Blake Griffin may have already played his final game in a Detroit Piston uniform. On Monday morning, Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports reported that Griffin will meet with a specialist on Wednesday, January 8th, to discuss season-ending surgery on his left knee, the same knee in which he suffered a partially torn meniscus on after putting heavy wear on it throughout last season. He opted for surgery and is now out indefinitely.
The 30-year-old forward missed the first ten games of the 2019-2020 season with numerous injuries, one being his nagging left knee. Griffin missed another nine games throughout the year, including Detroit’s last four contests. He’s been limited to just 18 appearances this season, and his performance when actually on the court has been dreadful. He is shooting 35.2% from the field and 24.3% from the 3-point line. He has, by far, the worst true shooting percentage of his career at 47.6% and for the first time in his 10 seasons in the NBA, he has a negative VORP. It’s also the first time in his career that he’s had a negative box plus/minus, which he currently possesses a -4.3 BPM.
The Pistons have to move on without Griffin for at least the rest of this season. They have to continue to play without the superstar who dragged them to the playoffs last season before the rest of the team could crumble. They have to move on from a player who resurrected his career and remodeled his game to have perhaps the best season of his career last year.
Losing Griffin, and perhaps Andre Drummond as well, means the rest of this season is a wash in terms of winning. The goal of the ownership, the front office, and the team at the beginning of the season was to build on the playoff appearance from last season. While that is unlikely to happen, that does not mean the season is lost. The franchise can still come away from this difficult year with value gained.
For the first time in quite a while, the Pistons have a pool of young prospects on their roster. Some have already had the opportunity to play heavy minutes this season. Bruce Brown may have transformed his career trajectory with his success playing the point guard position this year. He is averaging 3.8 assists per game, compared to the 1.2 he averaged in his rookie season. His assist percentage has skyrocketed from 8.8% to 19.8%. He has shown considerable improvement in his jump shot and is now shooting 33.3% from the 3-point line after shooting 25.8% throughout his rookie season. While nowhere near a marksman by any means, he is at least hitting corner threes, which provides some much-needed spacing for Detroit’s offense.
Luke Kennard and Svi Mykhailiuk have both showed considerable promise on the wing this year. Although Kennard is currently injured, he has thrived this year in a large offensive role. The third-year guard is averaging 15.8 points per game while maintaining his highly efficient shooting numbers. In fact, he’s posting a career-high true shooting percentage of 58.9%. Like Brown, he has also absorbed a great deal of playmaking responsibility. Kennard averaged 1.7 and 1.8 assists per game in his first two seasons, but this year, he has averaged over four per contest.
After playing just three games with the Pistons last season after being traded to Detroit at the deadline, Svi has exceeded expectations so far this year. He’s averaged 7.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from beyond the arc while showing a willingness to attack the basket. He also hasn’t been a complete disaster defensively, which is a plus.
All three of those players were getting minutes no matter Griffin’s injury status, but the landscape has shifted. His long absence now opens the door for two of the more truly intriguing projects on Detroit’s roster in rookie forward Sekou Doumbouya and journeyman Christian Wood.
With Griffin and Markieff Morris out, Doumbouya has thrived in his first real opportunity at the NBA level. He went from playing in the G League and racking up DNP-CDs when with the Pistons to starting against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a shellshock of a decision that nobody, not even the media, saw coming. Doumbouya didn’t even know he would start until gameday morning when he was alerted at shootaround. He responded to the challenge with a double-double, finishing with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Dwane Casey rewarded him with another start in Detroit’s next game. Again, Doumbouya finished with a double-double. This time he scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He made four 3-pointers. He then remained in the starting lineup and matched up against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. He appears to have cemented himself as the team’s starting power forward moving forward, as he also started against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.
As a starter, Doumbouya has averaged 13 points on 47.6% shooting from the field and 31.3% shooting from the 3-point line. In addition to his scoring, he’s chipped in seven rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He doesn’t look much like the youngest player in the entire league.
He also has one murder.
Wood is an interesting case, as he had already worked his way into the rotation earlier this year, but more minutes and more shots are opening up for him. He’s been in a bit of a slump in to start the new year, but it’s not an unusual occurrence for a young player to go through. On the season he has averaged 9.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He uses his length to get to the rim, his athleticism to finish at the rim, and a shooting prowess to knock down 37% of his 3-point attempts.
He can play either big man spot and has shown a much-appreciated hustle when on the court. How he performs throughout the rest of the season is critical to determining his future in the league. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year and with that, he’ll have the opportunity to sign a contract that would provide him with stability, something he hasn’t had throughout his professional basketball career. His value will be determined based on how well he plays through April.
The rest of the season needs to be dedicated to developing the young players on Detroit’s roster, as they are the future of the franchise. And, so far, it looks as though they are committed to doing just that.
This season may be lost, and Blake Griffin’s injury may sting, but now the Pistons can focus on the future. Finally.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference or Stats.NBA.com.