Blake Griffin is coming off the best season of his young career, where he was one of just two players to average 24-9-3 over the course of the year. The other player was Kevin Love, who has had an interesting offseason. Blake Griffin was the only one of the two who put up those numbers by shooting at least 50% from the field. We've all known that Blake Griffin can put up the numbers of an All-Star caliber player; he's been an All-Star starter for the past three seasons and selected to the All-Star team the past four seasons.
So, what improvements, or at the very least, trends, have we noticed over Blake Griffin's career? Well, we've seen that he's started to take more mid-range shots over the course of every season so far. Only 26.82% of Blake Griffin's shot attempts in 2010-2011 were mid-range shots. Last year, that number was all the way up to 34.14%. When looking at the 16-to-24 foot range, we see that Blake Griffin attempted only 15.26% of his total shots in 2010-2011 from there. Meanwhile, 26.49% of his shots in 2013-2014 came from that 16-to-24 foot range. He's getting more comfortable taking jumpers and is also taking more out of necessity in order to open up more room for DeAndre Jordan down low. In fact, here's a look at Blake Griffin's increase in mid-range shots over the years.
|% of FGA in Mid-Range||26.82%||29.26%||32.46%||34.14%|
|% of FGA in 16'-to-24'||15.26%||22.31%||22.85%||26.49%|
But what does any of that mean for this upcoming season? It's hard to say, really. We've seen Blake Griffin showcase a new and improved looking jumper in the preseason. And he definitely seems to be more comfortable taking those jumpers since 48 of his 114 shot attempts over the six preseason games he's played in have come in the mid-range area (42.11%). When looking at just shots taken in that 16-to-24 foot area, 45 of his 114 shots have come in that range (39.47%). So, it does seem like he has increased his mid-range jumper rate for this coming season.
While it's hard to take a lot of what happens in preseason as anything meaningful, there are some useful things to gather from looking at the way he's played during those games. He seems to be operating more out of a fluid motion when it comes to catching-and-shooting in the mid-range area. Griffin is no longer hesitating as much before rising up and firing. This wasn't more evident than the first game of the preseason against the Golden State Warriors when Blake Griffin looked extremely confident and calm when getting a feed in the mid-range and then going up with the shot.
Blake Griffin makes mid-range jumper
As you can see in that GIF, Blake Griffin gets a simple feed from Chris Paul and quickly diagnoses that his defender, Andrew Bogut, is far enough away from him that he can then rise up and shoot without any problem. And he did. And he made it. All in one motion. Another interesting part of that shot was that he wasn't waiting until coming almost all the way down before releasing the shot, which is something he did a lot in prior years. It creates less of a hitch which creates less margin for error with your elbow.
Blake Griffin misses mid-range jumper
This GIF is from last year's playoff series against Oklahoma City. Griffin is matched up one-on-one with Serge Ibaka in the post and shoots a mid-range jumper after giving a few little jab steps to try and get Ibaka off of his game. The thing to note with this jumper versus the one from the preseason game against Golden State is that this jumper features far more of a hitch which creates an awkward release and a jumper that is not really on line. There are fewer moving parts with his preseason jumper as compared to the jumper he showcased last season. It's just one of the things he's been working on during the offseason and preseason.
Blake Griffin makes corner three
Then there's this. Yes, Blake Griffin appears to have sort of added a corner three-point shot. Is this something we'll see a lot? I have no earthly idea but it's in the toolbag and can be taken out at a later date when needed. We've all seen Blake Griffin step out and hit a three here-and-there but never really with this kind of confidence. He gets the ball early in the shot clock, sees how far off Andrew Bogut is playing him, so he just rises up and lets loose. It's almost entirely like his mid-range jumper that he made in the first GIF. It's on time, in rhythm, and without a whole lot of thinking. It shows a sign of not only physical and mechanical improvement, but also mental improvement. He's honing his skills, which is something we should start to expect out of Blake Griffin and from a 25-year old superstar beginning to enter his prime.
But enough of Blake Griffin's jumper and how much that's changed. There are dtill some things that Blake Griffin does have to still work on — namely, defense and rebounding. It seems odd to say that a player averaging a shade over ten rebounds per game for his career needs to work on rebounding but he does. Specifically, boxing out. Blake Griffin has often been one of the two best athletes on the floor at all times so he's able to just jump over everyone for rebounds or even out-hustle guys if a ball hits the floor. However, he still can get out-rebounded by players who do a better job of using angles and technique.
Kenneth Faried out-rebounds and finishes against Blake Griffin
In the preseason game against the Denver Nuggets, Kenneth Faried did a good job of beating Blake Griffin to the rebound by just using sheer quickness and understanding. Now, Kenneth Faried is one of the best pure rebounders in the NBA today because he uses his understanding of angles, boxing out, quickness, and arm length to beat opposing players to rebounds. Faried understands rebounding. So far, Blake Griffin has only done rebounding. He needs to develop a better understanding of things that guys like Kenneth Faried and Kevin Love have developed.
