During the peak of Lob City, Blake Griffin was a prime MVP candidate. Chris Paul missing chunks of the 2013-14 season began the genesis of Blake Griffin the superstar. The highlight-producing forward solidified himself as a top-5 scorer on his way to grabbing the third most MVP votes. The season also gave way to Deandre Jordan defining himself as a premier center and the third piece of the Clippers puzzle.
At that point, Jordan snagged lobs and buried opponents into caskets. His bond thickened alongside Griffin’s secondary creation and Chris Paul’s passing savviness.
The times have changed. Since then, Mark Cuban has captured Deandre Jordan and Doc Rivers swapped Blake Griffin for a cupboard of assets. One thing has remained constant though; Blake Griffin’s fleece of talents filter into his center’s success.
The Piston center travels through the space-time continuum to round out his game. Drummond has the forging of an old-timer to pair with the strings of twenty-first century craft.
Every year he adds a branch to his trunk of talents. Last year he became a serviceable free-throw shooter by bending his knees to the floor and snapping his wrist. This year, his newfound ball-handling ability fostered passing proficiency.
In doing so, his assists leaped from 1.1 to 3.0. Griffin and Drummond were two of twelve who produced at least 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. Of course, Drummond is the far superior rebounder—as the first player to average 15 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 assists since Dave Cowens in 1975.
Specific play types singled out their newfound skills to yield success.
The standard set was a handoff initiated by Drummond or Griffin. In the film I watched, nearly every play started off with Griffin or Drummond surveying the floor for a myriad of options; backdoors, spot-up three-point shots, and their own shot.
Being the quarterback in the option meant they make the executive decision on the completion of the play.
One option was to dribble towards the defender, which triggered a backdoor or handoff by the teammate:
When the defender latches onto the potential cutter, he wheels around the screen:
A playtype like this allows Griffin to create and be the focal point of the offense. That role is something a player of his caliber deserves.
And when Drummond takes the spot as handoff man, his brick wall frame creates shots for the player that wheels around:
Drummond’s handles do not exist in the realm of Nikola Jokic, Anthony Davis, or Joel Embiid. Those three players utilize an array of moves to create shots they can stab at from outside 10 feet. Even though Drummond uses similar ball trickery, his ambition to wind up inside the lane is overt. He is still a difficult matchup as he ventures in the short-corner and block vicinity.
Right outside the painted area, the center employs a swift sweep-through move. The move shifts his weight aggressively from right to left like a pendulum:
He does essentially the same move but this time in the form of an in-and-out dribble:
Even against the ‘Stifle Tower’, Drummond’s broad shoulders dig into Gobert’s wide-ranging reach. If Drummond is brute force, then Griffin is a silky combination of muscle and brawn.
Blake Griffin is the center of attention whenever he touches a court. That statement holds water even if he isn’t lacing up his shoes to clear a Kia.
That attention manifests right when the ball is tipped. The Griffin post up, a high usage play, especially keeps the defense on the balls of their feet. His post-up gravitates defenders towards him.
Players magnetize to Griffin because his threat to score in any post-up situation. He was one of four players to score more than 0.9 points per possession in at least 4 possessions while shooting 45%. That kind of dominance is to be reckoned with.
In this video you can see Griffin forcing the defense to collapse with every pound he takes. As he encroaches the block, where he is a high percentage, defenders collapse. Using his peripheral, he kicks it out to a shooter.
Doing what’s expected, posting up and slowly drifting to the rim, Griffin is able to complete the unexpected, pull a pass out of his back pocket, to find a wide-open teammate. Plus, he has the basketball IQ and awareness of Josh Richardson being a nasty defender to get him to bite.
Time after time, Griffin proves his best friend is his peripheral. Sizing up Dragic, Griffin would dominate him one-and-one. The Lob City version of Griffin would explode past Dragic, but he realizes his limitations as an aging big man. Still, defenders are weary that Griffin can use 5 backward dribbles and he would arrive at the rim. The top two players are probing Griffin in case he makes a move left and right and Whiteside is on the lookout at the rim.
The same thing happens here. George Hill thinks he’s got Griffin on the ropes. In reality, Griffin’s eyes darted up right when he received the low-post touch.
Griffin looks off Babbitt, the wing defender, by whipping his head down to Drummond. As a result, Babbitt sprints over to Griffin to steal the ball—he was sure he caught Griffin off guard. Except, Griffin pulls out a pass of his Mary Poppins bag of tricks. Ensuing, Stanley Johnson spots up and knocks down a three with no defender within arms length.
Both players can wreak havoc doing non-traditional big work. Combine the two forces and you don’t get 4, you get fish (basically, the two are an awkward couple).
In spite of a Drummond and Griffin pick and roll looking extremely clunky, it works occasionally. Griffin can maneuver around power forwards with ease.
What really stands out is Griffin’s matchup against big men, which is encountered after the switch in a Drummond-Griffin pick and roll.
Stan Van Gundy did a mortgage of things wrong for Detroit, but scribbling up opportune plays was not one of them. When Drummond was guarded by a lanky big man, he had Drummond stomp over to set up a rooted screen.
Griffin’s overdoses on creative dribbling a lot, but sometimes it gets the forward to his happy medium: the elbow area. There, Griffin is not outmatched (where he is at the three-point line) and hits a happy rate.
Here, Griffin meanders right off a Drummond screen. Griffin is halted in his tracks, which not only he notices, but Drummond too. At a whim, Drummond staggers a second screen while Griffin twirls around to land in his perfect place: the left elbow.
While it took some digging, there were more plays with separate outcomes. In the video below, you can see a broken play turning into a side ‘big on big’ pick and roll. Favors, a solid defender, is a step slow to chase Griffin out on the perimeter and Gobert is simply Drummond insurance. That leaves Griffin, who shot 34.8% from deep last season, alone at the arc.
Now that Drummond’s tree gives life to Griffin’s skill-set, it’s essential to surround the centerpieces with adjacent pieces. Even if both venture around the arc from time-to-time, they eat up space inside.
When surrounded by non-shooters (@StanleyJohnson), Drummond and Griffin’s abilities are minimized.
When Griffin tries to create, he only has limited room to operate:
Other times, Drummond and Griffin try to carve out position in awkward spots:
As the video evidence shows, shooters are ideal pawns to harbor the king and the queen.
Luke Kennard, who I detailed here, is on the floor for his shooting acumen. His ability to dart and weave around his big men extend from his days as Ohio high school leading scorer and continued in the Krzyzewski motion offense.
Kennard produced 7.6 points on 41.5% 3-point shooting and 85.5% free throw shooting, one of only 10 players to shoot such percentages in 50+ games. Reggie Bullock is also a threat from deep. He shot 44.5% on 281 attempts from three.
Fortunately, Dwane Casey specializes in waxing big men sculptures into guard like figures. Casey will foray Griffin and Drummond into chameleon roles as ball-handling big men and secondary creators to plug a new outlet into Detroit’s offensive motor.