How to maximize Blake Griffin sure to be high on Casey’s off-season scheming

Blake Griffin figures to be at the heart of Dwane Casey’s game planning as he settles in as Pistons coach
Chris Schwegler (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Once you get past the big-picture items regarding Dwane Casey’s impact on the Pistons – things like the chemistry he fosters and the effect he’ll have on player development – and identify the more specific issues he’ll have to address, we can argue about what comes first.

I’ll suggest that it very likely will start with a plan for how – and when – to use Blake Griffin to best effect.

Casey – who won the official NBA Coach of the Year award on Monday night after previously winning the honor in a vote of his peers – surely will spend a good chunk of his off-season conjuring ways to use Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson simultaneously. How can he take full advantage of Jackson’s pick-and-roll panache, Drummond’s devastating effectiveness around the rim and Griffin’s smorgasbordof skills – passing, the double teams he’ll command in the post, the burgeoning 3-point marksmanship and his own pick-and-roll punch?

Those three will be on the floor together to start each half and, certainly, to finish any meaningful and closely contested game.

But there are going to be times when Griffin sits while Drummond is on the floor and vice versa. A third of their minutes, it stands to reason, could come in that scenario, if Casey isn’t as comfortable rolling with a five-man bench unit as he was in Toronto.

How the Pistons play while Griffin sits probably won’t take much imaginative energy for Casey. He’ll have three-plus seasons of videotape to see how an offense centered around Drummond and Jackson operates. He’ll tweak things here and there, of course, but it’s pretty obvious that Drummond-Jackson lineups will feature a heavy dose of pick and roll, optimally with premium shooting coming from at least two of the three other positions.

It will be more interesting and open-ended to see how Casey manages the mix around Griffin while Drummond is out. It very well could turn out that Griffin is used to anchor the second unit if Casey doesn’t feel he has enough scoring punch in a lineup that features five bench players.

If he were to line up today with a five-man bench unit, it probably would be Ish Smith, Luke Kennard, Jon Leuer/Henry Ellenson, unknown free agent at small forward and Eric Moreland/Leuer at center. If Casey goes with a three-man rotation of Kennard, Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson at shooting guard/small forward, he could optimize shooting by using Kennard and Bullock together. Much will depend on what free agency delivers, it appears.

But here’s a wrinkle to consider: What about Griffin as the backup center? Using Griffin with Ellenson would enable Casey to shield Ellenson from the most problematic defensive matchups, likely while creating some matchup headaches on the other end. Ellenson remains an intriguing offensive option for his size, ability to put the ball on the floor and score with either hand and from distance. A Griffin-Ellenson combination has some interesting possibilities.

If the rookies drafted last week, Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown, show enough on offense to warrant minutes, their defensive ability and athleticism in transition – with Smith pushing it up the court – could make for a high-energy, change-of-pace unit. One or the other at shooting guard with Johnson at small forward and Ellenson and Griffin up front would be another combination worth exploring.

I suspect there will be hours spent on just such conversations for Casey when he gets his coaching staff fully assembled and the roster is more or less in place. Busy summer ahead for the guy who needs to make room for another trophy.