Name: Blake Griffin
Height: 6' 10"
Weight: 251 lbs
Position: Power Forward
Experience: 5 years
2015-2016 Salary: 18,907,725 million USD
Chris Paul would have never been a Clipper had Blake Griffin not been a Clipper. Doc Rivers would not be the Clippers' head coach, the Clippers would not have sold for $2 billion, and the franchise wouldn't be entering it's fifth straight playoff-bound year were it not for the star forward. Griffin singlehandedly reinvented the Clippers--making them far better. As the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, he continued his high-flying ways, immediately translating his production at the University of Oklahoma into All-NBA numbers. Early in his career, he was one of the most entertaining players to watch nightly. SportCenter aired ‘Lob City' alerts every night and Tyga produced a new single, "Lob City," in tribute.
The youthful exhuberance was short-lived: in 2013 Blake Griffin declared ‘Lob City' dead (RIP), choosing to stake out a new, more serious identity--all about winning games, all about post-season success. Great players and teams constantly reinvent themselves, and Griffin sought to do the same. MJ and Kobe relied first on athleticism, then more on technique. The Warriors' up-tempo, small-ball style has been evolving for the better part of a decade. And last season, Blake Griffin rebranded the type of player he is and how the Clippers could utilize him offensively and defensively.
REGULAR SEASON BLAKE VS PLAYOFF BLAKE
2014-15 Regular Season Blake averaged 21.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists in about 35 minutes. Blake's per-game scoring and rebounding both noticeably decreased from the year before, but his assists increased in about the same amount of minutes. While many worried about a percieved step-back in Griffin's career evolution, but then Playoff Blake emerged. Playoff Blake averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists in nearly 40 minutes a night. Blake Griffin was seen by many as one of the best players in the postseason. His inflated minutes could explain modest increases, but not this drastic jump.
In an interview with Rowan Kavner of Clippers.com, Griffin said it is hard to "find that right balance of not holding back too much, being able to give everything." During his rookie year, Griffin was noticably exhausted by March (due to his tendency of dunking on everybody and their mother). But as Blake clearly said himself, he didn't want to be "Lob City" anymore: he wanted a championship. It was evident from then on that Regular Season Blake wasn't exerting the same effort. His dunks decreased from 176 to 78. Defensively, Blake wasn't executing rotations early. Even DeMarcus Cousins called out Blake for not trying on defense. His effort may have decreased, but his skills definitely did not.
This trend is likely to continue for Blake Griffin. His physical style of play takes a toll on the body and it doesn't help that he's one of the most fouled players in the league. Look around the league: other stars coast too, including Lebron, Dwyane, and even Dwight, who all look different in the postseason. An 82-game schedule is grueling, and with a deep roster there is less pressure on Blake to dominate nightly during the regular season. It's his fifth year in the league and he might never have another opportunity to win a championship. Last year was an epiphany for the league: a fresh Blake Griffin come playoffs is unstoppable. This year, we should expect him to pace and protect himself again until the postseason.
FAST BREAK BLAKE
Blake has evolved from "just a dunker" to a well-rounded MVP candidate over the course of his five-year career. His arsenal has steadily expanded to include a ton of post moves and an improving jump shot. But what was most shocking in last year's playoffs was the refined nature of Griffin's ball handling. Glimpses have existed of Blake's surprising handles in his tenure with the Clippers, but fans around the league likely were not aware. After all, with the best point guard in the NBA on the Clippers, Blake has never had much ball handling responsibility. When Paul's hamstring gave out in Game 7 against the Spurs, and he was forced out of Game 1 against the Rockets, nobody quite knew what the Clippers would do. The plan, however, was simple: just give the ball to Blake and let him try and do his best point-power forward work.
