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On the complications of Pistons’ new Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond pairing

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DETROIT – The Pistons acquired major star power in Blake Griffin.

Now, they’re rolling out the red carpet for him.

“We’re not going to ask him, quite honestly, to adapt to us,” Pistons president/coach Van Gundy said. “He’s going to be our best offensive player. So, I think with those guys, you build around them and what they do.”

That could be a tough adjustment for Detroit’s top incumbent player, Andre Drummond.

More than anything, Griffin’s durability will determine whether he justifies the $141,661,920 remaining over the next four years of his contract and the package the Pistons traded the Clippers (Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic, a lightly protected first-round pick and a second-round pick). But Griffin’s fit with Drummond looms large.

Drummond has been the Pistons’ best player since his rookie year, when Lawrence Frank stubbornly kept him coming off the bench behind Greg Monroe. Frank, now running the Clippers’ front office, has once again undercut Drummond. By trading Griffin to Detroit, Frank dropped Drummond to second in the pecking order.

Griffin brings massive marketing appeal and a track record of success Drummond hasn’t neared. In his sixth season, Drummond has made the playoffs only once and never won a postseason game. Unless something goes horribly wrong, Griffin will be the best-playing teammate Drummond has had.

“I’m looking forward to building this new empire with him,” Drummond said Tuesday after getting named an All-Star then posting 21 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and three blocks in a win over the Cavaliers – maybe his last game as Detroit’s preeminent player.

The Pistons are confident the Griffin-Drummond partnership will work because both are good passers, a skill that lends itself to unselfishness. Griffin’s 5.4 assists per game rank second among power forwards (behind Draymond Green), and Drummond’s 3.9 assists per game rank fifth among centers (behind DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford, Nikola Jokic and Marc Gasol).

Griffin and Drummond are good passers, yes. But they don’t specialize in the quick keep-the-ball-moving dishes that would allow them to thrive as passers simultaneously. They each like to hold the ball and survey the defense as teammates cut around them. Griffin adds superior ball-handling ability, which twists defenses even more. That’s why he’s getting lead duty in Detroit. But both look most comfortable as offensive hubs.

Griffin ranks No. 1 and Drummond ranks No. 8 among bigs in average seconds per touch (minimum: five games), per NBA.com:

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Pistons backup center Eric Moreland also cracks the leaderboard, but that seem to be less about his unique skills and more about Detroit trying to maintain continuity in its offensive system when Drummond rests. That suggests an opening for the Pistons to stagger Drummond and Griffin, maybe even enough to remove Moreland from the rotation. Drummond could keep his current role while Griffin sits.

But that still leaves plenty of time where Griffin and Drummond share the court.

“We have played through Andre on virtually every possession all year long,” Van Gundy said. “And now we’ll play through Blake a lot. And so Andre will have to adjust a little bit. But I think the adjustment will be relatively easy and painless.”

It sounds as if Drummond will no longer have carte blanche to operate from the high post/elbows, where he could look for teammates cutting to the basket:

Flip the ball to a teammate behind him while effectively serving as screener:

Dish to an open teammate spotting up away from the attention Drummond draws:

Or just drive to the basket himself if everything else is overplayed:

Instead, the ball will go through Griffin – who can do all those things and more. Griffin can also bring the ball up court himself, run pick-and-rolls as the ball-handler, isolate and post up. But where does that leave Drummond other than mucking up spacing? A non-shooter, Drummond isn’t pulling a defender out of the paint off the ball.

That’s why leaving Drummond as the primary big-man playmaker would be the easier adjustment. Griffin has grown into a competent 3-point shooter (34.2% on 5.7 attempts per game). He can spread the floor and cut off the ball as Drummond controls it.

But the Pistons’ didn’t trade for Griffin to keep the ball out of his hands.

Van Gundy drew comfort in Griffin’s fit with DeAndre Jordan in L.A. Drummond has the ability to replicate Jordan’s lob finishing and could become an even more effective offensive rebounder thanks to the attention Griffin draws. Griffin-Drummond pick-and-rolls should be a weapon, just as Griffin-Jordan ones were. In that play and others, Griffin is adept at setting up his high-jumping, non-shooting center.

But Drummond isn’t yet accustomed to playing with Griffin. Even with Jordan, who developed his comfort with Griffin over nine years, it worked far better with Chris Paul orchestrating. Reggie Jackson is not Chris Paul.

Still, Griffin, Drummond and Jackson (once he gets healthy) will learn the intricacies of playing with two more traditional bigs. For the Pistons, two games out of playoff position, it’s probably still more about next season than this season.

There’s another potential long-term snag, though.

“I think I’ve got a little more to my game than DeAndre does offensively,” Drummond said.

In the NBA, there’s a near-constant give-and-take between bigs who want to be heavily involved offensively and their coaches who want them to focus on setting screens, rolling hard and rebounding. Van Gundy went through it with Dwight Howard in Orlando, and Drummond carries similar complications. For years, Detroit practically wasted possessions on Drummond post-ups, seemingly just to have him feel involved.

Using Drummond as a passer from the elbows was a genius adjustment this season. He was no longer sabotaging the offense with low-efficiency shots, and the ball was in his hands more than ever. Drummond clearly worked hard to become a better passer and make good on his new responsibilities.

Now, they’re being reduced for Griffin.

Jordan is exceptional in his contentment with his limited role. Is Drummond cool with the ball going through him less often?

“You’ve got to make adjustments to win basketball games,” Drummond said. “So, if that’s what I’ve got to do to win games, then it is what it is.”

