So at ClipsNation night at Staples Center this year, Steve made sure to insist that Citizen Quilty and I post a little more and lurk a little less. I’ve got a few random and probably not so novel thoughts bouncing around, so here’s my effort to contribute with some thoughts on a new trick Blake’s picked up to get some foul calls.
In preseason, the Nation knew that Blake Griffin was going to be a beast in this league. It wasn't long before the rest of the league knew that his strength and shocking athleticism were going to present a challenge to defend. He may not have exactly surprised other teams early in the season, but Clippers opponents seemed unsure of how best to defend Griffin. Although I rarely miss watching a game, I missed a series of games in early to mid November while traveling in Mexico, but when I came back, it was pretty clear that Griffin had stepped up his game and had just become dominant: he was off the charts in number of dunks, Sports Center highlights, YouTube views, and had become the “horse” in the Clippers’ offense. But you know this, I know this, Timofey Mozgov knows this.
But the Portland game became…ridiculous. Everyone within the Nation gained another reason to hate Andre Miller and maybe picked up a new enemy in Pryzbilla as well. Hell, even “old friend” Marcus Camby took a shot at Blake’s head (“Thanks buddy!”). But Blake seemed to be in a sort of no-man’s-land of being a focus of fouls by virtue of his star play but not getting all the calls by virtue of being a rookie. Sure he got calls when hit in the head, but he wasn’t getting whistles on the less blatant fouls.
But about five games ago when the Clips were hosting the ClipperTimberwolves, I was watching the game with Citizen Quilty and we noticed that Blake was starting to get more calls, in particular lesser fouls that he just wasn’t getting before. And pretty quickly, we figured out what had changed: Blake would throw his head back as if he’d just been punched in the face in order to get a call. It was pretty funny, really. Using the magic of the DVR, we kept looking at calls and no matter where the contact was—chest, arm, head, shoulder—Blake would use his new Head Throw Back move (HTB). And it worked; he got a whistle even if his HTB came after the contact and it looked like he was acting in a bad action movie. Griffin’s continued to use it in every game since and in fact I don’t think I’ve seen him deploy an HTB without getting a whistle. I’m sure some other citizens have noticed the HTB move, and maybe they’ve even commented on it in the game threads. In fact, I think Blake may have developed the HTB in the 12/18 @CHI game.
By the way I’ve got to add that it’s not his fault that the refs have decided to work this way, after all the fouls were still fouls. I don’t think a lot of people even outside the Nation are going to argue that teams aren’t taking it to Griffin physically or aren’t fouling him often. It’s the case of his extreme athleticism making refs hesitant to call lesser fouls committed against him. But for whatever reason, the refs (or the league, depending on your view of how much the influence what gets called) have decided that they need to protect Blake’s face. I guess they have some more NBA Cares or Giant Bobble Head ads in mind. But the Head Throw Back (HTB) has continued to work.
Looking at the stats (using FTAs/game as a proxy, unless someone has a site with data on fouls drawn, or better yet, fouls drawn rate), Griffin has averaged 8.2 FTAs this season, and 7.7 before the 12/18 @CHI game. Since that game, he’s averaged 10.2 FTAs, for an increase of 2.4 FTAs. Is the increase due to the HTB move? Or maybe he’s just getting some respect? I’m not sure, so I’m taking it to the Nation. Thoughts?