2012-2013 Clipper Player Previews: Blake Griffin

Stephen Dunn

For three weeks this preseason, we'll be publishing Player Previews for each of the 15 players currently under contract with the Clippers. In some cases there may not be much difference from last season's Exit Interviews, but the team does have seven new faces, and there were some significant developments over the off-season for some of the returning players as well, so let's get caught up with all of them before the season starts. Today's edition, superstar power forward Blake Griffin.

Blake Griffin career stats (2 seasons)

PPG

RPG

APG

MPG

PER

21.7

11.5

3.5

37.2

22.5

When the Clippers won the first overall pick in 2009, the choice was easy. Well, at least it was for most. I hate to admit it, but yours truly had some doubts. I loved his athletic ability, but I was very concerned with his lack of a refined post game. There was also little evidence that Blake Griffin could make a jumper, and on top of that, there were reports of knee problems. Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike Blake Griffin. He was still an exciting prospect and as a clipper fan I was still pretty pumped. But I couldn't shake the fears that he might be a bust. A few months later I was at a preseason game, where I got the chance to see Blake Griffin play in person for the first time. When a friend of mine (and fellow citizen) asked me what my impression was, my exact words were "well, he's bigger that I thought, and I'm pretty sure he is the best athlete I've ever seen in person." My excitement was quickly diminished a few days later when Blake injured his knee (ultimately missing his entire rookie season). 2 all star appearances, a USA basketball selection, and a playoff series win later, and those doubts I had about Blake Griffin are long gone.

It is Blake Griffin's athleticism that makes him special. In a league that boasts the biggest, strongest, most explosive athletes in the world, Blake Griffin stands out as few others ever have. After missing his true rookie season with a knee injury, Blake returned and had an immediate impact on his team, and in fact the whole league. His dunks became cant miss sports center highlights, and on several occasions were the highest trending topic on social media platforms. But Blake is no one trick pony. He is a workhorse. He's a solid rebounder. More importantly, he is all about winning. My doubts about Blake coming out of college were based on the perception of what an NBA power forward should be. But Blake Griffin does so many other things well, and all those things translate to the NBA game perfectly. He is a game changer at his position. Blake can handle the rock and start a fast break himself, and he is a very good passer. He can face you up and get to the rim. And, as advertised, he can run the floor and finish on the break better than just about anyone ever. As for his perceived weaknesses? Overblown. Blake is very capable of hitting a jumper, and when he is hitting, he is a terrifying player for opposing teams to have to defend. His post game is not refined, but he is so strong and athletic that he is still quite effective in the low post. Now and again, he will show flashes of some terrific post moves, most notably a baseline up and under, which he is typically able to finish with one of his signature thunderous dunks. He is particularly effective when he is able to get down the floor and post early in the shotclock, with deep position in the post and when teams are unable to double team effectively. In the halfcourt, his picknroll play with Chris Paul is lethal, and pretty tough for teams to stop even when they know that it's coming.

Entering his third season, Blake Griffin is still improving as a player. His jumper needs to (and should) continue to improve. He has at times struggled (relatively speaking) offensively when defended by longer players, which is something that he will figure out with time. Defensively he is not quite the shot blocker you might expect someone with his athletic ability might be. Not particularly long armed, Blake may never be an elite shot blocking power forward. But really, blocked shots are not as important as good defense that leads to bad shots, both in terms of one on one and team defense. Blake is not a bad defender, but certainly could be better. It is very possible that Griffin expends so much energy on offense (which he had to do on the offensively challenged Clipper teams of the last 2 seasons) that his defensive effort suffers. That should improve this season with the improved depth and offensive scoring punch off the bench.

The biggest concern so far for Blake has been his free throw shooting. After shooting 64% as a rookie, Blake regressed last season, shooting just 52 percent. This offseason, Blake began working with shooting coach Bob Thate in an attempt to improve his jumper and, more importantly, free throw shooting. All reports are that Blake is showing significant improvement in practice (both in form and conversion rate), but it has not translated to live game action yet. Prior to Wednesday nights matchup with the Lakers, Blake had converted just 6 of his last 16 from the free throw line. Blake shoots A TON of free throws over the course of the regular season, and is likely to rival Dwight Howard for most attempts again this year. Considering the Clippers lost 8 games last season by 4 points or fewer, it's hard to ignore how important his free throw shooting is. Blake needs to be (and has the tools to be) at least a 70% free throw shooter. If he can get there, the Clippers will be a very tough team to beat.

Aside from the free throw shooting, Blake has looked solid in preseason, showing no signs of slowdown following offseason knee surgery. That's great news for the Clippers and Clips Nation. Griffin is a special player, one that Clippers fans are extremely lucky to have the opportunity to see play every night. Blake signed a 5 year extension with the Clippers this summer, perhaps the most important signing in club history. As long as he is donning the red white and blue, the Clippers will be exciting, and should be pretty darn good too.

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