Drummond is saying all the right things. He added he already spoke to Griffin, with whom he shares an agent, Jeff Schwartz.

But Griffin shakes Drummond off his perch, and that leads to major questions.

Is this town big enough for the both of them? Will Drummond subvert his ego and play Robin to Griffin’s Batman? Could Detroit, which has explored trading Drummond before, deal the center for someone who better complements its new star?

For now, the Pistons are just basking in the glow of landing Griffin. But they’re also going from one franchise player to another, keeping both on the roster. That’s never simple.

Sounds like Cavaliers will draft Darius Garland No. 5 if they don’t trade pick

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The top of the draft has become clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

4. Hawks: De'Andre Hunter

What will the Cavaliers do at No. 5?

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Those follow-up reports emerged quickly and from multiple reporters. The Cavaliers apparently want to make it very clear they’re open to trading the pick.

For good reason.

My highest-rated prospects available are both point guards: Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White. Cleveland already has Collin Sexton, last year’s lottery pick, at point guard.

I generally favor drafting the best prospect available then figuring it out. Sexton isn’t good enough to justify deviating from that.

But this situation demands the Cavs explore trading the pick – or Sexton. Cleveland shouldn’t just blindly walk into a conundrum.

Still, it seems if the Cavaliers don’t find a trade, they’ll make the smart move and draft Garland.

Report: Minnesota trades up to No. 6 pick, sends Phoenix Dario Saric, No. 11 pick

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New Minnesota president Gersson Rosas has a reputation around the league: He’s aggressive. He learned in Houston to go hard after what he wants.

Rosas wanted to move up in this draft, and he found a partner, the Phoenix Suns. The Timberwolves will draft sixth after a trade with the Suns for the 11th pick and Dario Saric. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

This trade can work out for Minnesota, depending upon who they draft and develop.

Who will the Timberwolves pick at six? Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett will be off the board for sure. The Hawks, who just traded for the No. 4 pick, are expected to take De'Andre Hunter out of Virginia. Cleveland at No. 5 now is the breaking point of the draft but reports are they like Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt, unless they trade down from this spot. That makes Jarrett Culver the likely Timberwolves pick at six. Coby White, the North Carolina point guard, is another option.

For Phoenix, Saric can be a good fit at the four if they acquire a good ball-sharing point guard this summer.

Saric gives the Suns a sharpshooter to help space the floor. The Suns starting lineup now has Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Saric, Deandre Ayton, and they are expected to chase a veteran point guard in free agency. That has some potential.

 

Report: Hawks trading up for Pelicans’ No. 4 pick to get De’Andre Hunter

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As soon as they got control of the No. 4 pick from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade, the Pelicans have been looking into flipping it.

New Orleans found a taker in the Hawks, who want Virginia forward De'Andre Hunter.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is excellent value for the Pelicans.

I’m not enthused about the No. 4 pick in this draft – especially for New Orleans. My top prospect available, Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, would be somewhat redundant with Jrue Holiday and Lonzo Ball. Reaching for another position would be even worse.

Instead of facing that dilemma, the Pelicans get a nice set of assets and additional flexibility.

The No. 8 pick could yield a player similar to whomever New Orleans would have taken No. 4. The No. 17 pick could could come just before this draft thins too much. That Cavaliers pick is top-10 protected next year then converts into two second-rounders.

By clearing Solomon Hill‘s burdensome $12,758,781 salary, the Pelicans project to open $29 million in cap space. There are plenty of exciting possibilities for spending that.

New Orleans – which landed the No. 1 pick in the lottery and got a haul for Davis – is having such a good offseason. The future looks bright with Zion Williamson and a restocked cupboard.

The Hawks clearly believe in Hunter. I’m not as high on him, but I like his fit in Atlanta between Trae Young and John Collins. Hunter will complement scoring guard Kevin Huerter as a defensive-minded combo forward. This strikes me as an overpay, but at least the young Hawks should mesh well.

This puts pressure on Cleveland, which picks No. 5. My next two prospects available before a tier drop: Garland and North Carolina point guard Coby White. The Cavs drafted point guard Collin Sexton in last year’s lottery. Will they take another point guard, look to another position or also trade out of their pick?

Report: Suns trading T.J. Warren, No. 32 pick to Pacers

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Most rotation Pacers will hit free agency this summer.

That’s why Suns forward T.J. Warren was a logical target. The combo forward can provide insurance for Indiana losing Bojan Bogdanovic or Thaddeus Young.

Getting an extra second-round pick doesn’t hurt, either.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Suns now project to have about $21 million in cap space. They could use that then exceed the cap to re-sign Kelly Oubre.

Or they renounce Oubre and open about $29 million in cap space. But in that scenario, they could no longer exceed the cap to re-sign Oubre.

There’s plenty of pressure now on Phoenix to optimize that cap room.

Warren (three years, $35.25 million remaining) might be overpaid. But he’s a good scorer who has refined his offensive game, becoming a solid 3-point shooter and reducing bad shots. He also avoids turnovers (in part because he doesn’t distribute much, but still). Defense is a weak spot, but Pacers center Myles Turner can erase mistakes in front of him.

This is a nice addition by Indiana with the second-round pick incoming.

The Pacers must open space to to acquire Warren. So, it seems highly unlikely all of impending free agents Bogdanovic, Young, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph will return. Indiana might even know one of those forwards is heading out, adding impetus for the trade.

But this is just good value for the Pacers, anyway.