Making Sense of the Blake Griffin Trade

What does the blockbuster trade mean for the Pistons and Clippers? Here's what the numbers have to say.

"Clipper for life." That was the pitch the Los Angeles Clippers used to retain prized free agent Blake Griffin back in July, when he signed a five-year, $173 million extension.

But of all the pieces involved in the Clippers' mock Hall of Fame ceremony, the only thing that will remain is the big contract -- it's just the Clippers won't be the ones paying it. On Monday, Griffin was sent to the Detroit Pistons in a monster of a pre-deadline deal.

On a minor note, the Clippers attached bench players Willie Reed and Brice Johnson to help round out the multi-player exchange. As for the particulars of the first-rounder, it is protected for selections No. 1 through No. 4 until 2021, when it will become unprotected.

Knowing that, what does the trade do for each team? In true numberFire fashion, we're here to break it down by both the on-court numbers and those on the books.

For the Pistons

Obviously, Griffin is the big haul for Detroit. He's a five-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA performer and, when healthy, probably one of the top-15 players in the league.

In addition to his highlight plays, Griffin is also a very skilled passer who should pair well with Andre Drummond down low. Griffin has an assist percentage of at least 24.5% in four straight seasons, and his 5.4 assists per game this season are a career-high clip. With a usage rate of 29.5%, he'll likely steal a small portion of Drummond's possessions (21% usage rate), but if history tells us anything, Drummond is set to benefit from Griffin's presence.

The table below breaks down DeAndre Jordan's splits this season with and without Griffin, looking at points per possession (Pts/Poss), points per shot (Pts/Shot), true shooting percentage (TS%) and Jordan's efficiency around the bucket.

DeAndre Jordan Pts/Poss Pts/Shot TS% FGA% 1-3 Ft FG% 1-3 Ft AST% 1-3 Ft
Without Griffin 1.25 1.33 66.5% 78.1% 65.5% 60.2%
With Griffin 1.23 1.36 68.2% 81.7% 75.4% 79.2%
Difference -0.02 0.03 1.7% 3.6% 9.9% 19.0%

Thanks to NBAWowy!, we can see that Jordan benefited greatly from Griffin's passing abilities. In fact, per Cleaning the Glass, Jordan's 134.1 points per 100 shot attempts place him in the league's 96th percentile, and he ranks in the 98th and 84th percentiles, respectively, in percentage of shots taken (89%) and made (72%) from inside four feet.

Drummond follows the same mold in that he takes 77% of his shots from the area around the rim. However, he's been far less efficient in doing so. He shoots just 64% at the rim and, on the year, contributes 113.3 points per 100 shot attempts. That comes with only one teammate, Reggie Jackson, averaging as many (5.5) assists per game as Griffin has so far this year. Drummond himself ranks third on the team in assists (3.8) and fourth in assist percentage (18.4%).

Life should get much easier for Drummond -- not only will he have some of the play-making duties taken off his shoulders, he'll likely be the recipient of much more efficient shots down low.

Surprisingly, in taking on Griffin's $29.5 million hit, the Pistons -- after accounting for their outgoing salaries -- actually shed over $600,000 in cap for this season, but they're committing $34.2 million per year to Griffin until at least 2020-21. He has a player option for nearly $39 million for his age 31-season. What that means is that, beyond paying 39.3% of their cap to Griffin and Drummond this season, the Pistons will allocate at least $57.5 million to their new dynamic duo through 2019 (and possibly further).

They better hope this works out.

For the Clippers

The Pistons' loss of Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley and Boban Marjanovic is the Clippers' gain. Clips owner Steve Ballmer may have parted with one of the franchise's most iconic players, but Harris is just two years younger than Griffin, Bradley is the three-and-D guy the Clippers have coveted and Marjanovic is the NBA's most efficient backup center.

In his seventh NBA season, Harris has experienced a breakout of sorts in 2017-18. Over 32.6 minutes a game, he's averaging career-highs in points (18.1), threes (2.4) and three-point percentage (40.9%). Before being dealt, he led the Pistons in scoring and ranked second behind Drummond in win shares (4.2).

For Bradley, it's a different story. Since being traded from the Boston Celtics to make room for Kyrie Irving, he's dealt with injuries and inconsistencies in his short time with Detroit. He has missed eight games and, compared to a year ago, is shooting nearly 6% worse from the floor with his lowest effective field goal percentage (47.4%) since 2012-13.

On the bright side, he's still managed 15.0 points, 1.9 threes and 1.2 steals per game. When healthy, he's proven to be a lockdown defender and capable perimeter scorer. But beside the likes of Jackson and Ish Smith, he wasn't being deployed anything close to the same kind of complementary role he played beside Isaiah Thomas a season ago.

As it pertains to Boban, he's not the guy on this side of the deal, but he's an efficiency monster. He's been limited to 19 games and 171 minutes, but in his short time, he's averaged 24.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per-36 minutes -- all the while ranking second on the Pistons team in player efficiency rating (21.6). This is who he is, and the Clippers know that. The only question is whether he'll get the opportunity to start in the event Jordan is dealt elsewhere prior to the deadline.

The second-round pick was a throw-in, but the Pistons' first-round selection could be a real valuable piece that the Clips can cash in on as soon as this offseason -- either by using the pick themselves or shopping it in a trade. Detroit has been on the fall, but trading for Griffin signifies that they're trying to make a push for a playoff berth in the East right now. Even if they ultimately come up short, they're almost certain to be outside the top-four in this year's draft, meaning the Clippers will probably get that pick for this upcoming draft.

Lowering costs appears to be a big thing in Los Angeles lately, but it's the Clippers clearing a landing zone for potential free agents. By freeing themselves of Griffin's long-term contract, the Clips also brought on Bradley's expiring contract, and Harris is under contract (at $14.8 million) only through next season.

If coach Doc Rivers and company decide to unload Lou Williams (rather than signing him to an extension) and Jordan's $24.1 million for next season, they would be looking at roughly $21 million in space -- with the opportunity for that number to climb if they part ways with Patrick Beverley's non-guaranteed $5 million or if players opt out of player options. That would set them up to make a run at a big fish or two -- someone like LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins -- if they so desired.


It's plain to see that the Pistons are making a play for the here and now -- and why wouldn't they. They're next-to-last in filling seats (83% capacity at home), and the dunking duo of Griffin and Drummond should help that cause. And they even have the opportunity to add another piece with a $7 million trade exception created in Monday's deal, which is something they have a full year to cash in on.

The Clippers are doing a little bit of both with this move. For the here and now, they've picked up three highly-skilled players, but they've also cleared a way for future free agents to come aboard.

According to our models, neither team has done much to better their odds of making the playoffs in 2017-18. Currently a half-game out of a playoff spot, the Clippers are projected to win 42 games and have a 71.4% chance to make it into the Western Conference playoffs. The Pistons -- 2.5 games back of the 8 seed -- are projected to finish with 39 wins and have just a 28.4% chance of making the postseason with 34 games left on their schedule.

Each team has taken a step toward accomplishing their goals, but, for now, this deal -- even though it was a headline-grabbing move -- doesn't do much to change the NBA landscape.