Blake Griffin is a Piston
Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons shocked the NBA world last night, January 29th, by trading for star forward Blake Griffin. The Pistons currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two and a half games out of the final playoff seed, and are riding an eight game losing streak. Once sitting comfortably in the top four of the Eastern Conference, an injury to starting point guard Reggie Jackson has led to a 3-12 record for the Pistons in the fifteen games without him. Something had to change if the Pistons wanted any hope of regaining their early season form and reaching the playoffs. Van Gundy and own Tom Gores made that change happen in a big way, as they brought in Griffin.
How the Trade Went Down
This trade starts and ends with now Los Angelos Clippers' shooting guard Avery Bradley. The Pistons brought Bradley in to Detroit hoping to find a reliable scorer on the offensive side of the ball, as well as a defensive center piece capable of guarding the best guard on any opposing team.
Bradley could not have disappointed more with expectations. Giving an expanded role on a less talent filled Detroit roster, at 15 points, 2.1 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game, to go with 41% field goals and 38% three point field goals, Bradley's offensive production has actually decreased in all statistical categories from his last season in Boston. Well, that is, except for free throw percentage. We'll give him that one. He's increased that by three percent. Good job, Avery Bradley.
Riding a current eight game losing streak and falling out of playoff contention, it was up to Van Gundy to make a move. In the fourth season as head coach, it was make or break for Van Gundy, as a rebuild is out of the question for him. So, the morning of January 29th, Van Gundy placed Avery Bradley on the trading block.
The Lakers made the first move, offering Jordan Clarkson for Avery Bradley. Detroit immediately declined the offer. They were looking for something bigger. They were looking for someone who could help them win now. Enter the Los Angelos Clippers.
Hours after Bradley's name entered the trading block, Detroit finalized a move, and a Blockbuster move at that. They went out, and they got star power forward Blake Griffin.
Van Gundy got his all-star talent in Blake Griffin, but it did not come without a cost. Here's what each team received in the trade:
Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, Willie Reed
Los Angelos Clippers: Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second round pick
What the Pistons Gave Up
The biggest loss in this trade for the Pistons is that of Tobias Harris. Harris is currently experiencing a career year, with career highs in points per game (18.1) and three point percentage (41%). At 25 years of age, Harris is in the prime of his career. His ability to play both the power and small forward positions allowed Van Gundy to get creative with small and big ball lineups. Harris had also formed a productive chemistry with center Andre Drummond. His offensive presence and diversity will be missed.
Avery Bradley, as stated earlier, never found his form in Detroit. The Pistons will miss the depth that he brought to the shooting guard position, and, though his numbers don't show it this year, he still has an elite defensive ability. It just wasn't working for him on the Pistons' roster. His potential as a role player cannot be denied, as shown from his success in Boston. He will be an asset for a contending team again in the future.
Boban Marjonovic had recently showed promise as an offensive talent off of the bench. He can score in a variety of ways down low, and is a reliable free throw shooter. However, on the defensive end, he is a complete liability. Detroit didn't use him very often, mainly because of the defensive problems he created when on the floor. However, with the right system and coaching, his offensive skill set could be utilized.
Finally, the Pistons lose two future draft picks. Depending on their record this season, the first round pick may prove to not be very costly. Van Gundy has been criticized for his draft picks more than anything, as he drafted Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard over Devin Booker and Donovan Mitchell in first round draft picks. Booker and Mitchell would make a very intriguing one-two punch at the moment, as both have flourished in their current starting roles. That being said, losing two picks may not hurt the Pistons, but rather give Van Gundy less opportunities to pass on other future NBA talent.
How Does the Trade Effect the Pistons?
Was this a good trade for Van Gundy and Gores to make? How does Blake Griffin fit into the lineup? Are the Pistons better or worse after this trade? All great questions to ask after a blockbuster trade. Let's dive into it.
Griffin and Dummond?
The biggest question everyone is already asking is, "How will Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond play together?". This is the right question to be asking. Andre Drummond has, seemingly out of nowhere, become a legitimate passer from the high post. He has thrived in setting up at the high post, while either driving to the basket or setting up other player for easy open baskets. Griffin, on the other hand, operates best in the exact same position. Both players play well from the high post position, with Griffin adding another dimension with his ability to shoot with three point range.
So, how will Van Gundy work out that out? We're all excited to see what he does. There are likely to be some growing pains. However, think of the two as a poor man's DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Maybe Van Gundy can take a page out of the Pelicans' playbook. Floor spacing will, however, be the biggest aspect for him to address.
One thing we do know, Griffin is one of the best passing big men that we've ever seen in the NBA. His ability as a playmaker with the ball in his hand in transition is something any team would value. Also, Griffin near perfected his craft working along side DeAndre Jordan in Los Angelos, throwing lob passes to a flying Jordan, as teams attempted to play help side defense on Griffin. Playing with Drummond will not present a situation that Griffin hasn't seen before. That should lead to faster chemistry and give the Pistons hope that this thing could actually work.
Another thing that is for sure, Detroit will have the most athletic front court that they have had, ever. Drummond already enjoys his fair share of alley-oop lob passes from Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith. Now, Griffin joins the show. When the two learn to play together without crowding the lane, defenses could have a nightmare attempting to stop the physical, high flying duo.
So, in conclusion, the pairing of Drummond and Griffin could be a train wreck, with the two players each asking for their share of time with the ball in their hands at the high post.
