What We've Already Learned From the Blake Griffin Experiment
The Detroit Pistons are 4-0 since they traded for Blake Griffin on January 29th. At the time of the trade, the Pistons were two and a half games out of the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Now, just one week later, they are tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the final spot in the playoffs. The excitement is back in Detroit, and the Pistons are playing with more energy than they have had since the first couple weeks of the season. In only three games, Griffin has already changed the performance of the team. How has he done so?
Van Gundy Utilizing the Big Men
Stan Van Gundy has been a master of the lineup rotation since the arrival of Griffin. Van Gundy has utilized the size advantage that Griffin offers, as opposed to what Tobias Harris did. Griffin has the ability to play the center position when Andre Drummond isn't on the floor, and Van Gundy hasn't hesitated to exploit that option in the slightest way.
In both the 111-107 victory over the Miami Heat on February 3rd and the 111-91 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on February 5th, Van Gundy chose to sit Drummond early in both the first and third quarters, while keeping Griffin on the floor as the center, with Anthony Tolliver playing the power forward position. Van Gundy played Griffin until about one or two minutes to go in the quarters, before reinserting Drummond for Griffin.
This has had a positive impact in multiple ways for the Pistons. The most obvious, there is an All-Star caliber player on the floor at all times with either Griffin or Drummond. With the lack of depth at the center position, the Pistons had seen problems finding life when Drummond was on the bench. Now, there is always a matchup nightmare on the floor. This is something Tobias Harris was unable to offer from the power forward position.
Second, this gives both Drummond and Griffin time on the floor to be the focal point of the offense. The offense can run through Drummond the way it has all season, while Griffin is on the bench, and Griffin can have the freedom to run the offense his own way, while Drummond is on the bench. In this perfect world that Van Gundy has seemingly already created, neither Drummond nor Griffin will complain about losing touches to the other player, as they are receiving an abundance of minutes without the other on the court.
That's not to say Drummond and Griffin aren't enjoying playing at the same time, however. It is, rather, the opposite. The two have found instant chemistry together. Perhaps the fact that they each receive time without the other on the floor allows them to be more sharing of the ball when they are together. Or, maybe, their playing styles actually somehow gel perfectly with each other. Whatever the case is, Van Gundy has found a way to allow both Drummond and Griffin to be unleashed in this new offense.
Along with the ability to have either Griffin or Drummond or both on the floor for the complete duration of the 48 minute game, Van Gundy has also gone wild with utilizing a multitude of lineup combinations. His starting lineup, currently consisting of Ish Smith, Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, Blake Griffin, and Andre Drummond, is more of a defensive minded, power lineup. Apart from Bullock (45% 3pt.), the starting lineup lacks in outside shooting talent.
However, as much as they lack in outside shooting, they make up for it in their ability to defend and drive to the basket, while Bullock, the only true shooter, seems to always be open when one of the four other players drive to the basket. Each of Smith, Johnson, Griffin, and Drummond have above average passing abilities. Neither of the four are a good one on one matchup for defenses, and they each also possess the ability to find the open man when doubled by help side defense.
Once Van Gundy goes to the bench, a whole new style of play introduces itself, as the bench is filled with pure shooters. Luke Kennard (42% 3pt.), Anthony Tolliver (41% 3pt.), and Langston Galloway (36% 3pt.) are deadly from range, when left open. Van Gundy has gone with an eight man rotation, with starting point guard Reggie Jackson still injured. All three bench players getting consistent minutes add an outside shooting touch to the offense, as it suddenly transitions from a driving the lane offense to a three point shooting offense. Defense have to prepare for every possible situation with just the eight players Van Gundy is consistently playing.
Van Gundy, all of a sudden, has the ability to put any lineup combination he wants on the floor to counter that of the opposing defense. He can go with a lineup of up to four pure shooters, or a lineup in which every player on the floor can drive the lane and get to the free throw line. When he needs defense, his starting lineup possesses five defensive minded players. At the moment, it seems Van Gundy has the complete package.
Andre Drummond has been effected more than anyone else on the roster with the addition of Griffin. However, he hasn't been effected in the way many experts assumed he would. Most people were predicting growing pains, as the two big men tried to learn how to play with each other. They were supposed to clog the lane and steal touches from one another. Well, that hasn't happened yet. In fact, the two big men have only thrived playing with one another.
Andre Drummond has been playing so well since the Griffin trade that he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week in Griffin's first week with the team. In four games since the departure of Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Boban Marjanovic, Drummond is averaging 18.8 points, 18.5 rebounds, four assists, and 2.8 blocks per game. He has been an absolute animal.
The offense has opened up with the both the arrival of Griffin, as well as the departure of Bradley and Harris, who ate up most of the shot attempts for the Pistons. Griffin is a much better passer and playmaker than both Bradley and Harris, and that has made life easier for Drummond. Meanwhile, Griffin is adding 20 points, nine rebounds, and six assists per game since joining the Pistons.
It seems that the two are having no trouble playing together, as many expected they would. The sky is the limit for the potential they have lining up next to each other. Add to that the fact that Van Gundy has the ability to keep an All-Star on the floor at all time, while utilizing different lineups, and this whole Blake Griffin experiment might just work out after all.
© 2018 Micah Reum