With Detroit’s acquisition of Blake Griffin, Stan Van Gundy is betting on now, because if this fails, expect SVG to be M.I.A in the D.
The Detroit Pistons have just swung for the fences by sending their two leading scorers; Tobias Harris (18.1 ppg) and Avery Bradley (15 ppg), along with Boban Marjanovich, a 2018 1st round pick, and 2019 2nd round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, and Willie Reed. And while the addition of a 5-time All-Star who can dunk with the best of them and drop 20+ points per game is certainly eye-popping, the amount given is also head-scratching. So… Who won this trade? Let’s break it down for you.
The Pros and Cons of Blake Griffin
Let’s start with the good, Blake Griffin is a proven scorer. I mean, a PROVEN scorer. Blake’s career average of 21.6 points already vaults him near the top of the Pistons’ all-time leading scorers list. The last Detroit Piston to average more than 20 per game was Jerry Stackhouse. In his last game as a Clipper, Griffin dropped 27 points, pulled down 12 rebounds, and dished out seven assists. In fact, he averages over four assists per game for his career, which is another pro, he can pass as well. And while averaging almost 10 rebounds per game for his career, his rebounding is attractive as well, as Detroit is currently 22nd in the NBA in rebounding. He also knows how to play alongside another big man, as Griffin spent his entire career playing alongside DeAndre Jordan, so he and Andre Drummond (who played alongside Greg Monroe for a few years as well) shouldn’t have too difficult of a time building chemistry. Griffin likes to play inside-out, and Drummond generally sticks to the paint, plus, when Reggie Jackson returns from injury, he’ll have Griffin for high-screen pick-and-pops, and another weapon to throw alley-oops to when the opposing defense doesn’t adjust.
The biggest negative when it comes to Blake Griffin is his ability to stay healthy. While he played every game of his rookie season, that 2010-11 season remains the only season where we can say that about him. Griffin did play in all but two games during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, but his highest total since then is 67 games. And while he is not exactly a threat from outside (i.e. he doesn’t stretch defenses very well), he has improved his 3-point shooting tremendously from his first few seasons. The only problem with that is that he is taking over five 3’s per game, and hitting on just under two of them.
What the Pistons lost
As I mentioned above, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley were Detroit’s top-two leading scorers. But is that really saying much? In Harris, I will say it is more of a loss, as his career-high 40% shooting from deep will be missed, but he is still nowhere near a leading man, nowhere near a guy you build your team around. And Avery Bradley, who has had issues even staying on the floor this year, can barely hit 40% from inside the arc. His defense is great at times, but his streaky shooting hurts the Pistons’ offense. And here’s the big issue with both Harris and Bradley, they were both free to walk away at season’s end. So instead of possibly getting nothing for them, Detroit got a one of the best power forwards in the league.
Boban Marjanovich was making $21 million over three years with Detroit, while averaging NINE minutes per game. That’s really all I need to say about getting rid of that contract.
The big hurt comes in the first and second round draft picks. The NBA is not the NFL, there is no round-after-round in the NBA Draft, there are two rounds, two, with only 30 picks per round, so chances to grab a diamond in the rough (a la Isaiah Thomas at pick No. 60, or Manu Ginobili at pick No. 57) are slim as is. Losing those two picks could really hurt Detroit, but if you look at recent history, maybe they would have been wasted. Since drafting Andre Drummond in 2012, the Pistons have whiffed on basically every single pick. Stanley Johnson has underwhelmed, KCP is gone, Spencer Dinwiddie is gone, Henry Ellenson is averaging three points per game this year, and Luke Kennard is still very much a work in progress. And those were just the drafted players even worth mentioning.
So who won this trade? I’ll tell you this much, the X-factor in all of this is Blake’s ability to stay on the court. If the Pistons’ training staff can keep Griffin healthy, can keep him on the floor, then the Pistons won this trade hand’s down. It opens minutes for guys like Johnson, Ellenson, and Kennard, it gives Detroit a player who can take the ball and go get a basket, and it gives the fans a reason to fill the seats at the Little Caesars Arena.
With Detroit in a downward spiral, they needed to make some changes, and make them fast. Their current run of 8-20 basketball, after a 14-6 start to the season, has put them three games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the eighth and final playoff spot, yet only 5.5 games behind the fourth playoff spot. That’s how vulnerable the Eastern Conference is, and if this move (and I’m assuming it’s not the only one Van Gundy makes) pans out, the Pistons will find themselves right in the thick of the hunt for homecourt advantage in the first round.