An assertive step toward what the Pistons can become with Griffin at their core

Blake Griffin scored 31 points, his high since joining the Pistons, after Stan Van Gundy urged him to be more aggressive in looking to score
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

MIAMI – Blake Griffin has been many things since coming to the Pistons, but not always the two words that best describe his 31-point performance in Saturday’s stabbing loss to Miami: explosive and decisive.

And that’s a great sign for his future – and, by extension, that of the Pistons – as they fit the roster around Griffin over the next four seasons.

Prolific scorers are always in demand in a league where sophisticated defenses make it tougher to score on scheme than ever, but prolific and efficient scorers are the holy grail. And Griffin has always been both, a 21.5 career scoring average coupled with a 51 percent career shooting percentage.

Yet since coming to the Pistons, Griffin has shot at a 40 percent clip. Some of that – even most of it – reflects the fact that Griffin this season has taken more than twice as many 3-point shots with nearly a quarter of the season remaining as he has in any of his previous seven seasons.

Even before coming to the Pistons, Griffin’s shooting percentage with the Clippers for the season was at 43 percent. That’s entirely because 32 percent of his shots with the Clippers this season were triples, up from his previous high of 11.6 percent last season as he began the transition practically demanded of power forwards in today’s NBA. Since joining the Pistons, 31 percent of Griffin’s attempts have been 3-pointers.

The rest of Griffin’s drop in shooting efficiency since joining the Pistons, clearly, derives from the adjustment to a new offense, new teammates and – perhaps – an overeager desire to fit in and be a good teammate.

“Part of it is he’s got to look for his shot and shoot the ball when he’s open,” Stan Van Gundy said before Saturday’s game with the Heat. “He is unbelievably unselfish, if you want to say to a fault sometimes.”

Van Gundy and Griffin discussed that topic between Friday’s overtime loss at Orlando – where Griffin finished one assist shy of a triple-double only because the Pistons finished the game making 2 of 20 shots – and Saturday’s tipoff, when Griffin came out of the blocks noticeably more assertive against the Heat. He scored 13 in the first quarter and had 29 after three quarters.

“I just thought he was more aggressive,” Van Gundy said. “We really thought last night that he passed up about a half-dozen shots. He’s so interested in getting everybody involved that the ball stops because he’s holding it – looking, looking, looking. Now the shot clock’s down and he’s trying to make a play. Today, especially early in the game, (he was) catching it, shooting it; catching it, driving it; if a guy’s open, making a play. We need more of that.”

Griffin and Andre Drummond were overpowering at Miami, combining for 53 points, 23 rebounds and eight assists. Fatigue got the best of the Pistons, playing their fifth game in seven nights, and that was reflected most in their depressed perimeter shooting percentages. Reggie Bullock, after playing a career-high 41 minutes at Orlando and missing his last eight shots in that game, went 4 of 14 against the Heat.

When Griffin was asked after the game if he got a taste of what’s possible with him and Drummond operating in tandem, his first response was, “Yeah, when we’re fully healthy.”

He worked out with Reggie Jackson some last summer and has championed Jackson’s impact since arriving. A dynamic point guard folded into a mix with two dynamic forces in the frontcourt surrounded by the shooting Bullock, Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard offer with Stanley Johnson’s all-around panache is a pretty good recipe for the Pistons future.

The essential ingredient, though, is Blake Griffin, fully integrated and familiar and comfortable. A first step – a very assertive first step – was witnessed on Saturday night at Miami.