We've spent a lot of time around here discussing the backlash toward Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers. Griffin is clearly one of the most productive players in the entire league -- he was 12th in PER last season -- yet his critics, of which there are legion, constantly accuse him of being one dimensional. How many times have we heard that he is "just a dunker" or that he "hasn't improved"? Thursday's TNT broadcast was a prime example.
Bradford Doolittle's recent piece on ESPN (insider required) is one of the most accurate and even-handed critiques I've seen of Griffin's game in a long time. Doolittle starts by pointing out that his critics are not giving Griffin enough credit ("the nothing-but-dunk arguers are a little over the top"). But like me, he gets why Griffin generates such criticism: because "as good as Griffin is, and as much as he does, he could be better."
Back in September I looked at the areas where Griffin needed to improve from a statistical standpoint, and came up with rebounding (especially on the defensive glass) and getting to the line. Doolittle singles out two areas as well: defensive rebounding and defense. I completely agree on the defense conclusion as well -- it's just more difficult to demonstrate statistically.
Doolittle concludes his piece as follows:
The lobs, slick passes and jump shots are always going be there for a player like Griffin, but he needs to be less of a showman, and more of a producer. That is where critics like Shaq have a point.
Griffin is an excellent player who has shown growth in multiple areas of his game. For the first time, he finds himself on a club with a legitimate shot at running the table next spring. However, his Clippers still have holes, as all teams do. Griffin is the one player capable of stopping them up. His ability to do so will go a long way toward determining whether next autumn, when the Clippers go to hide the vestiges of Lakers titles hanging from the rafters at Staples Center, there will be one banner left on display.
I assume the Blake and Doc Rivers are fully aware of the necessity for Griffin to improve on defense and on the glass. These are primarily issues of focus and effort, where Griffin should excel.
Near the conclusion of the Clippers win over Sacramento on Friday, Ralph commented on the fact that Griffin's 133 point-rebound double-doubles were second only to Dwight Howard since the 2010-2011 season. That's great. But it's also true that 63 of those double-doubles came during the 82 games of his rookie season -- he had 48 in 146 games over the past two seasons. Some of that is a function of fewer minutes as Vinny Del Negro acquired better bench players to back up Griffin and reduced his workload -- but even taking that into consideration, the difference between a double-double in three games our of four versus a double-double in one game out of three is massive.
Griffin's minutes will be back up this season as Rivers doesn't have great options in reserve, and the Clippers need him to be a double-double machine again. Doolittle is correct that rebounding and defense are the two big areas of improvement that Griffin should be focused on. He has double-doubles in two of his first three games this season, so he's off to a good start.