There's been a distinctive backlash against Blake Griffin among NBA observers for a couple of seasons now. It's nothing new really -- the "all he does is dunk" criticism has been so pervasive that Blake himself spoofed it in one of his Kia commercials last year. With ESPN.com focusing on power forwards today, the backlash against Griffin -- call it the Blake-lash -- was never more apparent.
In their 5-on-5 segment, in which five writers express their opinions on five separate questions, Griffin was completely ignored by three of the participants -- and called overrated by a fourth. Only Ramona Shelburne (who covers the Clippers for ESPN LA and would no doubt be called a homer by the others on the panel) bothers to mention Griffin in a positive light.
When asked who the best power forward in the NBA is, only Shelburne considers Griffin, and she chooses Tim Duncan in the end. Three of the five choose Kevin Love -- which is a defensible choice -- if Love ever actually plays basketball on a consistent basis again, and ignoring defense. Sebastian Christensen (whose name will come up a couple more times attached to idiotic choices) picks LaMarcus Aldridge.
We've dealt with the Aldridge comparison several times in the past, but suffice it to say that of all the measurable NBA stats, Aldridge is better than Blake Griffin in three ways -- free throw percentage, shot blocking, and turnovers. Griffin is a better rebounder, a better offensive rebounder, a better defensive rebounder, shoots a much higher percentage, hands out significantly more assists, gets more steals, and gets to the line more. Hell, Griffin even made a higher percentage of his three pointers. Aldridge did score a bit more than Griffin last season on a per 36 minute basis -- 20.1 to 20.0 -- but required two more shots per 36 minutes to get that extra tenth of a point. Aldridge is arguably a better post defender, but defense is always subjective, and if we were putting a lot of weight on it then Love certainly wouldn't fare too well in these comparisons. One can see why someone would not like Griffin -- I mean, who wants a power forward who can score efficiently, rebound and pass when you could have one that does all those things at significantly lower levels? On the season, Griffin's PER was a full two points higher than Aldridge's. Oh, and Griffin is also four years younger and figures to be improving.
Questions about who is underrated and who is overrated are always subjective on top of subjective -- the answer depends not only on one's perception of the player, but also on one's perception of other people's perception of the player. But the fact that Christensen singled out Griffin as overrated, even as most of the other people on the panel were completely ignoring him, struck me as particularly detached. I guess he thinks Shelburne overrates Griffin, since no one else rated him at all.
The final two questions had to do at least in part with potential, so one might think that Griffin would fare better. Nonetheless, once again it was only Ramona the Pest who so much as mentions Griffin as the "Most Promising" power forward. Still, "promising" is a bit nebulous -- the final question, "Who will be the best Power Forward in five years" is more concrete. Even so, while Shelburne picked Griffin the other five authors failed to so much as type his name.
Which is kind of ridiculous. Blake Griffin will be 29 years old, in the absolute prime of his career, in five seasons. He is universally lauded for his work ethic and has made major strides in his game in his first three seasons in the league. He had the second best PER among power forwards last season, behind only Duncan, who will be 41 in five years and presumably less effective. With three of the five panelists picking Anthony Davis as the best power forward five years out, you see the way that everyone overvalues unrealized potential. There's little doubt that Griffin would have fared much better in this same poll after his rookie year, when he was new and shiny like Davis is now. Davis might be better than Griffin in five years -- but he's got a LONG way to go and with Griffin still improving, odds are he still be better than Davis but a decent margin.
And then there's Christensen, who picked Kenneth Faried as the best power forward in five year's time. Really? Six foot eight Kenneth Faried, who has far less range on his jump shot than Griffin and is the same age? He's gonna be the best power forward in 2018. I can hardly wait to see how that prediction turns out.
Contrast the subjective 'expert' opinions on power forwards in the 5-on-5 segment with the more objective, data-driven projections by Bradford Doolittle (Insider required) also on ESPN.com today. Who does the data say will be the best power forward in the NBA this season? LeBron James, who of course played most of his minutes as the second biggest player on the court for last season last seasons, and who is also the two-time defending MVP of the league. After James? It's one Blake Griffin.
Here's what Doolittle writes about Griffin:
ATH [Doolittle's projection algorithm] is forecasting a .633 winning percentage for Griffin, which would be the highest of his career, but would also be in roughly the same range of his last two campaigns. Griffin's skills have improved early in his NBA career even as his otherworldly athleticism dominates the highlight reels. He's coming off a career-best assist rate and his free throw shooting has gotten better. However, Griffin's rebounding has fallen off and, frankly, he's never been as dominant in that area as I thought he'd be coming out of Oklahoma. Griffin's established level of performance is so good that you don't want to nitpick, but a more sustained effort on defense and on the boards could propel Griffin toward MVP contention. New coach Doc Rivers might be just the guy to coax that out of him.
How refreshing. Someone writing about what Griffin actually does and his real production, rather than their impressions of why he should be better. I concur. Griffin's decreased rebounding has been a concern and I'd like to see it improve. Other than that, he's been incredibly productive and improving in all the key areas. As for Aldridge, he doesn't rank in the top ten in Doolittle's projections.
Hopefully Griffin uses the Blake-lash as motivation to prove his critics wrong. It doesn't matter what people think -- what matters is what he does on the court.