Blake Griffin: Pistons ‘a work in progress and I’m excited about that challenge’
AUBURN HILLS – If Blake Griffin were prone to melancholia, Monday would have been the day.
As a winter storm raged outside and the one-year anniversary of the trade that uprooted him from sunny Los Angeles neared, if he harbored any regrets for his fate they surely would have revealed themselves in that moment.
“This feels like home,” he said after Pistons practice as they put to good use a three-day break between games ahead of a four-game home stand they hope will kick start a playoff stretch drive.
“Last year was such a whirlwind. Even at the end of the season, I wasn’t acclimated, wasn’t adjusted yet. But it feels like home now. I’ve really come to be very, very fond of Michigan and the fans, the people, everything, top to bottom, the organization. So I’m settled in. But we still have things we need to work on. We’re obviously not where we want to be. It’s a work in progress and I’m excited about that challenge.”
The Pistons take a 21-27 record into Tuesday’s game with Milwaukee, which sits atop the Eastern Conference. That’s the NBA’s best record and the Bucks also sport the league’s best differential at plus 9.6 points a game.
“If it doesn’t get you excited, then nothing will,” Dwane Casey said. “You’re in the wrong sport. I’m excited. That’s why practice today was intense. Hopefully, it carries over.”
Milwaukee’s success helped Giannis Antetokounmpo be voted as an All-Star starter. Griffin is widely anticipated to be named as a reserve when the rosters are filled out Thursday. He’s averaging a career-best 26.5 points a game, 10th in the NBA, one-tenth of a point behind Antetokounmpo. They’re two of the three players in the league – LeBron James the other – averaging 25 or more points, eight or more rebounds and five or more assists per game.
Griffin attributes his return to All-Star status to two major factors: a fully healthy off-season for the first time in four years and utilization within Casey’s offense.
“The offense is really run through me,” he said. “I’m up there in touches per game. I don’t know that I’m shooting a whole lot – around 18 a game (18.6, which ranks 14th in the league). But just having the ball a lot, being involved in everything, you get a little more opportunity. And being able to really prepare this summer and work on all the things I’m doing this season helps. I’m a big believer that what you put in is what you get out and I put a lot in this summer.”
Despite Griffin’s productivity, the Pistons’ are lagging in offensive efficiency, where they rank only 23rd. The major reason: They’re 29th in 3-point shooting, barely escaping the cellar, at .332. Griffin isn’t the problem there, either, hitting above the league average at .365.
“At one point, I believe we were leading the league or top three in getting open shots and then also somewhere toward the bottom three of making those open shots,” Griffin said. “I don’t think it’s a question of is our offense working or what we’re doing working. It’s just knocking down shots. Knocking down those open threes or finishing better at the rim could vault us up in the top 15, easily. We can’t get frustrated with the type of shot we’re getting because we’re getting great shots. Our offense is set up to let us succeed. We just have to take advantage of it.”
Now would be a good time to do it in celebration of Tuesday’s trade anniversary. And he remains enthusiastic about the possibilities for this season despite the tailspin that began in early December, after a 13-7 start, when the schedule stiffened and a run of injuries ensued.
“We need everybody healthy,” he said. “When guys go down, we’ve struggled. Ish (Smith) being out has hurt” – Casey said Smith went through Monday’s practice, which indicates his return is nearing – “but we have guys capable of stepping up. We need that every day from everybody. Consistency is the thing. We’ve done it in stretches. We’ve beaten some good teams. We’ve won some close games. I’m pretty sure we have the most close games of any team, so we should be better at it by now. We just have to lock in and do that and we are capable of being a playoff team that’s consistently good every night.”
That doesn’t sound like a guy beaten down by his circumstances – or by the Michigan winters. Told he could expect a pure Michigan experience when he stepped outside, Griffin shrugged.
“I don’t mind the cold.”