Pistons’ Casey: Griffin still a ‘top echelon’ player

Dwane Casey admits he’s heard it, but doesn’t believe it.

Is Blake Griffin still a top player in the NBA, one who is locked in for $142.3 million over the next four seasons with the Detroit Pistons?

“There are questions around the league, whether he’s going the other way, and I don’t anticipate that whatsoever,” Casey, the Pistons’ new head coach, moved over from Toronto, told Michael Pina of Vice Sports. “I don’t see anything but him being in the top echelon, whether it’s top-10, top-15 players. I would say that he’s in that group.”

Casey, fired by the Raptors after last season, when he led them to a franchise-record 59 regular-season victories and the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, said Griffin was a big reason why be accepted the Pistons’ job.

“Other than (owner) Tom Gores selling his vision and what he sees for the Detroit Pistons…that was a selling point, to know that your owner is that invested in it,” Casey told Pina. “But then two was Blake Griffin. His intelligence and the people doubting whether he’s going the other way or whatever, knowing that he had a lot more left in the tank. That was very exciting to have.”

When Griffin was traded by the Los Angeles Clippers to the Pistons in January, Detroit was in the middle of an eight-game skid. Starting the season fresh should be a benefit to both him and the Pistons.

“My goal for him is to be the best passing power forward in the league, which he can do,” Casey said. “People look at Draymond Green, they look at all these other guys — point fives and point fours.

“Blake can be a prototypical point four because he’s very intelligent, he has great passing skills. What’d he average last year? 6.5 assists per game with the Pistons? There are a lot of ways to measure success beyond just points, and Blake has the ability to do that.”

Casey understands one of the biggest issues with how Griffin performs will be if he can actually play. He has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, including last season. While with the Clippers, he missed 14 games because of a sore left knee and about a month later, he sustained a concussion. Finally, he missed the last eight games of the season because of a bruised ankle.

“Health has to be our friend,” Casey said.

Griffin, heading toward his ninth NBA season, has Casey looking forward to the 2018-19 campaign.

“I’m excited, recharged, rejuvenated and all the other adjectives you want to say because of Blake and the rest of the group that we have,” he said.