Griffin as a playmaker? Yup, that’s working. Now Pistons need shooters around him to heat up

Blake Griffin is putting up numbers that recall his days as a perennial All-Star but the Pistons are only 26th in 3-point shooting percentage through seven games.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

NEW YORK – Early indications are that Blake Griffin as a facilitator will work out just fine for the Pistons – but it’s going to take those being facilitated to hold up their end of the bargain a little more efficiently to know for sure.

Griffin is putting up numbers that recall his days as a perennial All-Star in the discussion for MVP status. He’s averaging 27.3 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting 49 percent overall and 48 percent from the 3-point arc while taking 5.6 triples a game, more than all teammates except Reggie Jackson. His 4.3 assists also lead the team, but that number would – and should – be higher but for subpar 3-point shooting surrounding him.

Casey planned to build the Pistons offense around Griffin over the summer as he weighed options, but he’s adjusting on the fly to take advantage of a diversity to Griffin’s game that’s even caught him by surprise.

“Teams are adjusting to how they’re playing him,” Casey said. “It should open up something else for his game. That’s one great surprise for us. As great as Blake’s 3-point shooting, his ability to go out on the floor, his ability to handle the basketball, his ability to make plays off the dribble – those are all a big plus for us. But every game has been different, how they double team, send a second defender and sometimes 2½ defenders.”

That, too, should open up cracks that his teammates can exploit – either wide-open shots or driving lanes.

Casey wanted the Pistons to up their 3-point attempts and they’ve done so, going from last season’s franchise-best 28.9 a game to this season’s 32.3. But they’re shooting them worse than 25 teams at just 32.3 percent. And if you take Griffin’s 15 of 31 out of the equation that number plummets to 29.1 percent.

Any immediate improvement might have to come without the two players expected to be their most effective 3-point shooters, Reggie Bullock and Luke Kennard. Kennard probably won’t return until mid-November or later with a separated shoulder suffered Oct. 25 and Bullock had to leave Wednesday’s overtime loss to Brooklyn at halftime with a sprained ankle that caused him issues in Tuesday’s two-point loss at Boston.

Bullock had yet to find a groove, shooting just 25 percent from the 3-point arc despite hitting three in the final two minutes to give the Pistons a fighting chance in their comeback at Boston. Others struggling include Langston Galloway at 14 percent, Glenn Robinson III at 20 percent and Jackson at 33 percent. Stanley Johnson’s 28.6 percent is in line with his career average of .294.

“We’re getting the attempts, but just getting that rhythm where they’re going in,” Casey said. “The way teams are playing Blake just sets everything up. It’s a different approach as far as more so than draw and kick, it’s more post up and kick out. So finding that rhythm, that understanding of good three vs. slightly contested or heavily contested three is our biggest thing we’re trying to figure out.”

They’re out of sync too often yet, dependent on Griffin to beat double teams or on Andre Drummond to grab offensive rebounds. That alone will win them enough games to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference, but not to take them where they hope to go.

“We’re trying to figure it out and it’s going to come,” Casey said. “It takes patience and belief in it and guys are enjoying it. They’re working their behinds off with the 3-point shooting. It takes time to develop that and get a good rhythm at it.”

The Pistons have had many of their best offensive moments when Casey employs two point guards, usually Jackson and Ish Smith. Smith, surprisingly, is No. 2 in 3-point percentage among healthy rotation players, just behind Griffin at 46.2 percent on a career-high 3.7 attempts a game. With injuries to Bullock and Kennard, plus Galloway’s struggles, Casey gave Jose Calderon 15 minutes in Wednesday’s game and got two triples from him.

Casey likes the flexibility of having the extra ballhandler and the ability to go from one pick and roll to another it provides, but there are matchups that become problematic defensively with that lineup. And then there’s the balancing act of having two point guards on the floor while also putting the ball in Griffin’s hands predominantly.

“Where we’re trying to figure out now is we have a third ballhandler in Blake – he’s basically a point forward,” Casey said. “So we’re trying to figure that out. But Jose’s an excellent shooter, Ish’s speed is a problem and Reggie Jackson, when he gets his feet set, can be a lethal off guard as well as a point guard. It’s different for Reggie. It puts Reggie in a tough situation because it’s something he’s never done. It’s something that is evolving as we’re going along.”