On the other hand, the pairing could form an unstoppable dynamic duo. Griffin gets a clear offensive upgrade from Jordan with his new teammate Drummond. Griffin's ability to pass and create off of the dribble could work very well with Drummond's post game presence. Meanwhile, good luck ever getting a rebound over these two. Griffin currently averages eight rebounds a game, while Drummond leads the NBA with 15 per game. Size is no longer lacking in Detroit. That being said, only time will tell how these two will play together.
How the Rest of the Lineup is Impacted
The Pistons are losing two starters in Harris and Bradley. They were also the number one and two scoring options for Detroit. The Pistons, all of a sudden, have a vacancy at the shooting guard position without Bradley. How will they fill that void.
The biggest beneficiary in this trade is rookie Luke Kennard (and Detroit fans). Detroit fans have been calling for more time for the rookie all season, and even more so as Bradley has disappointed. Well, they got their wish.
Whether Kennard is moved into the starting lineup role or not remains to be seen, as Van Gundy has played Reggie Bullock as the starter when Bradley has missed time. Van Gundy has always preferred to give experienced players more time than younger players. However, Kennard has been receiving increased time off of the bench as of recent. Whether he starts or not, he will most likely see an increase in minutes.
More importantly, Bradley is no longer going to steal minutes at the end of games. Previously, regardless of how well Kennard had played, Bradley was inserted to finish games. That has led to, well, a horrible record as of late. This way, Van Gundy will most likely resort to a "who is playing better" approach until he decides who his regular five will be to finish games. Kennard will have the opportunity to play his way into the starting lineup and finishing games. All of that combined with Griffin's playmaking ability will open up the court for the knock down three point shooting Kennard (43% three point percentage). The time is now for Kennard to show he belongs.
Stanley Johnson has played well since returning from an injury. He was recently reinserted into the starting lineup, as he started the year in the small forward position. The biggest problem for Johnson has been Harris and Bradley taking touches away at the offensive side of the ball. Now, with Bradley and Harris gone, and with the upgrade in passing ability with Griffin, Johnson will most likely see more looks on offense.
Second, Johnson plays much stronger going to his right side, as his right hand is the dominant. He plays the left side of the floor whenever Bradley is in the game with him. Johnson has mentioned how well both Kennard and he play together. If Van Gundy decides to insert the left handed Kennard into the starting lineup, both Kennard and Johnson can play from their dominate sides of the ball, favoring Johnson's offensive production greatly.
Johnson's defense has been his strongest aspect. He has, however, also shown offensive flashes when he can get to the basket and in transition. Griffin will open up the offense in a way that get other players involved more. That is something that neither Harris nor Bradley offered.
The Pistons lose depth on the wings with the departure of Harris and Bradley. The likes of Johnson, Kennard, and Bullock will have to show their ability to step in and contribute. The Pistons also have guard Langston Galloway on the roster. He has not lived up to hype in the shooting department, as his 36% three point shooting is down from 47% last season. He will also be required to step up in the wake up Bradley's departure.
If none of the four players can increase their production with extra time on the court, the Pistons could face some big problems. However, Van Gundy has opened up the roster, giving each player a chance to prove they belong. By not asking for a guard in return for the Blake Griffin trade, Van Gundy has showed he trusts the players he currently has on the roster to step up into the guard positions.
There are many mixed reviews right now on this trade. Many experts believe that Griffin and Drummond will create a log jam in the paint and that floor spacing will be a major problem. Others are saying that the Pistons would serve well to go out and complete another trade for a proven wing player or a guard who can feed Griffin and Drummond better than Jackson can.
My take is that Van Gundy won this trade. Transitioning from playing with Jordan to Drummond will not cause the problems for Griffin that many think. Griffin will most likely welcome the upgrade of Drummond's offensive ability and thrive in the new atmosphere. The two will learn to space the floor and open up Detroit's array of shooting potential surrounding them.
The Pistons needed something big to happen if Van Gundy had any desire to win during his tenure in Detroit. They got their man in Blake Griffin. He gives the Pistons an instant playmaker who can bring them back into the playoff picture in a struggling Eastern division.
Removing the pains of Avery Bradley from the roster will open up things immensely for Van Gundy. Johnson and Kennard have been playing with great success and chemistry together recently, if Van Gundy so chooses to trust the rookie Kennard with a starting role. The two could show that they are not the draft busts that others have already named them. They simply needed the opportunity to play, and they will have that now, with the trading away of Harris and Bradley.
Lastly, though Van Gundy has been criticized for his poor decisions in the NBA Draft, his trading skills are some of the best in the business. Let's take a look real fast.
In 2015, Van Gundy received Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock, and Danny Granger in a trade for a second round draft pick. In 2016, Van Gundy traded Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova to Orlando for Tobias Harris. Van Gundy, then, turned Marcus Morris into Avery Bradley in a trade this past summer of 2017. That was a move that many critiqued because of the expiring contract of Bradley and the fan love that Morris had developed in Detroit. Marjanovic, who was used in the trade for Griffin, was a free agent signing.
So what did the Pistons really give up for Blake Griffin? Jennings, Ilyasova, a protected first round pick, and a second round pick. Jennings is no longer in the NBA, and Ilyasova is a bench player for the 15-35 Atlanta Hawks. So, a player not even in the NBA, a bench player on the second worse team in the NBA, a protected first round Draft Pick, and a second round pick for Blake Griffin. Are you kidding me? You tell me what you think of that. To me, that looks like Van Gundy knows what he's doing on the trading block. In fact, it is absolutely genius.
Van Gundy has worked his magic, turning essentially nothing into Blake Griffin. Can this be the move that allows the Pistons to become championship contenders? Only time will tell.
© 2018 Micah Reum