After trying and failing to trade Blake Griffin for weeks, if not longer, the Detroit Pistons finally came to terms on a buyout with the six-time All-Star on Friday, according to multiple reports, opening the door for Griffin to hit unrestricted free agency and sign with whatever team he wants to.
Now, Griffin isn’t the player he was five years ago – he isn’t even the player he was two seasons ago, in his last All-Star campaign – but the almost 32-year-old still has value as a potential bench piece or spot starter on a contender.
For anyone doubting that, just look at the quality of the teams interested in Griffin, according to the New York Times’ Marc Stein:
The Lakers, Clippers, Nets, Heat and Warriors are among the teams that have expressed interest in Blake Griffin when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, league sources say
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) March 5, 2021
The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, the Miami Heat, the Brooklyn Nets and the Golden State Warriors – all teams with huge aspirations this season, and all reported as being after Griffin’s signature as a free agent.
On the campaign, Griffin’s numbers in 2020-21 have been modest, to say the least: 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per contest on paltry shooting splits of 36.5/31.5/71.0 over 20 games. The catch-all analytics paint a similarly grim picture, as Griffin ranks 362nd in Value Over Replacement Player (-0.1) this season, 309th in Box Plus/Minus (-2.6) and 381st in Win Shares per 48 Minutes (0.026), almost unfathomable marks considering Griffin was an All-Star putting up almost 25 points nightly just two seasons ago.
And yet, big teams are still going to come hard after Griffin’s services. The question is: Why?
That answer could have partly to do with Griffin’s point-per-possession marks, which aren’t quite as ugly as his other marks in 2020-21.
Taking a look at Synergy Sports, we can see Griffin is still an ‘excellent’ point producer as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and a ‘very good’ scorer in transition and as the roll man in pick-and-roll sets. That type of versatile scoring is hard to find, particularly players who can produce as both the creator and finisher in all-important pick-and-roll sets, so crucial in the modern NBA.
Let’s take a look at each of those play types and Griffin’s ability to score out of them a little more closely.
Griffin’s most effective play type this season by far has been as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, unique for a traditional power forward.
Out of those sets, Griffin has posted 38 possessions and produced 43 points, good for a 1.132 point-per-possession (PPP) mark, which places him in the 93rd percentile league-wide, per Synergy, in what’s considered the ‘excellent’ range.
The minimal sample size needs to be taken into account, but just for fun, let’s look at what top forwards are posting in the same pick-and-roll ball-handler play type this season, according to Synergy: First-time All-Star Zion Williamson is right behind Griffin in PPP at 1.108, Kevin Durant is even further behind at 1.011 PPP while LeBron James is at 0.917 PPP on that play type this season.
Again, sample size must be taken into account here, as Griffin’s 38 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball-handler are less than half of the amount Williamson, Durant and James have this season, but either way, it’s impressive to see Griffin being so productive with the ball in his hands and a screener setting him up.
Here’s video proof of Griffin’s effectiveness this very season as the pick-and-roll ball-handler:
What’s more, in transition opportunities this season, Griffin has scored 20 points on 16 chances, good for 1.125 PPP, placing him in the 74th percentile in the NBA this year, per Synergy. Meanwhile, as the roll man, he’s produced 12 points on just 10 opportunities, a 1.2 PPP mark, one that puts him in the NBA’s 70th percentile.
Although the sample size for those two play types is tiny, the numbers, again, speak favorably of Griffin’s ability to produce in those kinds of looks, something that will appeal to contenders looking for frontcourt help this buyout season.
Additionally, the fact that Griffin is still finishing 61.2 percent of his shot attempts from within five feet of the basket, a higher clip than far more explosive wings in Aaron Gordon (59.0 percent) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (59.0 percent), or even than first-time All-Star power forward Julius Randle (57.6 percent), further indicates that Griffin likely has more left in the tank than his raw and advanced statistics would let on.
There’s also a matter of motivation with Griffin that must be factored in.
The guy is about to turn 32, has six All-Star and five All-NBA appearances under his belt and was playing on a Detroit team in the very early stages of a total rebuild. Not only that, but the Pistons’ top player this season, Jerami Grant, has spent over half his playing time this season playing Griffin’s most natural position of power forward, according to Basketball-Reference.
On a contending team with a more important role, who knows? Maybe Griffin is able to channel his 2018-19 form more often.
Even if Griffin never comes close to reaching those heights again, there’s little doubt he could be a huge help to a contender off the bench, especially making the minimum or part of some team’s mid-level exception.
He’s the exact type of low-risk, high-reward pickup that teams with title aspirations make every buyout season, who at times end up being game-changers.
Or maybe Griffin signs somewhere and is relegated to the bench for the entirety of the playoffs. Either way, it’d be a move well worth the risk for a contender, particularly at such a modest price tag.
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