LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 11: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts after committing a foul in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat at Staples Center on January 11, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Clippers defeated the Heat 95-89 in overtime. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Watching the game last night, watching Blake Griffin get hammered by the opposition under the glass, and watching him throwing up brick after brick from the free throw line (he was 4-9), I got to wondering what effect Griffin's miserable performance at the charity stripe was actually having on the team. So, this morning, I did a little research.
First of all, I looked at the overall stats:
How often do the Clippers get to the line? So far, they've shot 1177 free throws, ranked 10th in the league. Not bad. But their free throw percentage is a dismal .688, which ranks 29th. Yuck.
Okay, who's responsible for this miserableness? Blake Griffin gets to the line more than any other Clipper, way more, 365 times (sixth in the NBA) so far. His success rate is a dreary 55 percent. The next closest Clipper is Chris Paul at 210 FTA's (and 86% success rate).
But there are other terrible free throw shooters on the Clips, right? DeAndre Jordan is at .500 (and, by my eyes, improving). But he's only been to the line 108 times. Kenyon Martin has had 95 attempts and is shooting only .385, which is horrible but relatively insignificant. Reggie Evans has been to the line 67 times and is also right at .500.
But Blake goes to the line far more than any of those other guys, 7.5 times a game (vs. 4.8 for Paul, the next nearest).
So, Blake gets fouled a lot and he's not good at the line. But how has it affected the Clippers won-loss record? I went through all the Clipper's 21 losses and I found that if Blake Griffin had been a mediocre foul shooter, improving to say, 70%, based on simple scoring differentials, the Clippers might have won four more games. The games Griffin's improved free throw shooting might have affected are these:
- 2/13 Mavericks 96, Clippers 92. Blake Griffin goes 2/9 at the stripe.
- 3/5 Timberwolves 95, Clippers 94. Blake goes 6/13
- 3/7 Nets 101, Clippers 100. 10/17
- 3/11 Warriors 97, Clippers 93. 7/15
The numbers aren't close. If Griffin makes a 70% of his fouls, the Clippers probably win those games. (There were a few other games that were too close to call but in no case was there another player who comes close to having Blake's influence on the output of the game. In no case did another players misses at the line, equal the difference in points per vs. points against.)
Now, in fairness, the point differential measure isn't entirely fair to either side. In close games either team might have played the final minutes differently and the result might have swung a point or two in either direction. You can't TOTALLY assume that if the Clippers score a few more points they would win a close game. But the situation cuts both ways. If Griffin is a consistent foul shooter, he gets fouled less, and gets to the line less, but he gets to the rim more, he gets double-teamed more, and his teammates get better looks. While his total free throw attempts goes down, the makes go up, as does his scoring average, almost certainly making up for the lost free throw attempts. The Clips total scoring certainly goes up as well, which probably makes up MORE than the four games (out of roughly 50) we're looking at.
Now here's the thing, Blake Griffin seems to have some flaws in his approach to shooting, we've seen games where he really seems to focus and nails his foul shots. His problems seem to be mental rather than physical. If he simply improves from bad (55%) to mediocre (70%), the Clippers might pick up as many as six to eight wins in a full eighty-two game season. That's a lot of wins.
This season, so far, turning four losses into wins would give the Clips a record of 32 and 16, good enough for a solid third place in the Western Conference, ahead of the Lakers and nipping at the heels of number two San Antonio. And all Blake Griffin has to do is become mediocre at the foul line.