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Outsider’s Perspective: Blake Griffin playing best basketball of career but Anthony Davis best big in game today

An interview with The Athletic’s James Edwards III.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans and the Detroit Pistons will square off this afternoon with both teams looking to get back on track. For more on the matchup in total check out our preview here. In our Outsider’s Perspective series we go deep into each Pelicans opponent by gathering various contributors and editors from around the basketball community.

This edition blessed is with the Detroit Pistons beat writer for The Athletic in James Edwards III. James gives us a glance into Detroit’s start to the season, their own “Do It Big” version, and how they can continue to build a roster with limited assets. Detroit and New Orleans hold similar strengths, roster builds, and obstacles all in common. James breaks it all down in our latest installment of Outsider’s Perspective.

  1. The Pistons are in the midst of a 13-10 start filled with terrific production from their All-Star big-men duo in Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. Role players from Reggie Bullock, Reggie Jackson, and Ish Smith have also carried their share along the journey.

Led by Dwane Casey, Detroit appears to be right in the thick of things in an Eastern Conference that no longer looks to be a doormat. What should the outside know about the Pistons’ start? How can they get better as the season improves?

The Pistons’ start should be better than it is. Blake Griffin is playing the best basketball of his career, and he is the offense in Detroit. However, the Pistons are the 29th ranked three-point shooting team in the NBA, while getting some of the best looks from deep in the league.

NBA: Preseason-Washington Wizards at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Bullock was the second-best three-point shooter a season ago at 44.5 percent, but he hasn’t that type of success early on. Luke Kennard, who shot over 40 percent from 3 last year as a rookie, has been battling various injuries since July, so he’s still trying to earn the trust of the new coaching staff.

Reggie Jackson, also, is struggling from distance. Shots aren’t falling for Detroit, and that very well could be because of the personnel that Stan Van Gundy brought in during his tenure. But no one expected to be this bad. Yet, the Pistons are 13-10.

2. From afar, Detroit resembles a ton of what the New Orleans Pelicans had around DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis during the time they spent together. Originally, the Pistons trade for Blake Griffin, however, had it’s detractors as their supporting cast needed some work done.

The Pelicans showed last season right before DeMarcus Cousins’ injury how two dynamic big men could flourish together in today’s era of space and pace. That success has carried over to Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic splitting time next to Anthony Davis and has shown zero signs of impeding each other’s progress — individually that is.

Drummond and Griffin aren’t structured exactly the same, but they offer similar headaches for opposing defenses as both bring different skill sets to matchups. How has the Drummond and Griffin pairing worked after their first full offseason together?

Those two have worked fine together. On the court, I don’t think it’s as big of an issue that many anticipate, primarily because Griffin has shot the three-ball so well.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The spacing is an issue at times, and it’s most evident with the perimeter players like Johnson and Jackson. Off the court, though, I think Griffin’s competitiveness and intensity has worn off on Drummond. He’s one of the last players to leave the practice court. He’s really transformed in that regard.

3. How can Detroit continue to build and add around their big men? Who’s the player that fans outside of Detroit need to know about?

Shooting is what’s missing. It may sound crazy, but if the Pistons were just league average from 3, they’d probably have 15 or 16 wins. Kennard is the name that people might not be familiar with, even though he went to Duke. With more time and trust from the coaching staff, he’s the one player on the roster who could aide in improvements from deep.

4. What’s the biggest misconception about the Pistons?

This might not be what you’re looking for, but everyone thought Stan Van Gundy brought in Griffin to save his job. That’s not the case at all. The owner was very much behind and involved with the deal. Detroit has been trying to bring a player of Griffin’s status in for nearly a decade.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With all due respect to Tobias Harris, who is having a great year, he’s not quite like Griffin. Griffin demands a double-team, he can get you crunch-time buckets, he’s a facilitator as much as he is a bruiser. Harris struggled a little bit when Reggie Jackson went down last season for three months. He’s not as effective without another shot creator on the floor. There are levels.

5. Outsider’s Perspective on the Pelicans

Anthony Davis would be the No. 1 pick if the NBA decided to do a video game-type fantasy draft. He’s the ultimate Pistons killer (I have a piece breaking down the All-Pistons Killer Teams coming on Monday). He’s the best big man in the league, in my opinion.

To answer your question, though, I think the Pelicans are a good team and will remain a good team as long as Davis is around. They desperately need a premier 3-and-D guy to take the next step. But I really enjoy watching Mirotic and Davis together, and Jrue has turned me into a fan over the last 1.25 seasons.

That was our time with James Edwards III and we hope you all once again enjoyed it. You can find James on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII. Be sure to check out his latest and future columns www.theathletic.com/detroit/. Enjoy the game tonight and as always Geaux Pels!