Blake Griffin’s return to All-Star status wasn’t an ‘if’ but a ‘when’

Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin will make his sixth All-Star appearance this weekend – but his first in four years and his first representing the Pistons
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Blake Griffin makes his sixth All-Star appearance this weekend – four years after his fifth. If you were skeptical it would ever happen, well, you’re not Blake Griffin.

“No. No doubt,” he said about wondering if, given good health, he could return to All-Star status. “I work as hard as I can. I take care of my body as best I can. I watch what I eat. I have my trainers. It’s a full-time job for me. For me, it wasn’t an ‘if.’ It was a ‘when.’ ”

Griffin’s first full season with the Pistons has obliterated questions about whether he could still make the same sort of impact at 29 as he did when taking the league by storm as a 21-year-old rookie through his age 25 season of 2014-15 when he last was accorded All-Star status.

If there’s any lingering question over whether Griffin could remain healthy for a full season, it’s becoming more muted with every game he logs.

Griffin was a virtual iron man his first four seasons, playing 82, 66 (every game in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season), 80 and 80 games. Since then, his totals have been 67, 35, 61 and 58.

He’s played 54 of 56 games so far this season and the two he missed came when the Pistons – a collective of the front office, training and coaching staffs – held him out of the second night of back to backs, one in early December and one in early January.

It never made sense that Griffin’s career was at risk of unraveling due to injury. But as the incidence of random ailments mounted, it became hard to repel fears that some players – inexplicably, and perhaps Griffin among them – are simply more prone to getting hurt than others. Even if none of Griffin’s injuries seemed chronic or threatened long-term consequences, the fact he kept incurring them – a hand, a thigh, a knee, a toe – created doubts he could avoid them.

Did Griffin ever succumb to the same fears? Did he ever feel simply snakebit?

“I had some unfortunate luck – some of them just kind of out of nowhere,” he said. “Even last year, somebody rolled into my leg and I sprained my MCL and missed (14) games. That was really the only injury I had last year, so those things are unfortunate but they’re a part of basketball. So you can’t feel sorry for yourself. You take it, you rehab, you get back and you do what you can.”

Injuries have played a role in mangling Pistons momentum and chemistry again this season, just as it has in the past two with the long-term absences of Reggie Jackson. But Griffin and Jackson haven’t missed a game between them due to injury.

And Griffin hasn’t merely returned to the same level of impact as before his run of injury-marred seasons. He’s transformed himself in Moneyball fashion, taking a higher percentage of 3-point shots (.365) – and making them at a rate higher (.362) than the NBA average (.355) – than at any point in his career.

“It helps a lot, especially in today’s NBA with everybody spacing the floor a little bit more and playing with a guy like (Andre Drummond), who is so effective inside, to be able to give him a little bit more space,” Griffin said. “I always see guys working to expand their range and when they do, you see them add years to their careers. So that’s part of the thinking, as well.”

After the Pistons lost at Boston on Wednesday, most players headed to their off-season home bases or to somewhere with sandy beaches and the absence of snow while Griffin was off to Charlotte for All-Star Weekend. He won’t represent the Eastern Conference in a Pistons uniform, though, one of the changes in format since his last All-Star appearance. Griffin will line up on Team Giannis after being picked by Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo in last week’s draft.

He calls that change “a gimmick,” but not derisively, fully aware that its intent is to draw in more fans and appreciative of what the All-Star game is about.

“That game is for the fans. It’s to put on a show,” he said. “You want to showcase guys’ ability, so in all my years playing in the All-Star game it’s always been the same.”

He’ll devote the 2½ hours the game takes to helping stage that show but use the weekend as a whole as part of his preparation for the season’s final 26 games amid a playoff push.

“My mindset is to go into All-Star, have a good time, represent the Detroit Pistons well,” he said. “But also to use the time to rest a little bit, to work out, to make sure I’m ready to go for the second part of this.”

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