It’s a Make or Miss League: 3 Makes and 3 Misses From Blake Griffin’s Return Against Minnesota

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Blake Griffin made his long-awaited return in Detroit’s loss to the Wolves on Monday. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

After 10 games without him, Detroit’s All-NBA power forward Blake Griffin made his long-awaited return at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Returning alongside Blake was Derrick Rose, as the former MVP made his first start with the Pistons against one of his former teams. With the anticipation of the pair’s return to the court, the stage was set for an exciting victory and comeback game for the duo. Unfortunately, that didn’t come to fruition, as the Timberwolves dropped off the Pistons, 120-114, at LCA. In a close contest, however, it was far from all bad…

First Make: Blake’s Presence is Felt

While Blake was sidelined for a total of 10 games to start the season, we weren’t really certain if the decision to keep him out so long was more precautionary or actually necessary. Regardless, in the 26 minutes, he was given in his return, Detroit’s All-Star and offensive anchor looked effective as usual.

Starting the game with a slick assist to Luke Kennard, Griffin showcased every facet of his abundant skillset early and often:

Griffin finished with a solid stat line of 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists – alongside four turnovers. He knocked down his first three-point attempt of the contest early in the first but failed to make any more, as he showed to be more comfortable in the post against the smaller Treveon Graham.

Griffin’s health will still be monitored very closely, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t play in today’s contest against Miami after playing last night. However, Blake’s first in-game action of the year looked promising, and the Pistons will need it.

First Miss: Where’s Christian Wood?

The Detroit Pistons’ young offseason gem (that has contributed this season, that is), Christian Wood, has played great as the team’s backup center this season – when he’s gotten the opportunity.

With Blake Griffin’s return and Markieff Morris’ obvious demotion to the bench, there was only room for one young big in the rotation.  With the other option being the struggling Thon Maker, the decision seemed obvious enough; Maker has been a massive disappointment with Detroit ever since being acquired from the Bucks last season and has failed nearly every in-game test this season. It’s never good to assume, though, as former Coach of the Year Dwane Casey’s continuous struggle to nail a rotation continued to cripple the Pistons last night.

Wood, crazily enough, didn’t touch the court in last night’s loss. Maker’s performance, you ask? Six points and one rebound in 19 minutes – fair from his worst contest (not saying much), but still not what you want to see.

Second Make: Two-Guards Lead the Way

Luke Kennard, in his third NBA season, finally seems to be breaking through with the Detroit Pistons, as he led the team in scoring again last night:

Luke’s uncanny ability to score off the catch, off the dribble, and off high-IQ cuts gives him the ability to score – despite not being in the best situation in Dwane Casey’s offense.

Luke wasn’t the only shooting guard leading the Pistons on Monday though, as Langston Galloway continued his comeback season last night. Leading the Pistons bench unit in minutes with 24 (tied with Morris), Galloway took advantage of the open shots he was allowed due to the presence of Blake Griffin, hitting four of six threes. He finished with 18 points, third on the team, as his averages continue to trend upward.

Second Miss: Dwane Casey Makes Bad Decisions

Maybe the title of this miss is a little too blunt, but at the same time can it be argued otherwise? Dwane Casey has struggled at making in-game adjustments for years, and the Pistons faced those issues firsthand last season.

Two of the biggest complaints I have for Casey have to do with his favorite string bean, Thon Maker. Building on the game’s first miss of Christian Wood being nowhere to be found, his supposed peer didn’t fill in very admirably himself. In one of the more confusing loyalties in the league, Casey continues to vouch for the underperforming Maker while Wood constantly impresses in his minutes – limited at times.

Looking at the Timberwolves’ depth chart, however, you wouldn’t (and normally shouldn’t) be frightened over a matchup against backup center Gorgui Dieng; and while the 29-year-old had his way with Maker as well, Thon wasn’t even on the court during most of Dieng’s minutes.

Instead, he was given the chance to basically give it his best shot against one of the league’s best centers in Karl Anthony-Towns while Drummond sat. Foul trouble or not for Dre, it won’t matter if the Pistons are already out of the game.

Third Make: Unsurprisingly, Great Shooting Continues to Help

The Pistons, following this game in which the team shot 50 percent (16/32) from deep, now pace the entire NBA in three-point percentage by over a percent. Detroit is the only team to be shooting over 40 percent (40.7%), as the league’s second-best shooting team, Toronto, sits at 39.4 percent.

With massive improvements in Kennard’s aggressiveness and poise, Snell and Kieff’s knockdown ability from the corners and the wings, respectively, and Galloway’s resurgence have elevated Detroit to an elite-shooting team early on.

With just a 4-7 record to show for it, the team realizes that hot shooting isn’t everything, and their defense and turnover problems must be corralled before any success can be expected.

Third Miss: Bruce Brown – Nowhere to be Found

Bruce Brown, who served as the Pistons’ de-facto starting point guard – and thrived – during Rose’s absence played just 13 minutes last night. Personally, I expected Brown to hold his starting position even with the return of Rose, but Casey decided otherwise.

Brown played six minutes less than Thon Maker and just three more than Tim Frazier, who Casey unexplainably still trusts to run the backup point guard over a young player he has put trust in in the past.

I think this one has more to do with the introduction of a different scheme with stars returning, on-court chemistry issues, and coaching blunders more than Bruce himself, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

Brown finished the game with just three points and two turnovers, a negative sign for those of us that wanted to see the exciting young guard continue to be a staple in the rotation. Now that the team’s health is restoring, Brown will have to earn his opportunities.