BY: COLIN KRAUSS
Through the first five years of Blake Griffin’s career, he was an All-Star. It’s rare to find someone who plays five straight All-Star games to start their NBA career, and then doesn’t make one for the next three.
Blake is 29, normally the dead center of a prime for stars. And no one could have seen this revival coming that he’s experiencing with the Detroit Pistons. After two seasons from 2015-2017 of being mostly injured or limited in some fashion, Blake is having the best season of his life.
Through those first five years, Blake averaged 21.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 4.0 assists on 52/26/66% shooting splits. Lob City couldn’t have existed without the well-rounded play of Griffin, when he was an athletic monster. Currently, Blake is outperforming these All-Star seasons by a fair amount, even after years of multiple injuries. His methods are now more cerebral than they are athletic or dominating.
Through 39 games, Blake is posting 25.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists on splits of 47.8/36.3/75.7. He even has a career-high in True Shooting% as well. Who could have predicted Blake would be taking over 6 threes per game and making them regularly. Unfortunately, it appears as though Blake is playing so well mainly because the Pistons are pretty awful overall outside of him. During the summer of 2017, a strange situation had played out.
The Clippers created a grand ceremony to keep Blake in LA by retiring his jersey during his career on the Clips, only to trade him several months later for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, and a couple picks, one of which became up and comer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. During that 2017 offseason, Griffin accepted a super-max deal from the Clippers that would pay him $173 million over 5 years. Due to his injury history, and somewhat archaic play style, this deal was instantly deemed an overpay in the same way we think about John Wall, Andrew Wiggins, Kevin Love, and Chris Paul. This brings me to the big question: Is Blake Griffin actually overpaid on this contract?
He’s having his greatest season so far statistically. With basically no help, the Pistons are 18-23 and the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. His second and third fiddles are Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Andre Drummond, to me personally, is one of the most overrated players in the whole NBA. He’s really not a rim protector and can’t switch. He somehow only shoots 52% on two pointers even though he’s 7-foot, 280 pounds and takes 92% of his shots within 10 feet of the rim. For comparison, DeAndre Jordan takes 98% of his shots from within 10 feet and shoots 64.5% on two-point field goals. Common sense would say Drummond should be able to score as well or better than washed DeAndre Jordan, but he doesn’t and he’s not even close.
Reggie Jackson is at least a positive player, especially on a team that has little perimeter scoring. But he is constantly injured. He’s looking better this year, but is for the most part a shoot-first guard that can’t do very much outside of score on low efficiency. The other Reggie, Reggie Bullock, is the second best Piston this year. He’s on fire this season. He takes two-thirds of his field goals from three and is shooting just under 40% on them. Luke Kennard is intriguing, but average as he’s just a sophomore. Ish Smith is pretty solid, but injured frequently. Stanley Johnson has not made a leap in his final rookie-scale season. The rest of the team is barely rotation level.
If the Pistons didn’t have Blake, they would be as bad as the Cavaliers or Knicks. Bullock can’t be the second best player on a playoff team. Yet, here we are, because Blake is playing like an All-NBA Second Teamer once again. Anthony Davis has better surrounding talent in New Orleans, but his Pelicans are 14th in the Western Conference. Shouldn’t Blake be getting Anthony Davis-level love for what he’s doing with such a dumpster fire of a team?
Back to Blake’s contract. He makes $32 mil this year, and then $34.2 mil, $36.6 mil, and $39 mil with a player option on the last year there’s no chance he would decline. Common sense told us he was overpaid, overrated, and uncertain as a long-term performer.
But he’s playing at an MVP level. His contract looks very fair 41 games into this season. The other players on deals like this include Chris Paul, Wiggins, Wall, and Russell Westbrook. He’s outshining every person on that list by a huge margin, even former MVP Westbrook. There are other players with huge contracts that we generally accepted will be worth it. Devin Booker signed a max-extension. Karl Anthony-Towns signed one as well. Kevin Love accepted his lucrative four year deal from Cleveland. Blake is certainly outperforming both Celtics Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, too.
We know that the cap spike of 2016 and the one coming up next summer leads some teams to overpaying, but I don’t think Griffin is on a bad deal. He is one of the very best playmakers in the league, and he’s added a reliable and high-usage three point shot. Detroit completely relies on him to generate offense in the final minutes of close games. Given the workload, the efficiency, the poor roster, and the variety of ways he can be effective offensively, not only is he worth that deal, he’s in the discussion for a top 12-15 player in the NBA. His biggest showcase was his ludicrous 50 point, 14 rebound, 6 assist overtime win against Philadelphia in the third game of the season. He even hit 5-10 threes. This is a whole new player, and a much better player than at any point of his career.
As far as his championship aspirations are concerned, it’s not happening in Detroit. It will be a waste of Blake’s revival to see him on a team that has a ceiling of maybe a sixth seed in the shoddy East. However, Blake is a legitimate All-NBA guy. Detroit needs to rebuild (but won’t). Lots of teams could use a superstar like Griffin and his massive paychecks wouldn’t crater a team as many predicted his contract would.
If the Timberwolves wanted to pair KAT with Griffin, they could probably get off of Wiggins’ deal by losing some assets and salary filler. If the Hornets wanted to match Kemba with another superstar, they could also get off some worse contracts by sending assets to Detroit. The Magic might be untrustworthy enough to push for a star and help the Pistons blow it up. In any case, Griffin is a versatile player that should really be seen as a superstar on a solid long-term deal instead of a washed veteran that’s far overpaid. We can only pray he’ll be able to leave the depressing Pistons in some manner.