Spacing the Floor: Part I | Devin Booker has big plans for Suns
DETROIT — It’s easy to forget how good Blake Griffin is.
Maybe it was the injuries that kept limiting him with the Los Angeles Clippers, or even the Clippers’ perpetual cycle of leaving you wanting more in his last few years in Los Angeles.
Maybe it’s the new crop of stars who’ve made their way to the NBA, with the talent boom making the league as star-heavy as it’s ever been.
Perhaps it’s because he’s tucked away in Detroit for a franchise that’s tried to reinvent itself a few times after its days of contention drifted away.
But either way, it’s easy to overlook Griffin averaging 24.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists for a Detroit Pistons team that’s nestled its way right under the top crust of the East and is perhaps a perimeter shooter away from truly making some noise.
If you go in believing Griffin has been exiled to the NBA’s version of Siberia, that he’s had too many injuries, too many stops and starts, and too many heartbreaks to pour himself into another franchise at this stage of his career, well, the joke’s on you.
In his mind, he’s endured far worse in the basketball world.
“So, when I was in high school and I was getting recruiting by [then-]Coach [Jeff] Capel [at Oklahoma], they just got hit with a million NCAA sanctions. It was as low as it’s been in a long time,” Griffin told Yahoo Sports.
“My conversation with Coach Capel before I committed was, ‘We want you to come here and be a part of the building of this school.’ I really enjoyed buying into it.”
He helped turn the Oklahoma Sooners into must-see TV before entering the 2009 NBA draft, where a bigger challenge awaited.
“People were telling me how awful the Clippers were, notoriously bad. Infamously bad,” Griffin said with a hint of humor. “A lot of people were telling me I should tell them I don’t wanna go there, I won’t play. That challenge of going in there and building that franchise was exciting for me.”
After missing his first season because of injury, Griffin helped the Clippers become an entertaining contender with his athletic exploits and, later, his evolving and expanding offensive game.
So while being traded to Detroit in 2018 was a shock, especially after hearing the whole “Clipper for life” spiel before signing a max contract in 2017, he looked at starting over a little differently than the rest of the NBA world.
“To come here, I don’t look at it in the same place. This is a franchise that’s had success: three championships. I don’t know the stats, it’s gotta be top 10,” Griffin said, as only the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Warriors and Spurs have more titles.
It was Stan Van Gundy’s last gambit as coach/president last season, and Griffin has found the environment to be refreshing from the top down — either that or it’s the brisk Detroit air hitting Griffin on the way out of Little Caesars Arena.
“You see the organization, not just the coaches, but everybody to marketing to PR to assistants, you see how professional they are and how much they care, and how first class everything is,” Griffin said. “For me, it’s a long way of saying I don’t even feel like it’s that situation [with the Clippers], but I do like coming to this team and having the challenge of getting us back to that place.”
On the floor, Griffin has done his part — that 50-point game against Philadelphia on Oct. 23 put him back in the consciousness of the general public — showing that only his health prevented him from becoming a true franchise player in an evolving game.
“Whatever he went through with being traded, every player goes through that,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey told Yahoo Sports. “It’s behind him. He’s totally invested in the team, team-bonding things, he takes guys to dinner on the road, family things, the whole gamut. He totally bought in.”
Casey found common ground with Griffin because of the way the coach was cast aside from Toronto. So when the Pistons earned a comeback win against the Raptors on Nov. 14, Griffin took a shot at Raptors management in defense of his new coach, showing the intangibles that go beyond the floor.
He’s taken Andre Drummond under his wing, with the pair forging a growing relationship, and Drummond’s occasional fits of inconsistency haven’t been as noticeable with Griffin.
Drummond said Griffin “demands excellence,” a peer pressure Drummond hasn’t had to deal with in his career.
It’s not uncommon to see Griffin teaching Drummond on the floor, and Griffin realizing Drummond has to be receptive to it in order for him to deliver the message. Remember, those Clippers weren’t so harmonious, even when they were healthy.
“He brings the best out of me,” Drummond told Yahoo Sports. “He puts the pressure on me to do it. I try to produce.”
Drummond’s league-leading nine 15-point, 15-rebound games can’t be all attributed to Griffin, but having someone hold him accountable can’t be discounted. And while the two were getting acquainted last season, it wasn’t an easy task.
“At first, I’m saying this dude is asking me for a lot,” Drummond said. “At the same time, it’s not anything I can’t do. So he knows I can do it, and so can I, so it works out.”
If Detroit is to be more than a middling playoff team, Drummond and Griffin will have to make up for the roster deficiencies and Griffin will have to buck his own personal history to stay healthy.
But if Griffin weren’t invested, a herculean task would be even tougher.
“If your top player is invested and involved and taking ownership in what you’re doing, it’s always a huge positive,” Casey said. “And for me, with a new coach and new team, coming in together. It’s refreshing to see.”
1. No problem with Zach LaVine wanting to take last-second shots, or even waving off a screen from Wendell Carter Jr. My only gripe: Take it to the basket.
2. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Kawhi Leonard wasn’t a vocal leader. Leonard felt it was an unnecessary shot. How about … both sides can be right? Leonard isn’t the most vocal, but he can lead by example. Clearly, Popovich thought it wasn’t enough. Leonard disagreed.
3. Jaren Jackson Jr. It doesn’t take me to say it, but he’s special — and even those who felt he could be the best player in the draft (raises hand) didn’t see this coming, this quick. He’s a problem.
4. To Ohio State fans: Touche, Buckeyes. Touche.
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