Blake Griffin did a good job of putting a hand on Faried to make sure he knew where Faried was when the shot went up. He searches for Faried, locates him, and puts an arm out to kind of bar Faried off from the paint where the rebound was likely headed. However, as Blake turns his head back to look for the ball, he gets beat when Faried uses a "swim technique" to overhand Griffin's right arm and get by him. NFL pass rushes use this move all the time against offensive lineman. In a lot of ways, rebounding in the NBA is a lot like rushing the passer or pass blocking in the NFL. Guys with the best technique will often win.
Rebounding is one of the key areas that Blake Griffin can improve upon. Blake Griffin definitely won't be averaging 12.1 rebounds per game ever again, like he did during his rookie year, but it's not crazy to think he can consistently average around 11 per game this season if he improves upon boxing out and understanding angles and the trajectory of the ball. There was a recent study done by Kirk Goldsberry that was titled "How Rebounds Work." It was an insightful piece that delved into the nature of where rebounds go based on shot locations. Now, Blake Griffin doesn't need to become an analytical genius overnight but a better understanding of the angles, shot locations, and overall technique would do him wonders.
There are some reasons as to why Griffin's rebounding numbers have dipped over the years. First off, over their careers, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have been playing more and more together. It started in Griffin's true rookie season, 2010-2011, and has continued even until today when DeAndre Jordan got his career high in minutes per game last season. The Griffin-Jordan duo totaled 2369 minutes last season. They were the Clippers duo with the most minutes played together. The season prior to that, they accumulated 1809 minutes together, which was good for second on the team only behind the Griffin-Paul (2077) duo. In 2011-2012, Griffin-Jordan played 1554 minutes together, which ranked third on the team. And, in Griffin's rookie season, they saw action in 1702 minutes. While their minutes played together have gone up nearly every season, Blake Griffin's rebounding rate has declined in every season. The following chart showcases that.
|Minutes Played Per Game Together||21.28||23.55||22.62||29.61|
|Blake Griffin's Total Rebound %||18.6%||17.8%||15.2%||14.7%|
The interesting number here is that in the season that they played the second fewest minutes per game together, 2012-2013, Blake Griffin produced his second lowest TRB% (Total Rebound Percentage). One possible caveat to that might be that 2012-2013 also happened to be the season that Blake Griffin played his fewest minutes per game (32.5). Therefore, they were on the court less together than all but one other season, Griffin's rookie year. But that doesn't really affect TRB% since it's a percentage of all rebounds that you get to when you're actually on the floor. It doesn't penalize you for the minutes that you don't play.
However, that team also featured Lamar Odom, who posted the highest TRB% on the Clippers that season (17.7%). Yes, even higher than DeAndre Jordan's 17.6%. Griffin and Odom played 502 minutes together, or roughly 7.60 minutes per game they actually played together. So even though DeAndre Jordan went out of the game, especially in the fourth quarter where Jordan only played just 30 times that season, another top-notch rebounder entered and seemingly took rebounds away from Griffin. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The goal of the team is to end defensive possessions with rebounds and Odom was a means to that end. But it does go in line with the fact that Griffin's rebounding numbers have taken a hit over the years by, and this might shock some people, playing with better rebounders than he did earlier in his career.
Another reason that Griffin's rebounding numbers have dipped over the years is because of the advent of more stretch fours. Blake Griffin is guarding players further away from the hoop than he really ever has. Almost every team in the NBA now has a player who can step out into the 16-to-24 foot range and at least threaten with a jumper some of the time. They might not all be great at it, but the threat is there and you at least have to respect the threat of a made shot. Whether it's LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis, David Lee, Paul Millsap, Chris Bosh, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, etc., you have to respect the fact that there are big men who can stretch the floor and hit jumpers. You can't just leave them wide open and wait for a rebound that probably won't ever arrive. This often leaves Blake Griffin out of position for rebounds because he's contesting those jumpers and leaving DeAndre Jordan there to clean up the mess on the boards.
Thanks to SportVU, they were able to track something like this for the first time ever last season with something called "rebounding chances." It's the number of times a player was in the vicinity of a rebound (3.5 feet). For instance, last year, DeAndre Jordan was in the vicinity of a rebound 19.3 times per game. That was tied for the league lead with Kevin Love. DeAndre Jordan grabbed 74.0% of those rebound chances while Kevin Love grabbed 64.8% of them. This means that, last season, DeAndre Jordan was a better rebounder than Kevin Love because he grabbed more of the rebounds directly available to him. They also measure contested rebounds, uncontested rebounds, and contested rebound percentage. But we're not here to talk about DeAndre Jordan or Kevin Love. We're here to talk about Blake Griffin.
