Teammates take delight in Griffin’s debut: ‘He’s a special dude’

Blake Griffin led the Pistons to an important win in his Pistons debut and gave teammates a glimpse of what the future holds.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

DETROIT – The mental and physical adjustments are in their infancies, but don’t spend much time fretting the emotional adjustment required of the Pistons to accept that Blake Griffin is one of them.

That’s pretty much over already.

For Andre Drummond – for whom the presence of another big man who’ll have the ball as frequently as Griffin will makes his adjustment perhaps most significant – the opening seconds of Thursday’s win over Memphis won him over.

“From the beginning, the chemistry – obviously, it was still a little chaotic out there – but just the glimpses of what we can do together, it’s going to be really huge for us,” he said.

“We’re all excited. Look how he played – bleepin’ amazing,” Stanley Johnson said after Griffin scored 24 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists. “We came out here with an hour and a half together – had some defensive mistakes, but that’s because we spent an hour and a half together. I enjoyed playing with him. I think we all did.”

On the other side of the equation, Griffin exuded the same sense of wonderment as he launches a new chapter of his decorated career. He’s eager for Reggie Jackson – a player with whom he’s spent summer workouts in Los Angeles – to return from injury and intrigued by the possibilities his pairing with Drummond present.

“I think we need to get healthy. We’ve missed Reggie in a big way. He’s so talented, but I look at this as they’ve been building a foundation and we’re adding to that. I’m very excited about the future, this season especially but the future in general. We’ve got a high ceiling with this group.

“The way Andre dominates the game is impressive. Not many guys that do it the way he does it. Just physically, so imposing. And it’s going to get better and better.”

Stan Van Gundy has run the offense through Andre Drummond almost exclusively this season, but that changes with the dynamic Griffin on board. Drummond’s OK with the shifting role, understanding he’ll still get plenty of touches when Griffin rests and seeing that he got a team-high 15 shot attempts in Griffin’s debut.

Because they’re both adept passers – Griffin averages 5.4 assists per game, Drummond 3.9 – Van Gundy is already doodling sets to accentuate their strengths in ways that will further exploit them.

“I think you’ll see a better chemistry between he and Andre as we go on,” he said. “He’s already probably found Andre running and sealing at the rim more times tonight than we have all year. He’s got his head up and he’s looking and he’s getting Andre the ball right there. Andre hasn’t had a lot of those shots. It’s interesting. Andre only played 28 minutes because of the foul trouble and he leads our team in shots tonight. We’ve talked about running more stuff through Blake; it actually created more shots for Andre.”

Asked how opponents should feel about the prospect of defending two physically dominant and talented passers, Drummond grinned and said, “It’s going to be a long night. You’ve got to figure out what you really want to do, if you want to get dunked on by me or him.”

When Van Gundy pulled Drummond with three minutes left and used Griffin to guard Memphis star Marc Gasol, he did so because he didn’t want Drummond subconsciously playing less physical defense to avoid his sixth foul. That wouldn’t have been an option before acquiring Griffin, who recorded a blocked shot at the rim and forced Gasol into a difficult shot with 15 seconds left and the Pistons ahead by a point down the stretch.

Anthony Tolliver believes Griffin will grow to be regarded as an outstanding defensive player under Van Gundy.

“When you’re in an environment that forces you to do that, I think he has no choice. I think the culture here and what Stan has built is a testament to what you saw tonight. And it’s only going to get better. He’s going to get more comfortable. I can almost guarantee you’re going to see a more defensive-oriented Blake Griffin than you’ve seen in the past.”

It’s at the other end, though, where Griffin figures to have the greatest impact on the Pistons, who haven’t had a player who dominates an opponent’s game plan to Griffin’s degree since … Grant Hill?

“He’s a special dude,” Stanley Johnson said. “You’ve got that much size and strength going to the rim, you’ve got to make some business decisions and some guys don’t like to make those decisions.”

The Pistons made a monumental business decision for the fate of the franchise this week. Off early returns, it’s one they’d make again a thousand times over.