In the first quarter Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets, Blake Griffin had his most efficient shooting game since joining the Pistons. He started 6-of-7 from the field and finished with 20 points in the 114-98 loss.
Those were the numbers.
The eye test suggested the Pistons and coach Stan Van Gundy might have found some new things that work for Griffin in the offense, getting him better oriented and drawing up plays that utilize his varied skill set.
Opponents frequently choose to double-team Griffin when he’s isolated in the offense and he’s been able to pass to find the open teammate and get some easier baskets. He’s averaging 5.4 assists in his 10 games and as he gets more comfortable with his teammates and their games, those numbers could rise.
Other coaches have taken notice as well, since the Pistons’ trade with the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 29.
“(The trade) got mixed reviews and I remember talking to Stan. The NBA is about winning in the playoffs,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said before Sunday’s game. “As a coach, you look at it like this: if they have a tie score in a Game 7 and there’s 12 seconds on the clock, Blake Griffin is one of the 12 to 15 guys in the league that you can’t guard one-on-one.
“The guys they gave up are terrific, but they’re not go-to seventh-game-of-a-series guys who dictate a double-team. That’s the No. 1 thing you have to have to win big and that’s what they picked up. To me, it made perfect sense.”
Although the deal hasn’t reaped huge benefits for the Pistons — they’re 5-5 with Griffin in the lineup — the greatest difficulty has been getting him to a comfort level where he can operate effectively.
At 6-foot-10, he handles the ball and runs the offense more frequently, which takes some getting used to with new teammates and a new scheme.
“You’re fitting into a new system, you don’t know your teammates and the ball is in your hands,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not like he’s a spot-up shooter. It is a difficult thing and hopefully we can get it going and we’re certainly working at it.
“I don’t want Blake putting all that on his shoulders. He’s a great player in a difficult situation.”
Griffin is averaging 20 points with the Pistons, down a shade from his 22.6 points in 33 games with the Clippers. More importantly, the Pistons got their superstar, go-to player. It may just take a while before he meshes completely; when Reggie Jackson returns from his ankle injury in a few weeks it’ll provide another jolt to the offensive options.
For what it’s worth, Griffin’s skills are regarded around the league, and even if it takes a training camp and into next season for everything to click, it could be worth it. With the Pistons having Griffin and Drummond under contract for the long term, it’s a pairing that has its potential.
“The place where people underestimate him unless you watch him a lot is his decision-making and passing. He’ll be terrific for Andre Drummond because he’s going to get him the ball,” Clifford said. “He developed that type of chemistry with DeAndre Jordan (with the Clippers).
“When he gets the ball going to the basket and you come to help, he’s like a point guard. He’s got that type of passing skills and decision-making and there’s not many guys at that position who make those plays.”