Last season, among the 71 players who averaged at least 10.0 rebound chances per game and played in 41 games, Blake Griffin tied for 24th in rebound chances per game (14.9) but also tied for 19th in rebound percentage per chance (63.7%). While that seems low, take note that Anthony Davis was one spot above him (63.9%) and Marc Gasol was one spot below him (63.5%). When it came to Contested Rebound Percentage, though, Blake Griffin ranked 28th (40.8%). But he was right there with Zach Randolph (40.7%), Kevin Love (40.1%), Andrew Bogut (38.8%), Tim Duncan (38.0%), Dwight Howard (37.5%), and Marc Gasol (36.6%). In fact, Griffin wasn't too far behind DeAndre Jordan (41.6%) or Kenneth Faried (42.1%). This means that Blake Griffin, when given the opportunity to be around a rebound, does a pretty good of hauling them in.
Could Blake Griffin do a better of contesting then rotating back in case of a miss? Most definitely. And he needs to. It's another one of the things that he needs to improve upon as he enters his fifth season in the NBA. Rebounding is an art form. With all the freak athletes that have come into the NBA lately, Blake Griffin included, the art of rebounding has been skewed a little bit. However, there are still guys who get by without great athleticism simply because they understand trajectory, angles, shot distance, and overall technique. Blake Griffin could take a massive leap forward by increasing his rebounding knowledge and applying it to games, both now and in the future.
Another aspect of Blake Griffin's game that needs to be improved upon is his defense. Is he a bad defender? Not by any means. He's probably mediocre and passable a lot of the time. He flashes defensive potential, which has included him blocking a Dirk Nowitzki jumper, but he also shows lapses in concentration or intensity. For instance, in the preseason game against the Denver Nuggets a few days ago, he let J.J. Hickson do this to him.
J.J. Hickson beats Blake Griffin baseline
All J.J. Hickson did to get by Blake Griffin was show the ball, stutter step, and drive baseline. What really got Blake off-balance here is the simple fact that he swiped at the ball when Hickson showed it to him. Hickson used Griffin's aggressiveness against him and got Blake rocking the wrong way. While Blake was in a good defensive stance, his weight was shifted poorly. First off, you never let a guy drive baseline. You always force him to drive back towards the middle, where the help is.
Secondly, Blake actually starts off well. His left foot is outside of Hickson's right foot, which allows Blake to keep Hickson from going baseline. However, the second Hickson brings the ball in front of Griffin, Blake reaches and his left foot darts back, leaving a lane for Hickson to waltz to the basket. Because of this, Blake is off-balance and can't recover fast enough to even give a worthwhile challenge on the shot. Part of that is because of Griffin's lack of wingspan but we've seen him emphatically block shots before.
On that particular play, Griffin's aggressiveness was used against him. He went from being in a good position and potentially forcing Hickson back to the middle of the paint to getting beat baseline for a layup because he reached, got off-balance, and swung his left foot out of position — thus allowing Hickson by him.
It's this sort of stuff that Griffin has to fix. This is not a technique issue. This is an awareness and understanding issue, one that he can easily fix by paying more attention and learning what guys are trying to do to him. This goes with his rebounding, as well. Can his technique with rebounds be better? Yes. Definitely. However, a lot of that comes down to him expending the time and energy on doing that stuff. We all know Blake Griffin runs himself ragged during games. It's one of the staples to his allure. He'll dive for loose balls, hustle his rear end off, and genuinely do whatever it takes to help the team win. He's a team player. But even team players can do better. And so can Blake Griffin.
This season is a huge one for Blake Griffin's overall image and career. If he's able to improve the mid-range jumper that he's shown so far in the preseason, he'll be a nightmare on offense. Combined with his improved free throw shooting, you'd have the makings of an offensive weapon that we haven't seen at power forward in quite some time. Maybe not since the days of Karl Malone. A bull in the paint but a marksman from mid-range. Blake Griffin is already a superb player. Maybe even a top five player. And maybe even the best player on the Los Angeles Clippers. However, this season could ultimately define him. An in-his-prime Chris Paul, a roster surrounding him that has parts he can work with, and a coach who believes in him and expects him to take that next step.
All told, this should be a pretty special season for Blake Griffin. It's not out of the realm of possibility that we see a 25-10-5 season from him. That's something that hasn't been done since Charles Barkley did it back in 1992-1993. With his, what appears to be, improved mid-range jumper, improved free throw shooting, and vision as a point-forward, the sky is the limit for Blake Griffin. And if there's anything we know about Blake Griffin, he can touch the sky.
Blake Griffin throws down alley-oop dunk