2012 Clippers Exit Interviews: Blake Griffin

This is the fourteenth of our Clips Nation "exit interviews" of the 2012 Los Angeles Clippers, an overview and analysis, player by player, of all 15 Clippers who finished the 2011-2012 season on the roster. In this edition, starting power forward (and epic hero) Blake Griffin.

Name: Blake Griffin

2011-2012 Key Stats: 20.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, .549 fg%

Age: 23 (3/16/89)

Years in the NBA: 3

Years with the Clippers: 3

2011-2012 Salary: $5,730,080

Contract Status: One year left on rookie deal at $7.225M

In a Nutshell

After losing his entire rookie season to injury, power forward Blake Griffin started every game the last two seasons for the Los Angeles Clippers. This year he was named to the starting slot on the All Star team and is second team all-NBA. While his overall numbers were slightly down this year as compared to his first seaon, the team relied on him less for scoring and rebounds and his PER actually went up, from 22 to 23.5. Simply put, Blake Griffin's good, leading the team in scoring and rebounding. He is also reliable, not only starting every game but averaging 38 minutes a game (eighth in the league).

But Griffin's main contributions to the Clippers may have nothing to do with rebounds or scoring. He is, quite simply, one of the most compelling basketball players to come down the pike in a while. His athletic prowess, his magnetism, and off-the-court charm not only draws fans to the arena, it draws other players. There seems little doubt that without Blake Griffin on the team, the Clippers would not have acquired Chris Paul last off-season. With a strong showing and a playoff appearance this past year, there would seem little reason that trend shouldn't continue. Of course the Clipper organization has to hold up its end on that front... but more about that later.

For the LA Clippers, an organization that has been mediocre (or worse) for thirty years, Blake Griffin seems exactly what the doctor ordered. His value to the Clippers must be viewed as more than his value as a player but as an entity who might change the culture of the organization. He is, to the Clippers, a figure of potential heroic dimension.

Strengths:

Our task today is to evaluate Griffin solely on basketball terms, and, even in those parameters, Griffin is one of the most purely exciting athletes to come along in any sport. His high flying dunks and biblical slams fill youtube and Sportscenter with an almost unheard of regularity. He works hard, (sometimes too hard) and has developed a powerful if somewhat crude interior game. He's an excellent passer, averaging almost four assists a game. His mid-range shot improved a great deal this year, and his defense improved as well, especially in the playoffs.

While Griffin could still use some practiced inside moves to make scoring easier, he's become very reliable scorer in the paint. The most regular criticism we hear is Griffin's lack of a mid-range game to balance his power game, but Steve Perrin's post from back in April effectively deconstructed fact from fiction regarding those inaccuracies. Griffin's mid-range game is really much better than advertised. This year, the Oklahoma redhead took 112 shots from 16 to 23 feet and made 36% of them. That's just two points under the league average. Yeah, no one wants to see Griffin heaving up long two pointers, but if that's what defenses are giving him, then it seems imperative that he make them pay. Of course what we'd all like to see Griffin do is shoot that mid-range shot more quickly and with more confidence. But he doesn't seem far from that goal at all.

Weaknesses

Blake Griffin shot .521% from the free throw line, DOWN more than ten percentage points from 2010-11(.642). It's interesting. If Griffin makes 75% of his free throws this year, his per game scoring average goes up by 1.6 points. He also probably becomes more skilled at drawing fouls, and less reluctant to go to the foul line. He also becomes a more reliable player in the fourth quarter. Griffin's a pretty good shooter and there's no reason to think 75% or better isn't within his abilities. Encouragingly, his free throw percentage was up to 64% in the playoffs.

Griffin's not a power forward who's ever going to garner a lot of blocked shots, and often he is caught lagging behind the play in defensive transitions. But he has quick hands and quick feet. It really seems he's never actually played much defense before he arrived in the pros. With good coaching (a concern with all the young Clipper players) there seems no reason Griffin couldn't be a superior defender man-on-man and team defense.

Finally, Griffin's interior game, while thrilling and muscular, doesn't have much finesse. Quicker decision-making, better footwork, perhaps a quick baby hook, or a baseline up-an-under move certainly seem within his reach, and would add to his scoring potential. Without too much work, it would seem Griffin could easily average 25+ points a game.

Future with the Clippers

Duh. The Clippers have given every indication that on July 1 they will offer Blake Griffin a maximum extension. Griffin will qualify for 30% of the cap and a five year deal, translating to something like a $95 million package. Very few people believe that Griffin will do anything other than sign that deal. But it will be interesting to see if there's any reluctance or hesitation. The Clippers seem somewhat rudderless right now, without a General Manager or anyone in the hierarchy with any sort of obvious vision of the future (even if the vision is flawed). Of course, the nightmare would be that Griffin would refuse the extension, take the qualifying offer next year, and play out his option.

I've written considerably about this possibility, pointing out that Griffin's national and international fame (especially if he makes and plays well on the Olympic team this summer) might vault his popularity to unheard of heights, and that he might actually consider the QO option, especially if the Clippers show no particular interest in improving their infrastructure (like hiring an experienced GM and better coach). I've been shouted down repeatedly on the issue but continue to believe it's a relevant argument.

Perhaps Griffin will do what LeBron did after his rookie deal ended and insist on a shorter deal. To a parsimonious organization like the Clippers, perhaps such a deal will seem like wise business strategy.

Rest assured, anything less than the full 5/95 deal this summer will convince longtime Clipper fans that this really is the same old Clippers. A Blake Griffin, by any other name, shows up once a generation. It would be folly for the Clippers to treat him like anything other than an angel sent from heaven, like a life ring tossed to a drowning man. While he is the second best player on this Clipper team, he is also, the most important player.

Other Exit Interviews:

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