NBA Film Study: Appreciating the Brilliance of Blake Griffin’s Trailer Handoffs

We’re doing it again…

Seriously. As a collective, the entire basketball universe is overlooking the brilliance of Blake Griffin.

Over the last two seasons, he is shooting 35.5 percent from three and 50.6 percent from inside the line. The knock-on Griffin several years ago was his lack of outside game, but now he’s a plus creator out of ball screens and in spot-up situations, completing his offensive arsenal.

He’s also a career-long contact magnet and was fourth in NBA-wide free throw attempts per game during 2019. Cleaning the Glass has a new feature in regards to foul-drawing, and Griffin has been in the top five percent across the league every season of his career in drawing non-shooting fouls. He’s in attack mode so much, and that makes the high efficiency he scores with all the more impressive.

The ball screens and ball-handling improvements, along with the increased three-point shooting, are notable to the common eye. Watch the Detroit Pistons play, and Griffin is the focal point of every attack when he’s on the floor.

Dwane Casey was able to fantastically leverage Griffin’s unique skills last season. As the Pistons head into the regular season where scouting reports are in-depth and authentic, keying in on this specific manner of Griffin’s attack can save a team points. From our perspective on the outside, the understanding can give us a new appreciation for his brilliance.

So what is that method?

The tough-to-guard transition pitch, a nifty dribble handoff that can get Griffin downhill to a rim attack or enough space to launch a trey bomb. During these situations in 2018-19, he registered an absurd 73.5 percent adjusted field goal percentage (aFG%) for DHOs off the bounce, tops among all players with at least 30 attempts.

We don’t think of Griffin as a speedster, darting around screens and navigating traffic to slither into a handoff. Rather, he often takes his time getting up the floor, allowing his defender to get sucked into the paint as a helper. That natural instinct is difficult to fight as a defender, especially when a point guard is in attack mode.

Such an attack can open up the pitch-behind to Blake for the trailing three:

Some teams scout and defend it well, including Detroit’s division foe Chicago Bulls. They clearly talked about not biting on Griffin’s jumper and his ultra-slow pump fake.

But when Griffin pulls stunts like this out of his back pocket, what are they supposed to do?

Why did the Bulls instruct Lauri Markkanen to stay down when Griffin is such a strong three-point shooter? Part of it has to do with a “pick your poison” approach, where most coaches will opt for jumpers instead of rim attacks.

The other part is how effective Blake is at driving after a pump fake. It’s such a slow move, but it works.

When he gets his man in the air, he is able to attack with a long first step and lion strength to keep them on his back:

Great players like Griffin prove themselves to be unguardable to a certain extent. Whatever type of coverage or understanding of their tendencies is deployed by the opponent can be used right back against that team. A cerebral scorer, Blake has an innate feel for these situations and can use his pump fake no matter what the defense gives him.

Sometimes what he’s given is a lane to drive, but not because overzealous guys lunge at the top of the key to prevent his shot. Most teams still fear Griffin as a driver more than when he’s a shooter and facilitator outside of 15 feet.

What gets Griffin open is when his man is simply too high as Blake jogs down in transition. The angle at which a defender can get caught on the pitch determines the success of any drive.

Think about the pitch man, (usually Reggie Jackson), for a second. As he makes his dribble attack before the pitch, he occupies Griffin’s man. That change of direction, which is slightly flat east-west, forces Griffin’s man to go over or under the handoff.

If he gets hung up in the slew of bodies, that will trigger Griffin to lower his shoulder and bulldoze his way to the hoop:

Think about the speed at which Griffin makes that decision and the feel he has to understand coverages. It’s influenced not only by his high-IQ and the instruction of the Pistons’ fine staff, but the pace Griffin sets the play up with. He jogs down the court so he can explode forward if he has a lane and so has time to read what the defense gives him.

Those explosions do not always result in points.

As mentioned earlier, Griffin is always among the league-leaders in non-shooting fouls drawn. When he lowers his shoulder, if there is somebody in his way, he’s going to make that guy feel it:

Sometimes he picks up fouls just by other bigs or forwards taking poor angles on the action. Other times, a pseudo-screen by the point guard forces a little onto Blake. That poor soul has no choice but to foul the 250-pound monster.

Let’s get onto some advanced stuff here. The angle at which this pitch play happens naturally pushes Blake towards the sideline. If you notice, he’ll always run it so he comes off the pitch with his strong hand, his right. But what happens if Blake gets pushed too wide?

The Pistons will then trigger a dribble weave series with another guard. How quickly does Griffin shift his focus from reading his defender and the point guard to focusing on the corner?

Usain Bolt could take a lesson.

Griffin can weave his way through traffic and then understand when to have a keeper, where he fakes the dribble handoff based on the defense. Then, a shot like this? Far too lethal:

With the Pistons conveniently out of the national eye, Griffin isn’t likely to receive many MVP votes or even factor into the discussion. But he’s the entire offense for this Pistons club, directly or indirectly.

The improvements to his game have made all the difference in him being able to carry a team without an elite guard. Sets like this that use his versatility, athleticism and shooting prowess wouldn’t have been possible without the transition he’s made from great to elite.

Put it all together and Griffin is a weapon like none other in these actions:


Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are courtesy of stats, Basketball-Reference or Synergy Sports Tech, and are current as of October 10, 2019.