Griffin comes to camp healthy; Pistons intend to help him stay that way
Gregory Shamus (NBAE/Getty)
AUBURN HILLS – Attentive Pistons fans heard Blake Griffin give frequent nods to the fact he’d had his first healthy summer in years to explain his resurgent All-Star 2018-19 season. Fretful Pistons fans might have wondered what the late-season knee injury that undermined their 2019 playoff chances would mean for Griffin’s off-season this time around.
“I sort of consider this summer a healthy summer,” Griffin said Monday on the eve of training camp. “The previous two, three summers, I’d had an injury where I was not able to even get on the court until August. With this one, it was a four- to six-week recovery. I’m back on the court in mid-June, so really only a couple of weeks (difference). Put together the same plan.”
It will be Griffin’s second full season with the Pistons and his second under Dwane Casey. The transformation of Griffin’s game began late in his Clippers tenure but accelerated greatly on Casey’s watch and his empowerment of Griffin as a primary playmaker and assertive 3-point shooter.
“Last year was a little bit new for all of us with a new coaching staff,” Griffin said. “You don’t really know what to expect. This year, we have a much better feel. Even the new guys coming in, they can ask the right questions and we can give answers that give a little shape to that.”
Griffin spent the summer focused not so much on broadening his arsenal as on honing those things that became his new staples last year – dribble handoffs and operating as the pick-and-roll ballhandler and the decisions that come with those assignments, plus more, more, more 3-point shooting.
“For me, (last season) was about figuring out where I’m going to be on the floor and figuring out ways to be effective and get other people involved,” he said. “There were a few points of emphasis (this summer), like finishing in the lane a little more creatively. But other than that, working on things I already do.”
The aim is to rely on Griffin to do those things a little less frequently this season, a sign of the faith Griffin and Casey have in the ability of players like Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard to take on more and of the quality of off-season additions like Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tony Snell, Tim Frazier and Joe Johnson.
Rose, in fact, could become to the second unit what Griffin is to the starters. The 2007 McDonald’s All-American teammates – on a stacked West roster that also included James Harden, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon and Michael Beasley – and No. 1 overall picks in successive drafts (Rose in 2008, Griffin in ’09) give the Pistons a pair of players who possess the most coveted of NBA traits.
“The name of this game is to draw double teams and he’ll be able to have special nights and guys will have to change their whole defensive scheme to stop him,” Jackson said of Rose. “That’s what Blake did for us last year and that’s what he’s going to do. We expect him to come in and be himself.”
Rose and Jackson’s health, in addition to Griffin’s, will be heavily scrutinized again this season, though the fact Jackson played all 82 games last season – after missing big chunks of the previous two with knee and ankle infirmities – eases concerns about his durability. Morris, another veteran who missed time last season with injury, declared himself 100 percent for camp.
Casey indicated the Pistons are going into the season hoping to be less reliant on Griffin’s availability – and on veterans in general – this time around.
“We want to be prudent,” Casey said. “There is something to it as far as making sure you don’t overuse players. We have to be smarter. I have to be smarter how we use guys.”
Griffin never advocated for games off last year and won’t this time around, but neither will he object to the recommendations coming from a collaborative assessment made by the medical, coaching and front-office staffs.
“I’m going to let our staff and the front office lead the way on that,” he said. “I’m going to listen to them because that’s what they’re hired to do and that’s what they’re good at. As a team, you buy into your role. It’s not for me to decide how much I play and how much I practice and stuff like that.”