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Blake Griffin May Be Untradable

Never say never, but given the way the hobbled former dunk machine is moving these days, a trade deadline deal looks very, very unlikely

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Reader, pop quiz: What do you and Blake Griffin have in common?

Perhaps you both enjoy stand-up comedy. You might both have a proclivity for pranks. Or—this is the answer I’m going for—both of you have gone this entire NBA season without dunking in a game.

This is the same Blake Griffin who immolated Timofey Mozgov and leapfrogged a Kia, who twice led the NBA in total dunks last decade. Now he’s ground bound; time comes for us all.

Griffin came into this season hoping for a comeback. He played just 18 games last season before undergoing knee surgery, but there was reason for optimism—both in his immediate play and for a trade out of Detroit. When Griffin was last healthy, in 2018-19, he was excellent, averaging a career highs in points (24.5 per game) and being named to the All-NBA third team. He reportedly felt great coming into this season and looked strong in offseason workouts, to the point that ESPN’s Zach Lowe said, “Detroit is gonna have a market for him.”

Kevin Durant and John Wall also inspired enthusiastic offseason reports as they recovered from injuries, and those rumors have translated to the season. Griffin’s have not.

It’s not just that Griffin is averaging career lows in points (13.9 per game) and rebounds (5.7). It’s that his game has changed so drastically. Even as he developed a respectable 3-point stroke in recent seasons, Griffin still made his way to the rim for a healthy portion of his shots. That ratio has now cratered. He’s settling for a much higher proportion of 3-pointers instead.

If we bucket Griffin’s shot distribution by range—at the rim, in the midrange, and beyond the 3-point line—the 10 players with the most similar shot profiles this season don’t look like the Griffin we’ve come to know at all. (This comparison uses tracking data from Basketball-Reference, for all players with a minimum of 50 shot attempts.)

Blake Griffin’s Closest Comparisons by Shot Distribution

Player Similarity Rank Career 3P%
Player Similarity Rank Career 3P%
Blake Griffin 0 33.1%
Cedi Osman 1 36.0%
Patty Mills 2 39.2%
Brook Lopez 3 34.1%
Mikal Bridges 4 35.8%
Kyle Lowry 5 36.6%
Devonte' Graham 6 35.2%
Damian Lillard 7 37.3%
Lonzo Ball 8 33.9%
Terry Rozier 9 37.4%
Desmond Bane 10 48.7%

Two aspects to this list stand out. The first is that Griffin is the worst shooter of the bunch, meaning he probably shouldn’t take so many 3s. The second is that he’s one of just two big men on this list, along with Lopez, the new archetype for a post-to-perimeter big man. But Lopez pairs his offensive range with elite play on the other end, making an All-Defensive team just last season.

Griffin, conversely, has never been the kind of player who can anchor a defense. Albeit in a small sample, opposing players are shooting 75 percent near the basket when Griffin is the closest defender; that’s 13 points higher than those opponents have shot near other defenders.

If anything, the eye test is even worse. In the final seconds of a tie game in Detroit last week, the Celtics targeted Griffin on a switch. What looked like an innocuous possession at the top of the key …

NBA Advanced Stats

… quickly turned disastrous for Detroit, via a simple Jayson Tatum burst that sent Griffin stumbling to the floor.

NBA Advanced Stats

Look at the clock in both of those images: Griffin went from a decent position to the ground in 1.3 seconds. Naturally, Tatum sank the jumper to give Boston the win.

Marcus Smart revealed after the game that the Celtics ran their play with a Griffin mismatch in mind. “We got exactly what we wanted. We got Jayson going downhill against Blake,” Smart said. “He’s not the same Blake, as he used to be quicker, and we just took advantage of that.”

Griffin is showing that he’s “not the same Blake” on the offensive end, too. Once upon a time, he was quick enough to blow by bigger defenders and strong enough to power through smaller foes. But now, after a second operation to his left knee, his customary explosiveness is gone, and he can’t muscle to the basket even against unheralded defenders.

Griffin’s reduced activity level permeates all sorts of statistics. His usage rate of 20 percent is a career low by 5 percentage points. His drives per game have fallen, from 8.0 two seasons ago to just 2.4 now. Because he’s having trouble getting to the rim, he’s barely getting to the free throw line, either.

And, of course, he hasn’t yet dunked. Dating back to last season before his latest surgery, he’s gone 12 games and counting without a single slam. The longest dunk-less streaks of his career are almost all recent, suggesting an overall decline in athleticism.

Longest Dunk-less Streaks of Blake Griffin’s Career

Start Date End Date Number of Games
Start Date End Date Number of Games
3/10/19 11/11/19 14
12/14/19 Still going 12 and counting
11/11/15 11/24/15 7
11/25/19 12/14/19 6
2/14/19 2/22/19 6
2/5/18 2/14/18 6

There is some reason for caution with these early interpretations. The season is still young, which could be hampering Griffin’s production through a number of factors. The Pistons’ guards aren’t doing him any favors—he’s a long way from playing with Chris Paul—and his teammates are all still learning each other’s tendencies. Eight different Pistons have started a game this season—and the other seven, besides Griffin, are all in their first year in Detroit. The Pistons have the least roster continuity of any team, in a season with limited training camp and preseason play.

Griffin himself is still feeling out his role amid all the new teammates, in a crowded frontcourt with Jerami Grant as the no. 1 option. Griffin is a skilled passer, but his potential assists have dropped from 11 per game in his last full season to 7.3 in this season, per NBA.com/Stats, in part because he’s touching the ball in different areas of the court. “I’ve been wanting to get on the post a little bit more and facilitate from there,” he said after a recent overtime win against the Suns. “Not to just go score, but to sort of be a hub when we don’t have a lot going or we’ve missed a couple shots, try to play inside out.”

It doesn’t help that Griffin doesn’t play in both sides of back-to-backs, or that he missed time due to concussion protocols after taking an elbow to the mouth just before New Year’s. “Not having played basketball in a year, I feel like that’s hurting my personal rhythm,” Griffin said. He’s played only seven games.

But if this season was about proving his worth to a potential trade partner who could use a recent All-NBA talent in a push for the Finals, the early returns have surely dampened any such interest. Griffin’s contract—which includes a $37 million cap hit this season, plus a $39 million player option next season—already made for a tough trade fit, and now he’s not playing well enough to make any deal worth it.

The problem isn’t just the overall lack of consistent production, but the absence of any highlights from the man who was once their most reliable producer; there haven’t been any plays even hinting at a glimmer of Griffin’s former self. He still has time to turn his season, and trade appeal, around before the March 25 deadline, but like his dunk total, the early results are a great big zero.