Beard: Pistons' Blake Griffin leaves little doubt: 'I'm playing' Monday
Detroit — Blake Griffin didn’t mince words.
He didn’t leave any doubts or any mistaking whether he’d be back in the lineup to make his regular-season debut Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I’m playing tomorrow,” Griffin said Sunday, a definitive confirmation of a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Saturday.
The Pistons started 4-6 without Griffin, but getting him back in the lineup could be the boost they need to get above .500 for the first time since winning the season opener at Indiana.
The next big question is how Griffin will ease back into the rotation, with minutes restrictions a likely first step. After minor offseason knee surgery, there was going to be some management of Griffin’s playing time, but how much remains a mystery.
“I’m not really sure. I leave that in our training staff’s hands,” Griffin said. “Before the game, I’ll know and I’ll put that in my mind and I’ll do what I can in those minutes.”
Without Griffin, the Pistons have had to shuffle their starting lineup, adding Luke Kennard to bring some scoring punch, after Reggie Jackson began having back issues.
Andre Drummond has increased his production, with 21.2 points, 18 rebounds and 3.6 assists and Kennard has doubled his career scoring mark, up to 18 points per game. The task for Griffin will be not upsetting the rhythm that the starters have created, though his role will be to bring stability in the areas where they’ve struggled.
“It’s my job to fit into all that and find a way to help make those guys better. Each season is different; last season I felt like I had to take on more of a scoring role,” Griffin said. “This year, we have guys who are primed to score the ball a little more in a variety of different ways. I don’t see that as being as big a role for me this year as facilitating and picking and choosing times down the stretch.
“I’ve never really been that guy who all I want to do is score. Last year, it was put in my lap a little bit. All those guys have taken another step and do look comfortable. It’s my job not to take away from that accentuate that and make it better.”
The Monday Drive takes a look at the first 10 games and what Griffin’s return likely means:
► Griffin has been practicing for the past week and with increased cardio workouts, he should be good to go. If nothing else, Griffin’s return should have a domino effect, as Markieff Morris will join the second unit and with 12 points, 3.7 rebounds and 38 percent on 3-pointers, he’ll be a welcome addition there. Morris will have a paint presence and gives a different option than Christian Wood and Thon Maker.
► As for backup center, it seems that Wood has moved ahead of Maker in the rotation, but that’s not a lock. Maker has had some short stints of success, but Wood’s look to be more plentiful. Coach Dwane Casey has said he wanted more consistent play from Wood, but playing time has fluctuated. Wood looks to have the higher offensive upside but has had some defensive lapses.
► Svi Mykhailiuk is showing some improvement with regular playing time. In the last four games, he’s averaging 18.5 minutes and posting 4 points and is 4-of-10 on 3-pointers. Casey said the defensive end is where Mykhailiuk is going to have to make an adjustment, just as Kennard has, in order to see more playing time. At 6-foot-7, he’s having to defend both guards and small forwards, so it may take some time to make the adjustment.
► Langston Galloway quietly has been one of the Pistons’ best reserves, with 11 points per game and averaging 24 minutes and 42.5 percent on 3-pointers. He was viewed as a lower-tier option in training camp, but when they’ve needed scoring options off the bench with Kennard joining the starters, he’s answered the bell. He’s ahead of the younger players in the reserve rotation.
► Sekou Doumbouya had 12 points and 18 points, respectively, in his first two games of his assignment with the Grand Rapids Drive in the G-League. He’s made a few 3-pointers and it’s a positive step to start, because the initial thought is that he’ll spend more time there than with the Pistons, until he gets a comfort level. Jordan Bone, played Saturday with the Drive, had 19 points, four rebounds and seven assists in his debut.
► The Pistons have had three meetings against the Indiana Pacers in the first 10 games and have gone 2-1. The Pistons have been shorthanded, but even without Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb and Edmond Sumner, the Pacers were able to turn the tide and get a win on Friday night. Winning the season series will be important for the Pistons, as Indiana could be a team in the mix and any tiebreaker could be a benefit.
► Drummond is the first player to average 20-plus points and 18-plus rebounds in his first 10 games since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76. It’s a hot start for Drummond, but when Griffin returns, there likely will be fewer opportunities for him to handle the ball out on the perimeter and drive to the rim. There are some advantages he’ll have, but Casey likely will look to run more of the offense through Griffin.
► Derrick Rose and Tim Frazier were full participants in practice on Sunday, but it’s not clear whether they’ll be ready to return to the lineup Monday. Rose has missed the last four games and has been the sparkplug on the second unit. Having Morris join him there will be a boost and could give the Pistons a bigger advantage when the starters rest.
Pistons vs. Timberwolves
► Tip-off: 7 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Outlook: Blake Griffin (knee/hamstring) is expected to make his regular-season debut after missing the first 10 games. The Timberwolves will be on the second night of a back-to-back, having hosted the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.