Now that all of the numbers are in from the Chicago draft combine, I wanted to take some time and put Blake Griffin into the context of some of the other draft prospects of recent years. The reason Griffin is a consensus number one pick, beyond the simple fact that he was far and away the best player in college last season with the numbers to prove it, is because he appears to be a combination of size and athleticism rarely seen, if ever. So, do the numbers bear that out?
DraftExpress published the static measurements (height, weight, wingspan, etc.) five days before the measurements of what I'll call athleticism (vertical leap, agility, etc.) which are now available. Griffin's standing height measured out about as expected - his college-listed 6'10" in shoes. But because he's not long in the way that makes NBA scouts drool, a few eyebrows were raised (even if no one even hinted that he would drop out of the top spot in the draft). Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress went as far as explaining exactly how comparatively NOT long Griffin was:
Blake Griffin measured out well from a height perspective, but he doesn’t appear to have great length at all. His standing reach and wingspan are both far below average for a power forward, which likely helps explain why he is such an unimposing defender and shot-blocker. In fact, amongst the 42 power forwards in our database who were selected as top-15 picks, Griffin is just a quarter of an inch from ranking dead last in the wingspan category, and an inch from ranking dead last in standing reach. Yikes.
I suppose the 'yikes' is meant to scare people, but I doubt that many are.
Griffin's measurements are his measurements, and I suppose he would be an even more enticing prospect if he was BIG and ATHLETIC and SKILLED and LONG. But LeBron James may be the only player in the history of the draft that can be said to be exemplary in all four of those dimensions - and if I were forced to pick only three out of the four, length is the one I'd omit. Some NBA players have used their freakish length to become much better than expected pros - Rajon Rondo comes to mind. More often it seems, players get measured at the combines, scouts find out how enticingly long they are, and they quickly rise in the draft, only to be disappointments compared to their draft position - think Darko Milicic and Tyrus Thomas. I'm not saying length isn't desirable - there's no question that it matters on defense, particularly on blocking and bothering shots, and on getting deflections in passing lanes. But length is useless if the guy can't play.
Since Givony went to the trouble of showing some lists where Griffin was near the bottom, I figured maybe I'd balance that using the same DraftExpress data and showing Griffin at the top.
Strength - As measured by bench press reps (I believe the task is to press 185 pounds as many times as you can), Griffin is the 5th strongest drafted player since they began tracking this number. That's out of about 340 drafted players.
Agility - The lane agility test, in which the player runs forward, sideways and backward around the lane (you can see footage of Griffin taking the test at the beginning of this clip) is the best empirical measure of a player's quickness, and in particular their lateral movement, which is the key to on ball defense. For first round picks over 6'10", Griffin had the second best score ever recorded, behind only Nene. He got the same score in the agility test as Shane Battier, a pretty good wing defender. This is why Olshey and MDsr say Griffin can play small forward.
Vertical leap - Both his standing vertical leap and his maximum vertical leap are impressive for a guy his size. Al Thornton's 41" max vertical is one of the best ever recorded at the combine. Blake Griffin is getting a lot more bulk off the ground 35.5". For first round picks 6'10" or taller, it's the sixth best vertical leap on the database.
Let's compare Griffin's numbers to some existing NBA players. On more than one occasion I have referred to Griffin as "Amare Stoudemire with a work ethic." And looking at the vertical leap data, some interesting names immediately jump out at me: Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard both measured out with Griffin's same max vert of 35.5".
It's hard not to get pretty excited looking at some of these numbers. Obviously, both Amare Stoudemire and Dwight Howard are indeed longer than Griffin (Dwight is much longer). But looking at Amare (after all, Howard is a freak and plays center to boot so that comparison is a little unfair), Griffin runs a mere 3.5 inches below Stat across the board. So he can only jump up to 11'8.5" and not all the way to 12 feet. That's still some thin air. But look at the other numbers - Griffin is bigger, stronger and more agile than either of these NBA all pros! (And I know, these are combine numbers that measured high schoolers Howard and Stoudemire as teenagers, while Griffin is older. For the record, Amare was 19 years and 7 months old when he was measured, Howard was 18 years and 6 months, and Griffin is currently 20 years and 2 months. So while I'll allow that the other guys got stronger, there's plenty of reason to believe that Griffin can get stronger also.) All in all, I'd say he's pretty much what we were hoping he'd be and then some. I didn't really expect him to compare so favorably with Dwight Howard, for instance.
I'll close with one final thought on the subject of length. Scouts are currently going nutso about 22 year old Hasheem Thabeet. With his delicious 7'6.5" wingspan and his imposing 9'5" standing reach, he has a legitimate shot to be the second player picked in the draft, despite his almost complete lack of an offensive game. Guess what? The Clippers DeAndre Jordan, who is not yet 21, has a 7'6" wingspan and a 9'5.5" standing reach. So if length is the be all end all (which of course it's not), then it might dampen your enthusiasm for Blake Griffin, but you can console yourself in dreams of DeAndre Jordan becoming a dominant defensive presence.