It’s early in the season, but it is already apparent that the Blake Griffin of two years ago is no more. The former Lob City standout’s many injuries have sapped his athleticism and left him with obvious limitations. Given that reality, it’s time for the Detroit Pistons to adjust his role.
Numerous statistical indicators reflect Griffin’s stark decline.
Blake is shooting nearly four fewer free throws per 100 possession than his previous career worst. He’s shooting a far higher percentage of his shots from deep than ever before. The opposite is true for his percentage of attempts within three feet of the basket.
Two seasons ago, Griffin was a monster. He could operate outside of the offense and have it be effective because he was the clear standout on a middling team.
Those days are over.
The record scratches (where he turns down an open shot and stalls the offense) are becoming more frequent. Blake improvising is now a clear win for the defense.
So where do the Pistons go from here?
It’s obvious Griffin is going to continue to be a major part of the team. He’s averaging the second-most minutes of anyone on the team. That may change, but it’s unlikely that he’s going to be relegated to a small role when Detroit isn’t very motivated to win games. Given that, the priority should be on integrating Blake into a role which best maximizes his young, developing teammates.
The most logical “new” role for Blake is more as a facilitator and catch-and-shoot option. And we’ve seen some of the latter recently.
Through 12 games, Griffin has shot 32.9% from deep on 6.3 attempts per game. More than half of those came after at least one dribble. Over his five games between Jan. 13 and Jan. 22, Blake shot 40% on five attempts per game. And 64% of those attempts came without a dribble.
Now, there’s probably some variance involved in those numbers. But the types of shots are significant.
All three of Blake’s made threes in the win against the Miami Heat came in the form of no-dribble, in-rhythm shots. And they all came in slightly different ways.
In the first quarter, Blake waited for Delon Wright to clear, received a dribble hand-off from Mason Plumlee, and immediately hopped into an open three:
Later in the game, he was prepared to take advantage of Jerami Grant attracting help defense and made another in-rhythm three:
Then, after he provided a screen to Derrick Rose, Griffin faded into the corner and patiently set up another in-rhythm, balanced three with some good footwork:
Contrast those shots with this bad miss against Milwaukee where Blake runs his favorite fake dribble hand-off into a three:
The three makes against Miami were encouraging because they involved simple actions that take advantage of both Blake’s ability to shoot in-rhythm threes and get his teammates involved.
Blake handling the ball less and serving more as a pick-and-pop option allows Detroit to get the ball in hands of younger playmakers in pick-and-roll situations, aiding the offense and the young guys’ offensive development. The same applies to Griffin simply serving as a spacer while other offensive action plays itself out elsewhere.
Then there’s Blake as the recipient of a dribble hand-off. Normally, we see him as the initiator in those circumstances. It was one of Detroit’s more popular actions in his outstanding 2018-19 season because it gave Griffin a lot of options in both attacking and facilitating. That’s not to say he can’t be the initiator in dribble hand-offs anymore, but it’s important that everything flows within the offense.
In Blake’s current state, he might make more sense as the player coming off those quasi screens. He can shoot the ball when defenses concede it to him, as Miami did. Or he can pass the ball to the roll man or someone left open by a scrambling defense.
Regardless of how you get Blake the ball along the perimeter, if it’s coming in the natural flow of the offense, he is then in a better position to succeed as a facilitator.
Watch how he draws extra attention in a spot-up role in the corner and takes his time to find Plumlee for his patented reverse dunk:
Later in the same game, Griffin fades from a post-up position to a corner three threat and immediately tosses a one-handed assist to a waiting Delon Wright:
That is most important about those two plays is that Blake received the ball off initial action that forced the defense to scramble a bit. Once that happens, Griffin can take full advantage of his passing prowess and benefit his teammates.
We’ve also seen teams give Blake a shocking amount of respect as a post threat. Detroit used to use Griffin frequently in the post because he was a threat, but his ability to punish smaller defenders is greatly diminished at this point.
You end up seeing a lot of ugly attempts when he tries to evoke his old abilities like this back down attempt from the perimeter on John Collins on overtime:
Sure, Blake got Collins deep but the finishing is a whole different story. Note how Atlanta really didn’t give him much help to avoid opening up passing lanes.
Now if teams are going to bring help with Blake’s back to the basket (and they have plenty), Detroit should take full advantage.
Watch here how Griffin posts up just inside the three-point line on Duncan Robinson:
Detroit knows the size disparity is too big, so you see Plumlee clear out to the opposite side of the lane. Then the moment Miami begins to help, Plumlee and Delon Wright cut in unison toward the hoop. The Heat can only cover one of them and Wright gets an easy layup.
These plays may not always be there, but the Pistons should use Griffin to punish opposing defenses when they do. If they don’t bring help, it’s important that Blake throws the ball back out to the perimeter so a better creator has time to make something happen.
It’s not the Blake Griffin that Detroit traded for in 2018, but the 31-year-old can be still effective offensively when employed correctly. And if the Pistons are looking for ways to motivate Blake, it should be stressed that this type of role is likely his best chance of surviving in the league for as long as possible.