I’m going to preface this by saying that I do believe our Detroit Pistons have slightly handicapped our future with this trade for Blake Griffin. Since Stan Van Gundy took over for Detroit in 2014 his draft history has been suspect at best, missing out on the likes of Devin Booker, Miles Turner, Caris Lavert, and Donovan Mitchell over the past 3 years. That being said, losing a 1st round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft (which looks like one of the deepest in recent memory) could be costly. While some may scoff at the notion that Stan Gundy (yes I stole that nickname) would actually find an impact player in the draft, you can’t dismiss the importance of the draft in today’s NBA, especially on a team that isn’t a free agent “destination”. Based on where we would likely be picking had we kept the pick, we could be selecting from the likes of Miles Bridges, Mikal Bridges, Hamidou Diallo, or Trevon Duval, I don’t think I’d get much of an argument in saying these all look like players who could make a huge impact in the NBA. It’s also hard to ignore his contract, we now have a guy who provides a 30 plus million dollar cap hit each of the next 5 seasons on a team that was already strapped for cash after some questionable free agent decisions in recent years (see Jon Leuer).
Nevertheless, Stan accomplished something that is incredibly hard to do in today’s league, especially in a city like Detroit, land a star player.
Blake Griffin is a proven star, a guy that you can pencil in for 20+ points, 6+ rebounds, and a couple assists every single game. He’s a high energy guy who can show Andre Drummond how to bring it day in day out, something he’s struggled to do since we drafted him in 2012. He’s already shown the ability to fit into the offense, take big shots late in games, and honestly gel with his teammates way sooner than any of us expected (finding the game ball for rookie Reggie Hearn after his 1st NBA bucket). Most importantly he’s shown fans that he wants to be here and he wants to help Detroit compete to re-create a winning culture. An emotional leader for this team from the beginning, you can often find Blake giving a scowl or fist bump after a 1st quarter bucket, jumping up off the bench to celebrate a scoring run, and sharing the ball to make this offense way more profficient since his arrival. We have scored over 100 points in all 3 games he’s started, and the energy he brings to the team is palpable.
While some may say we gave up too much for him I disagree. Again, did we handicap our future? Slightly, but that’s the price you pay for a star player in his prime (though it may be the back end). Look Tobias Harris was having a really nice year, but does anybody really believe he’s going to be a 25 point scorer? He’s a good shooter with a good finesse game, but when the team REALLY needed a bucket, Tobias is never going to be a guy who you can count on for an iso. I don’t think it takes too much analysis to see that Avery Bradley was a slight disappointment in his Pistons stint. He only provided 15 ppg on a team that desperately needed his outside shot, and while a plus defender, doesn’t provide much else as far as passing and rebounding goes. Don’t forget that he was either a max contract or gone this off season anyway.
So where does this leave us?
The Pistons entering Tuesday are tied with the 76ers for the 8 seed in the East, we’re also only 4.5 games out of the 3 seed in a tightly packed conference. With 30 games remaining we have a real chance of landing ourselves in the 4-6 range, and there’s a few reasons. Reggie Jackson won’t be back for another couple weeks, but he’ll be back, adding another scoring punch to this starting lineup, and giving us a bench rotation of Ish, Galloway, and Kennard at the guard spot. Our schedule isn’t incredibly difficult and sets up for a few runs (example, our next 5 games have us facing Brooklyn, LAC, ATL, NO, ATL). Lastly the right players have stepped up following this trade, Blake Griffin has been playing great basketball right away, Reggie Bullock is 4th in the league shooting almost 45% from deep, Stanley Johnson has averaged 15 ppg since the trade, and Ish Smith has averaged just over 15 points and 6 assists per game in the last 4.
Again I’m not saying this team is going to compete for an NBA title, but a 4 seed and a playoff series win (or two) isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
It’s a fun time to be a Pistons fan for the first time in a long time, let’s all sit back and enjoy the ride.