When the Clippers traded Blake Griffin to the Pistons back in January, the motives were obvious for both sides.
For Los Angeles, they knew that with the roster as it was, they weren’t going anywhere with Blake leading the way. While Blake was capable of putting up good numbers on a nightly basis, the roster built around him wasn’t anywhere near as good as it was during the Chris Paul days. It was time for a change.
For Detroit, acquiring a star like Blake was a desperation move to attain relevance. With the team firmly stuck in no man’s land and the limited trade assets that they had, getting someone like Blake at a lowered price seemed obvious even if he’d be getting paid $38+ million at 32 years old.
The returns following the trade were not all that great for either team. Neither team was terrible, as the Clippers finished with 42 wins and the Pistons finished with 39, but both failed to make the playoffs, and both seemed to have very uncertain futures at the time.
The Pistons had a nice trio locked up in Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, but outside of them, the Pistons’ roster was filled with question marks.
The Clippers had a roster filled with decent talent with no distinguished star to lead them, which is a red flag in the Western Conference.
Judging by how both teams did in the half-seasons with their changed squads, it seemed as though neither team won this trade, leaving minimal impact on the NBA going forward. Since then, the times have definitely changed.
With the first month and a half of the season in the books, it’s fair to say that the Blake trade has played a role in how the 2018-2019 season has transpired so far, with both the Clippers and the Pistons greatly benefiting from the big mid-season transaction.
The Clippers have caught everyone’s eye since the season began, boasting a 15-7 record, which has them tied for the top seed in the West. The Pistons have gone a little back and forth, but they’ve stayed the course with a 13-7 record, good enough for the fourth seed in the East.
And all of it comes back to the Blake Griffin trade. With the Pistons and the Clippers off to impressive starts, it’s only fair to analyze how the players involved in the deal have panned out since.
There aren’t that many storylines that are better than the “Prove ‘em wrong!” for individual players, and that’s what Blake Griffin’s season has all been about so far.
Coming into the season, many believed that Blake was on the decline. At 29 years old, his reputation for being injury-prone and his athletic prowess not what it once was, the doubters believed he could not maintain his status as one of the league’s best players.
Well, the old Blake is dead. What we have now is a reinvention of one of the league’s best power forwards.
Blake is not the high-flyer he once was, but his game does not rely on his athleticism as much as it once did. Instead, the All-Star forward has adapted his game to fit the modern NBA. He now has a respectable three-point shot, a skill that’s been three years in the making for the Oklahoma native.
Adding a three-point shot to his game has hurt his field goal percentage compared to his earlier days, but that’s to be expected when you add shooting from distance to your repertoire. In his younger days, almost all of Blake’s shots were from inside the arc, as the percentage of two-point shots he attempted from 2010-2016 ranged from 97 to 98 percent of his shots total. This current season, that percentage has gone down to 66.
Even if his field goal percentage has dipped, looks can be deceiving. Blake has a true shooting percentage of 57.6 percent and an effective field goal percentage of 52.6, both of which are the best percentages he’s had since 2013-2014, the year he finished third in MVP voting.
As it turns out, a fair amount of Blake’s numbers have been the best he’s had since that one season. His scoring average (24.9), his rebounding average (9.5), his rebounding percentage (14) and his usage rate (29.3) have all been the highest since his MVP bid five years ago.
That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Blake is getting MVP buzz all-around the league, as his efforts have been the most vital to Motown’s success.
The Pistons are all too familiar with good starts. This time last year, the boys of Motor City had a 14-6 record before a seven-game losing streak put them in a funk that they never grew out of. Things are different this time though. Besides Blake’s rejuvenation, the Pistons have the reigning Coach of the Year in Dwane Casey, Reggie Jackson back at full health and improvements across the board from everyone. That includes Drummond, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock.
If the Pistons sustain this, then Blake Griffin will solidify his MVP candidacy and will be worth every penny to Detroit.
Los Angeles Clippers
When teams trade their star players, they usually opt either for rebuilding or re-tooling. In the Clippers’ case, they went for both.
By acquiring both Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, the Clippers replaced Blake’s star power with versatility on both sides of the floor that the team had lacked. By acquiring the rights to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Clippers have started a promising youth movement that they ironically haven’t had since Blake.
Let’s start with Harris. Harris’ evolution into one of the league’s most well-respected scorers is a great story when you think about how his previous teams handled him. Milwaukee gave him away to Orlando, who then gave him away to Detroit after giving him a big contract. He had him come off the bench for a good chunk of his tenure there.
Now, Harris is the top scorer on the fourth-highest offensively rated team in the league, averaging a career-high 21.4 points on 51.6 percent shooting from the field, including almost 43 percent from three. Some feared that Harris could only put up good numbers on bad teams. We now know from his success with the Clippers that that isn’t the case.
In fact, should he keep this up, then he should be a shoo-in for the All-Star game this season.
Then there’s Gilgeous-Alexander. His stats won’t jump out at you – 10.8 points and three assists on 46.5 percent shooting including 33 percent from three – but anyone who’s watched Shai will tell you that the rook plays with amazing poise. A quick look at the Clippers’ five-man lineups will show you that Doc Rivers, a coach notorious for not playing rookies, trusts Gilgeous-Alexander, as he’s been put in five of the six most used lineups for the Clippers.
This is most evident by the fact that the Canadian hotshot starts for one of the top-seeded teams in the West and averages 27.8 minutes a game. If that’s what we’re getting from this guy when he’s just 20, imagine what he’ll be like when he enters his prime.
Finally, there’s Bradley. Bradley hasn’t exactly been the player he was in Boston and Detroit with all his injury issues, but he has shown signs of life over the past two games, as he’s averaged 14 points on 52 percent shooting including 60 percent from three. If that’s a sign of things to come, then he becomes another valuable cog for the Clips.
The one positive from Avery is that what he’s best known for – elite on-the-ball defense – is proving to help LA, as the Clippers’ defensive rating is +4.9 with him on the floor. That’s impressive since, despite his reputation, advanced metrics haven’t exactly supported Bradley.
Those three alone are not why the Clippers have played as great as they have, but they’ve played a huge part in forming the team’s new identity. Time will tell whether or not these Clippers can keep up their excellent play. At the very least, they’ve proven themselves as one of the most fun teams in the league, which seemed blasphemous after they blew Lob City up.
As of right now, the Blake Griffin trade turned out to be an even deal and beneficiary one for both parties involved. The Pistons have more star power, while the Clippers have a more well-rounded roster. As you can tell from their performance so far, neither has much reason to complain.
Both could be in different places when the season ends, but let’s enjoy the fact that a blockbuster trade has worked out well for both sides when no one really expected it to.