By: Will Burchfield
On offense and on defense, with the ball and without it, Blake Griffin was a chatterbox in his Pistons debut.
His constant communication helped make up for the fact that he had practiced just one time with his new teammates. Running the same five basic plays, installed in a brief walk-through Thursday morning, the Pistons made the most of the moment in a 104-102 win over the Grizzlies.
Griffin led the way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Not to belittle his stat line, which was quite Griffin-esque, but it was his ability — indeed, his eagerness — to direct traffic that may have been most critical in Detroit’s win.
“That’s what we want him to do,” said Stan Van Gundy.
Being a floor general is nothing new to Griffin. He’s a forward who thinks and sometimes plays like a point guard. His unique skillset, built on his unique athleticism, resists classification.
Said Van Gundy, “He’s a guy who will take the ball off the board and bust out on the dribble, he can handle the ball in pick-and-rolls, he can beat bigger guys off the dribble, he can take smaller guys in the post, he can pass the ball, he’s made big strides in shooting the three.
“He’s a different four — a really different four.”
That much can be grasped watching Griffin from afar. It’s from up close that the more subtle aspects of his game come into view. His vocal leadership might be the most important among them.
Wouldn’t you know it, two former Pistons are to thank.
“That’s something I’ve learned over the course of my career, just playing with some really good players. I was fortunate enough to play with Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill (with the Clippers). Coincidentally they both played here,” Griffin said, “but those are two guys that early in my career I was able to learn from.”
Griffin, an entertainer with a sharp mind, knows his crowd. Surely there are other players from whom he’s learned the importance of communication, but here he was pointing to two franchise greats. On a night when the newest Pistons star was born, two more were resurrected.
Griffin was 22 years old and in his second NBA season (2011-12) when he first crossed paths with Billups. Hill joined them on the Clippers the following season, which would be the last of his career. Though Billups would go on to make one more stop in Detroit in 2013-14, it can be said that the duo’s final contribution to the Pistons was grooming the franchise’s next star.
“I played with some really great players, and the biggest thing that I took away was communication. Especially as a big, you have to be out there directing traffic,” Griffin said. “I thought our defense was really good tonight when we were all communicating.”
Van Gundy, an animated communicator on the sideline, liked what he saw — and heard — from Griffin in his debut.
“He talked a lot,” said Van Gundy, “and over time his ability to communicate things will get worked out. I think you’ll see a better chemistry between he and Andre (Drummond) as we go on.”
As it was, the duo showed early signs of harmony. Griffin found Drummond for an alley-oop that looked like a sign of things to come and fed him the rock in transition, when Drummond had his man sealed at the rim, “more times than we have all year,” Van Gundy said.
“This is going to be fun,” Drummond said with a smile.
At his introductory press conference on Wednesday, Griffin talked about the Pistons’ “storied” past and all of their “tremendous success.” It seemed like a trite, if well-meaning, remark. Maybe it was more. Part of that past lives on in Griffin, the newest Pistons star in pursuit of similar success.