put together a late-career renaissance like Griffin.
From bruising dunker to do-it-all playmaker, No. 23 in Detroit is an entirely different player than the Kia spokesman who helped bring the Clippers to prominence. Last season, Griffin did everything, literally. He averaged north of 25 points per game to go with just over seven rebounds and five assists per game.
Sure, he added a plethora of new tricks off the dribble, but he was still a bowling ball that played bully ball in the paint. For a guy who lost a lot of the athleticism that made him special when he entered the league, his newfound skill and ability made him special again.
Stuff like this? It’s replacing Griffin’s monstrous dunks as his signature move.
Blake's handles have been a problem for defenders all season pic.twitter.com/VaDlu55FfC— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 15, 2019
But even as Griffin finished with career-highs in 3-pointers made, 3-pointers attempted and points per game, the Pistons were … nothing special. They were an OK team, possibly the most definitively OK team in the NBA. Griffin’s usage rate last season – another career-best at 30.5% – shows just how much Detroit needs him to produce to be even an okay team.
Blake sits? Well, the Pistons went 1-5 without him last season, losing by an average of 14.8 points.
And if he had an off night scoring the ball? They went 9-12 when he scored fewer than 20.
That monster load proved to be too much. Griffin finally broke down by the end of the year and, with a balky knee, was a shell of himself late in the year in the playoffs.
Griffin will miss at least the first five games of the year with an ailing knee/hamstring. This is extremely bad, but not red-alert bad. The Pistons will get their star back, and when he’s back he’ll be great. It’ll be interesting to see what Griffin adds to his game after all he showed last year.
Is he a better 3-point shooter? Probably. Improved shooting is how he’ll stick around. His body can’t take the beating down low now on an every-night basis. That’s not going to change in the next 3-5 years.
Does he take over even more of a facilitating role? Sure. Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose aren’t pass-first point guards, Andre Drummond is often a black hole when he has the ball, and the Tony Snell/Bruce Brown pairing can’t be relied upon to create shots. Griffin may be better off taking fewer shots while creating better looks for others… assuming those teammates can make good on those looks.
I just can’t look at how Griffin played during his first super-stud season in 2013-14 without thinking about how different his second act looked this past season:
Griffin is going to continue to trend toward the extremes of last season. He’s going to continue to be good, so long as he stays healthy… or, at this point, can get healthy.
Let’s say Blake plays in 65 games this season, scoring 23 points per game, grabbing 7 rebounds per game, handing out 7 assists while shooting 46/39/77. That’s another All-Star season. And, if the Pistons play well around him, it’s probably enough to get them to the postseason.
But, if they don’t play well/stay healthy around Griffin, it’s also a great time to sell high – maybe for the final time – on the biggest star the Pistons have had in recent memory.