The Western Conference might as well play on another planet because there is zero chance I’m sacrificing a single minute of sleep to stay up for a 10:30 p.m. EST tip-off. Don’t take it personally west-coasters, it’s not just you, I cringe at anything that doesn’t have me in bed by 9:45 p.m. local time. Instead, just give me the Reader’s Digest version of what I missed and I’ll fill in the holes on Twitter in the morning. With this strategy, of course, the subtle and critical nuances of any player or team west of the Mississippi are completely foreign on me.
When Blake Griffin was traded to Detroit in late-January of 2018, much of my Reader’s Digest scouting report on Griffin revolved significantly around his high-flying endeavors. I’d bet many in and around Detroit owned a similar short-sided take at the time.
Putting his sweet long-distance stroke aside, which really didn’t fully spread its wings until he got to Detroit, my biggest I-didn’t-know-that takeaway from Griffin’s thirteen months in Michigan has been the willingness to throw his body around, with no regard for all the bruise-y and bloody consequences, all in the name of competition.
This dude competes, and he don’t take no mess.
The ultra-competitiveness showcased by Griffin was something both myself and fake-Dwane Casey have touched on before, but, now, it’s starting to rub off on his teammates in the best way possible:
RJax/Bruce Brown steal leads to Wayne Ellington layup, Blake Griffin draws a charge on other end. I don't care if people come to the games or not, win or lose, but if the people of Detroit wants a team that represents them, this Pistons team has been it for a month or two now.— James Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) March 4, 2019
With ten up and two down over the past twelve games, the Pistons are in the middle of redefining their season, and the reasons answering “how” are plentiful. An accuracy upgrade with three-point shooting certainly helps, as does the timely Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard offensive resurgence, Andre Drummond’s assault on the rim, to name a few.
Those are authentic and important explanations and all have been explored. But the underlying theme to this mid-season turnaround has been the Pistons’ aptness to battle on a possession by possession basis. Where do you think that trait originated from? Here’s a hint:
If Griffin’s three-point shot made me fall in love with him, which it has, then it’s his genuine tenacity for the game that would make it easy for me to say “I do.”
Make no mistake, attitude is very much a skill in and of itself, but, as of writing, it cannot be quantified properly or measured on Cleaning the Glass. Pick any cliched John Wooden leadership quote and apply them to Griffin, that’s what this fuss is all about. It’s a controllable variable registering far more importance on the big picture than Reggie Jackson’s efficiency or Andre Drummond’s post-touches because, sooner or later, the ball won’t bounce in favor of the Pistons. Before Griffin, when things got tough, they would fold. With Griffin, when things get tough, they fight.
Even if you were the biggest fan of Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, or Avery Bradley (maybe there are some?) in the world, it should be pretty easy to admit they don’t hold a candle to Griffin when it comes to basketball intangibles. It doesn’t make the players traded for Griffin bad players or bad people, but the Pistons’ bleak future had no chance of reversing course without a drastic change in organizational culture. The move to acquire Griffin was a sizeable risk and it’s still an ever-changing work in progress, but this is usually the time of year they start to fade, it seems like they’re just getting started.
Culture, real culture, isn’t some trendy buzzword topic that coaches casually toss around, it’s a living and breathing organism prone to mimic the actions of the team’s best player. When that player, for example, is constantly picking himself up off the ground, it’s an action that sends a winning message better than any John Wooden quote ever could:
It’s that clarity in message - coming from both Griffin and the coaching staff - that sets the table for expectations and accountability. If Griffin not only talks about, but shows the importance of a team first mindset, who’s going to be the guy that doesn’t dive on the floor for a loose ball?
Spoiler alert, no one wants to watch film and be that guy.
Blake Griffin isn’t perfect, in fact, the intimate relationship he shares with evergreen floor burns are often caused by his own brief moments of carelessness:
And not to mention the law of averages. Griffin’s high usage rate and the sheer volume of ball-handling duties suggests that, from time to time, he’s going to lose control of the rock. The difference, however, is the possession isn’t over once the ball is knocked away anymore:
Two assists from the floor.
Habits, both good and bad, create the future. The most impactful trait Blake Griffin has imposed on this franchise has been the implementation of winning habits. In turn, those winning habits will eventually be noticed by the casual fans who’ve, understandably, ignored the franchise over the past ten years or so. From there, the LCA gets a bit more crowded with each passing game and the Pistons become relevant again. If you’re thinking about checking these guys out in person, please, for your own sake, don’t take your eyes off Griffin. He could end up sitting next to you:
Taking charges and diving into the stands won’t win any championships on their own, but establishing their importance is a part of the winning formula. Tanking or not, overhauling all that is average remains a tedious process with checking points that can’t be skipped or hurried. It took two-thirds of the season, but these guys are finally fun to watch.
“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over again?
- John Wooden”
- Mike Snyder