Detroit Pistons’ Blake Griffin may not have ‘it’ anymore, but has enough to boost rebuild

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor
 
| Detroit Free Press

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It’s tough to watch a great player chase his own shadow. It’s tougher, still, when that player can barely move, especially when that player leapt to places few have ever been in the NBA. 

But if you think it’s hard to watch Blake Griffin play basketball these days, imagine what it’s like for him? And you have to imagine it, right? 

Because he doesn’t show us. 

Not really. 

He keeps whatever he’s feeling about his body betraying him to himself. Both in the way he carries himself on the court and the way he carries himself in the locker room.  

For that, he should be applauded, no matter how much you think about his contract, and that the Detroit Pistons still have another season to pay him — at almost $39 million — and that the rebuilding of this franchise won’t feel completely real until the former superstar is wearing another team’s uniform. 

And yet as much as the money is an issue for next year, and as much as he struggles to regain some semblance of his old self — and by old self I mean his 2019 self — he is still finding subtle ways to propel the organizational reboot. 

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On Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin took 11 shots and made four of them. That’s not terrible, but it’s hardly the high percentage he used to shoot when he could hammer dunk over everyone.  

He also attempted five 3-pointers. He made one. This isn’t stunning, as he’s struggled from distance this season even as he is shooting more 3s as a percentage of his overall shots than he ever has before.  

Still, don’t get locked in on his inability to consistently attack the paint or his struggles from deep. This season isn’t about developing Griffin; it’s about developing most everyone else. 

Griffin is helping with that. And as long as he continues to keep his shot attempts low, he will do that. (He is averaging 11 attempts per game, his lowest shot total of his career.) 

Where he is most useful is on the block, because he can still draw a double against certain teams, or at least the hint of a double team, as he did against the Nets. From that position on the block, he can look for open — and largely younger — shooters on the team. 

It means something for Saddiq Bey, for example, to receive a pass from Griffin. It means the veteran has confidence in the rookie. That helps. 

It also helps when Griffin sets screens to help free, say, Jerami Grant, or Josh Jackson. For while he may have lost a couple of steps, he is still plenty strong, with a wide base, and he understands the game. 

Which leads us to his most important role on this team at the moment: the example he sets. It matters. Because Griffin doesn’t have to. The Pistons have to pay him regardless. 

And when you watch the team return from a dismal west-coast trip and play with the kind of fire it did on Tuesday — the Pistons beat the Nets, 122-111 — remember that Griffin has his hand in the effort in all sorts of ways.  

Think of the relationship between Griffin and the Pistons at this point as an arranged marriage, where both parties are finding ways to help the other.  

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Griffin may not be ageing as he wanted to on the court — he is a year younger than Stephen Curry, for example, who came into the league in the same draft class — but he is handling a difficult situation with aplomb. 

Remember, he didn’t ask to come to Detroit a little more than three years ago. The Clippers sold him out. 

They had that right. Just as Griffin had the right to balk or cause internal issues with the Pistons.  

He has not.  

That’s easy to see watching the team this season. Yes, the youngsters are hungry. Bey and Isaiah Stewart play as if someone is trying to steal from them. Jackson plays with a ferocity, too, and has something to prove.  

Yet the plan Dwane Casey and Troy Weaver are rolling out doesn’t work without Griffin slipping on his graduate assistant cap and dropping knowledge wherever and whenever he can.  

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As Casey after the game: “It was a bear of a trip. I was hoping we didn’t get our head down. The guys did a great job of coming back and competing.” 

The spirit you’ve seen so far this season is a result of the superstar veteran meshing with the young guys. Guiding them, too, along with the help of Mason Plumlee. 

Casey believes that young players can’t grow properly without the help of others to show the way. This is Griffin’s role now for as long as he remains a Piston. 

It’s a role that should pay off long after he is gone.  

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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