In 2 practices, SVG hopes to tweak Pistons offense enough to ease Griffin’s transition

Blake Griffin will have twice as many practices coming out of the All-Star break than he had since joining the Pistons before they host Boston on Friday.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Stan Van Gundy will have twice as many real practices before the Pistons play again than he had in the two weeks with Blake Griffin leading to the All-Star break.

The math is easy on that one: The Pistons had one live practice – going up and down the court, five on five, simulating a real basketball game – jammed into the narrow gaps left by a schedule that called for eight games in 14 days with Griffin before the break; they’ll have two coming out of it before hosting Boston on Friday.

So he’ll make the most of those two practices, mindful of the fact that the Pistons are about to step on a treadmill running at full throttle – they play six games over the next nine days, nine over the next 15.

And his head is swimming with ideas after spending the past four days watching videotape with the idea of changing the offense to maximize Griffin’s abilities.

“My office was my porch in Florida,” he said. “So it was warm, but I didn’t do anything except watch film. But at least it was warm.”

So is the temperature of the East playoff race for the Pistons. They’re 1½ games behind Miami for the final playoff spot, but with 15 of their final 25 games on the road they can’t afford more of the three-game losing streaks snapped with a win over Atlanta to wrap up the pre-break schedule.

“You’re trying to do as much as you can in two days,” he said. “We’re just trying to get more organized on the offensive end and trying to make some defensive improvement without killing them. It’s a little bit of a challenge in terms of try to get enough done that you think you’re better and try to conserve enough energy that you can play.”

Beyond watching a healthy dose of Pistons videotape since the Griffin acquisition, Van Gundy ticked off a number of other teams he studied for their use of two big men: old Memphis tape with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph; Utah with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors; San Antonio with Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. He also mentioned Indiana, Miami and Milwaukee for specific ideas.

“There’s only so much you can do in a short amount of time,” he said. “This is the second live practice we’ve had since Blake’s been here. How much are you going to do in one day? We did a little today and we’ll do a little more tomorrow, but you’re not going to do 10 or 15 new things in a matter of two days. We’ll just have to do it day by day, step by step.”

Adapting on the fly is becoming standard operating procedure for Van Gundy since joining the Pistons in 2014. He’s now executed three major trades – for Reggie Jackson in 2015, Tobias Harris in 2016 and Griffin this year – for starters at the trade deadline. And this adjustment, he says, is more complex by degrees of magnitude than those necessitated by the other deals.

Jackson and Harris mostly stepped into the Pistons playbook as constituted. Van Gundy might have used Jackson more in pick and roll than he had his predecessors to better results, but there was no requirement for holdovers to learn a new offense. Ditto for Harris, who mostly assumed similar responsibilities – performed at a higher level – to those he replaced.

Acquiring Griffin, a singular talent, requires both tailoring the playbook to his skills and adjustments for those already in place.

“Blake’s different than anybody we’ve had at that spot,” Van Gundy said. “We’re not going to plug him in to what Tobias and (Anthony Tolliver) do. You’ve got to try to play through him more and get him in positions closer to the basket. You’ve actually having to do some stuff new to everybody and that’s been a challenge – a significant challenge.”

They’ve got one practice left to cram everything Van Gundy hopes to implement before putting it to the test – and a seven-week sprint to the finish line.