Maybe it’s because you can’t seem to remove the zillion commercials featuring him from your television set. It might just be a byproduct of his inhuman prowess for scaling rims, crashing backboards and jumping out of gyms. He’s probably flopped in the paint, been called on it, gotten upset, and then responded by carving a double-double on your favorite team a few times this season. Most nights, there’s a fairly high probability Griffin will hammer a posterizing dunk followed by a subtle buccaneer grin and a less subtle staredown. You, like his opponents, might not enjoy that so much. There are plenty of reasons to dislike or be overly critical of Blake Griffin. Almost all of them outside of in-group/out-group bias will be silenced after this year.
When the Memphis Grizzlies bulldozed their way through the Clippers in last year’s playoffs, Griffin was incessantly ridiculed. Zach Randolph relentlessly bullied him for six games and it became common policy to for guards to immediately dish the ball into the post when Griffin had checked in. This offseason, teammate Chauncey Billups hovered just above calling him cherubic when he admitted that Griffin is perhaps “too nice” on the defensive side of the ball, which is itself a nice way of saying, “play harder.”
He’s been called a one-dimensional dunker and a defensive liability. Bleacher Report even went as far as to claim Griffin was the most overrated player in the NBA last season. It’s true that most of his offensive looks are traditionally above the rim and his jump shot was mediocre at best during his first two years in the league. It’s widely recognized that he does have a propensity for allowing his arms to become tangled with other players–which he religiously responds to by dramatically crashing to the floor, per Zach Lowe. Just about everyone flops in the NBA, but because Griffin appears to be erected in stone and is heralded for leapfrogging cars in dunk competitions, it appears more prominent and contrived.
Prior to this season, Charles Barkley referred to the Los Angeles Clippers as “softer than tissue paper.” When questioned on The Dan Patrick Show in June regarding Blake Griffin’s ascent to stardom, the hubris of Sir Charles willingly tumbled forth from his mouth, claiming Griffin “isn’t remotely close to being an elite player.” Last month, though, Charles–in true form–named the Clippers the best team in the Western Conference. It’s worth noting that he surreptitiously cited Griffin as the linchpin of the franchise.
This season, Griffin can be found no lower than fifth in MVP voting. Outside of Durant and LeBron, he’s at the top of my list. While he sustained play despite multiple back injuries, earlier this week he was removed from a game against the Houston Rockets and missed their next game as well. This injury doesn’t appear to be serious by any measure, and with the Los Angeles Clippers already having a playoff birth clinched he will most likely see sparing minutes the rest of the way.
Blake Griffin’s season has been less departure and more enigmatic. He’s gotten better at everything. Perhaps the microscope was just what he needed.
The 25-year-old has never had much of a problem garnering exposure. At the University of Oklahoma, Griffin became the first player in school history to win the Naismith Award, Oscar Robertson Trophy, Adolph Rupp Trophy, John Wooden Award and the Associated Press player of the year. In essence, everyone felt that he was the best player in college basketball at the time in a year that included players such as Stephen Curry, James Harden and DeMar Derozan. With highlight reel dunks and effortless athleticism, Griffin became a staple of nightly recaps and highlight reel countdowns. He holds the school record for rebounds in a season and had he played more than two seasons in Norman, would hold just about everything else.
In the 2009 NBA Draft, Griffin was chosen first by the Los Angeles Clippers. When the Summer League ended months later, Griffin was named MVP. He appeared more than ready for the physical demands of the regular season, and the enthusiasm around the Clippers front office grew. However, it would be gashed early.
After losing his entire first season in the NBA to a busted kneecap, Blake Griffin proceeded to win all six of the Western Conference T-Mobile Rookie of the Month awards en route to being named the Rookie of the Year in 2011. It was the first time in two decades that the honor was unanimously decided. At the conclusion of the season, ESPN named Blake the 10th best player in the NBA. The honor became burden, and proved to be the catalyst for the pejorative commentary that has since followed Griffin.
Since Chris Paul was jettisoned to Los Angeles in 2011, the Clippers are in the midst of the best stretch in the annals of their franchise. We’re talking about a team that has zero conference championships, a team that won its first division title in 2013. All while being placed in a city, within the very same arena housing one of two unequivocally successful teams in league history. It’s difficult to ignore the resort when you’re at the Motel 6 across the street. From gag to contender, a somnambulant frontcourt turned cataclysmal and gave way to the moniker: Lob City. Their appeal permeated throughout the league, and head coach Doc Rivers left Boston–a place where he had won a championship–to join the flood.
Blake Griffin is a man possessed this season. He’s shooting the highest true shooting percentage in his career (58) while playing the most minutes he’s seen. When Chris Paul went down, Griffin’s volume went up. Despite his innate ability around the rim, Griffin is shooting 41 percent between 10-16 feet from the basket, easily a career high.
In the above shot, Griffin ends up dunking a Matt Barnes missed shot. As you can see, Griffin is nowhere near the basket when the shot is hoisted.
His transformation offensively is so polarizing that critics are desperately searching for something to hold onto as the causation. In Rivers’ system, Griffin is given the freedom to face up more and post-up less. This allows him to use his length and agility to demand double-teams, take a jumper, or slash to the rim where he’s nearly unstoppable. No player in the league has made more shots inside of eight feet than Griffin, per Kirk Goldsberry.
The Clippers score 1.03 points per possession each time Griffin posts up and shoots, draws a foul, or turns the ball over. That ranks fifth in the league, per Synergy. His post moves have made leaps and bounds since last season, and he’s developed his left hand, which used to be exclusively a decoy in the low block. Now that Doc Rivers’ system calls backdoor screens for him to sift through and around, Griffin’s spin–his go-to move–can be used sparingly and is more effective.
This isn’t to say that his post game is pretty. He appears more comical in the low block than perhaps anywhere on the court, like an elephant trying to neck with a brick wall. But as Joakim Noah’s staccato post moves will tell you, looks can be deceiving. And just as Noah, Griffin has taken his passing abilities to new levels. Griffin has assisted on 17 percent of Clipper baskets while on the floor and is on pace to break his career high for assists in a season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Griffin has become less the sieve critics claim him to be and more sagacious. His brawn is now being used to counteract low block passes, and he covers most of the ground that DeAndre Jordan can’t seem to be bothered with. Side note: Really, DeAndre Jordan cannot be bothered with switching, if anything, there should be an asterisk next to Jordan’s block and rebound totals with the help provided by Griffin found in the footnotes. He’s rotating and finding himself in Rivers’ defensive schemes, blueprints that somehow managed to turn a middle-aged Celtics roster into a fortress.
We are quick to dismiss talent when it is found in the folds of youth. Regardless of sport, the notion that the amateur can best the expert is a tough pill to swallow for many. The argument can be made for ageism, but Griffin’s experience in the league points to a less hollow source found within the confines of believability. We don’t believe that anyone has the ability to jump that high, and when we see Griffin do so, it scares us.
Blake Griffin is a true blue superstar that has morphed under-the-table backhands into fuel for an engine running on turbo. Griffin is another breed and those who claim Griffin’s one-dimensionality should take another look.