It turns out the Detroit Pistons might not have salvaged their season by trading for Blake Griffin.
One of the dangers of writing about the NBA is trying to read the early signs and project what they mean. Sometimes you get things right; sometimes things go terribly wrong.
Case in point: After Griffin’s initial stretch with the team, I wrote a glowing review about their chances of making the playoffs. In retrospect, I was horribly, completely, unequivocally wrong.
The Pistons have been awful since that hot start post-Griffin trade. They’ve gone 2-10 and just lost a heartbreaking overtime game against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, a game in which they blew a 17-point lead. Their net rating is tied for the fifth-worst in the league. Their 48.4 effective field goal percentage is last. They’re just a bad basketball team and sit five games behind the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
What has gone wrong?
The biggest problem is Blake Griffin, for lack of a better way of saying it, though I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism of Griffin.
He’s averaging 19 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists with Detroit, which are acceptable numbers for a point guard but very weird for a power forward. The Pistons are trying to make the offense run through him, rather than fit him in, and it’s upsetting the balance.
Over the last 12 games, Griffin is averaging 91.3 touches per game. The only three players in the league who have the ball that much are Russell Westbrook, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ben Simmons. While Griffin is gifted as a ballhandler and passer for a power forward, he’s not in their league.
The biggest reason for that is Reggie Jackson’s injury, which is why I say that while the biggest problem is Blake Griffin, I don’t blame Griffin. He’s simply the next-best option to run the offense through. While Ish Smith is competent, he’s not really a starting point guard. Andre Drummond might be a star-caliber player, but he’s not the one to run an offense through.
The problem the Pistons have is that Griffin is the best option they have, and due to varied circumstances, he’s not that good of one.
He has borderline 3-point range (33.2 percent on the season, 31.0 percent with the Pistons), but he’s averaging 5.3 attempts per game. Overall, the Pistons are both taking and making one fewer catch-and-shoot 3-pointer over the last 12 games than they were before the trade.
Their assist attempts are slightly down and their passes per game are slightly down. A few more of their attempts are coming between the semi-circles. There’s no one thing there that’s dramatic, but in the aggregate, they start making a difference.
Drummond has been forced back into being a low-post player, and his assists are down because of it, as Seerat Sohi notes for SB Nation.
Complicating matters more is that they don’t have the practice time to figure things out and work Griffin in.
This isn’t one of those things where “fixing it” is one task. It’s everything. Griffin doesn’t fit with what they were doing before. It’s having to redesign the offense. Some of the role players have to fit better.
Plus, in addition to the clunky offense, the Pistons’ defense has been a bottom-10 unit. They just don’t have much to hang their hat on right now unless they’re playing a team on the second of a back-to-back:
So, the Pistons w/ BG took an L vs. a team playing the 2nd game of a b2b (Toronto) before they got a win vs. a team not playing the 2nd game of a b2b (now 0-9). https://t.co/lPTmgYnNtw
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) March 8, 2018
In many ways, it reminds me of the situation the New Orleans Pelicans went through last season after acquiring DeMarcus Cousins at the trade deadline. They never seemed to totally figure out how to implement him last season, but after a full training camp to work things out, he and Anthony Davis started to flourish before Cousins got injured.
It’s too soon to call this trade a bust, but it’s clearly not going to help the Pistons enough this year. It’s going to take a recovered Jackson, an offseason, and a training camp to see what the Pistons really have.