Detroit — Last season, Blake Griffin was in the midst of an All-NBA season, with a blend of scoring, rebounding and assists that had rarely been seen in Pistons franchise history.
He wasn’t as uber-athletic as he was in his heyday with the Los Angeles Clippers but having remade his game to become an all-around facilitator and scoring threat, he was the key to the Pistons making the playoffs.
After an offseason procedure on his knee and missing the first 10 games, Griffin has played in just three of the last four games and the numbers aren’t the same: 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 27.7 minutes His field-goal percentage (34.8 percent) is 12 percentage points lower and 3-point shooting (18.8 percent) is barely half of what it was.
Following a long recovery period and a slow start the season, Griffin is just looking to get back to where he was. Lateral mobility seems to be slower to come along in his recovery but for Griffin, just making shots and feeling like himself are the top priorities.
“It’s different. It’s something I can figure out; I just have to be better — that’s the bottom line. I can’t play the way I’ve played the last two games and expect us to win,” Griffin said. “I know people make more of a deal about numbers than probably I do but it’s more so all-encompassing, doing everything — or not doing some of the things I’m doing — that will help us win. I fully take these last two (losses). I just have to be better.”
There’s no expectation that after missing such a huge chunk of time that Griffin would simply snap back into All-NBA form and take the game by storm; there’s an understanding that he’ll need to work his way back into proper conditioning and find a good rhythm.
With the Pistons’ other injuries, just trying to piece together a cohesive rotation is trying for coach Dwane Casey. Although he’s preaching patience, Casey understands looking at the big picture of the season as a whole, instead of focusing on the short-term issues with Griffin, Derrick Rose, Reggie Jackson and others.
“He’s getting his looks. That’s the hard thing about coming back — being in and out and minutes limitations and it’s hard to get a rhythm for him and Derrick,” Casey said. “It’s going to take a little more time for him and Derrick to get their shooting touch with limited minutes and cramming that into one space.”
After a 4-10 start, the Pistons already are in a hole that will make it difficult to dig out of — and get back to .500 and possible playoff position soon. If that’s going to happen, Griffin’s turnaround will likely be a big part of it.
It’s just going to take some time.
“I haven’t gotten really into a rhythm yet, shooting-wise, just feel-wise, I haven’t really felt it. I have to keep working,” he said. “It’s shots. It’s not like my body can’t do what I’m trying to do. I’m just messing up with mental errors.
“(With the 4-10 start) there needs to be a sense of urgency, for sure. I’ve seen teams start out worse; I’ve seen teams start out the same and finish much better. It’s on us whether we want to accept what it is right now or change it — and our plan is to change it.”
The Pistons plan to manage Griffin’s and Rose’s minutes as they return from injuries, but the term "load management" has become synonymous with sitting players rather than the true meaning of monitoring their production in relation to their minutes played and energy exerted.
In the Pistons’ case, it’s critical because with their slow start to the season, they could be out of playoff contention — which is the point of load management, in having players available for the playoffs. There’s a point resting star players doesn’t make much sense, if there’s no postseason to play for.
“That’s the point I’ve always made: there’s not going to be an end if we’re not close (at the end),” Casey said. “That’s the hard thing about load management and you have to be there to get there. Right now, we’re nowhere near talking about the playoffs and we’re trying to get better as a team.
“That’s the downside of load management is saving guys. In our situation with Blake, it’s not exactly load management; it’s more rehab and getting back whole as much as anything else. It’s different from what Toronto went through last year with (Kawhi Leonard). What are you load managing for?”
Hawks at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 Friday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Pistons (4-10) are in a freefall, having lost five straight, and have been decimated by injuries. The Hawks (4-10) are on a four-game skid but won the first meeting by 17 on Oct. 24.