The Clippers made a concerted effort to get Blake the ball to initiate the fast-break. If Blake corralled the defensive rebound, he had the green light to turn up the floor and push it himself. And in transition, Blake is a behemoth. During the regular season, among players who scored more than two points per game in transition, Blake had the second highest field goal percentage at 73%, trailing only Anthony Davis. His free throw frequency was the highest, at 34%, with the next closest being Giannis Antetokounmpo at 27%. The one thing that hinders his transition effectiveness is his turnover rate, and that has to be a place to look for improvement. He sometimes attempts to do too much, posting a turnover rate in transition of nearly 20 percent. Of his 198 regular-season transition possessions last year, 111 ended up as a bucket or a turnover. What separated his postseason transition skills was the ability to find passers on the wing during the break. In Game 1 against the Rockets, three of Blake's assists were on fast breaks, leading to eight Clipper points. Blake's emergence in the postseason as a good ball handler in transition will give him the freedom to go coast-to-coast more after a rebound, deferring less to his guards as in previous years.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned in a ClipChat with Larson Ishii, Blake's unique transition skills coincide with the team's other best player, Chris Paul. If Doc staggered the lineups more, he could almost always have a dominant transition player and skilled passer on the floor. Unfortunately, Doc Rivers rarely staggers lineups. Last year, in the regular season, the Clippers' starters played the most minutes together, with only two other playoff teams having lineups featured in the top ten: Portland's starters and Tom Thibideau's beaten-down lineup. So it will be an interesting topic to note as the season progresses: how often is just one of the Clippers' two superstars on the floor? In the case of a Paul injury, Blake will certainly be given more responsibility. It's already happened this year: Paul sat out the third preseason game and Blake produced nearly a triple double, falling one rebound short in just 25 minutes. The Clippers went back to their Game 1 Rockets strategy -- get Blake the ball. If the transition opportunity isn't there, he initiates the half-court offense himself.
BLAKE IN THE POST
In a recent interview with Basketball Insiders, Blake said that he focused a lot more on posting up this summer. Last year, Blake ranked in the 79th percentile in post-ups. About a quarter of his production came from posting up, with about six post possessions per game. Refining the criteria to players who posted-up at least once per game, Blake's .95 points per possession gives him a top-20 spot. His field goal percentage in these situations was 46.3%, which was near the middle of pack. Just like in fast break circumstances, Blake is one of the better players in the league at drawing fouls when backing a man down, ranking in the top-15. He is already one of the better post players in the game, but Blake still has room to improve. Superior power and uncommon quickness at his size create matchup nightmares, but he's used them as crutch up to this point in his career. Fundamentals and technique are not Blake's biggest strengths, and the sight of Blake backing down a defender and then jumping off two feet for a crazy, spin shot happens all too often. Ultimately, Griffin will need to develop consistent go-to moves down low, which will increase his efficiency in post-up situations.
Griffin can also be slow getting into his attacking position in post-ups, sometimes taking a few unnecessary dribbles to establish position. Slow post-ups are not always a bad thing, but it allows the defense to get better position and send the appropriate weak-side defender. If Blake is able to attack a little more quickly, it will benefit his teammates just as it will help his own moves (let's not forget his excellent passing). If the defense doubles or misses a rotation, Griffin will find the open man. According to basketball-reference, no big man has more assists than Griffin during his tenure in the league. A more confident Blake in the post would juice an already loaded offense.
BLAKE THE SHOOTER
The strides Blake made in his jumpshot last year were incredible. Look at the difference from his 2013-14 season mid-range shot chart to the 14-15 season shot chart:
2013-2014 Shot Chart
2014-2015 Shot Chart
Defenders used to be able to sag very far off of Blake, clogging the lane when defending pick-and-rolls. The expansion of Blake's range has changed the Clippers offense in a bunch of ways. Everybody has more space to work with, as defenders have started to guard Blake more closely. Blake's game expands greatly with a defender respecting his jump shot--it makes it much easier for him to get closer to the basket. In the 5-9 foot area, Blake increased his shooting percentage from 28 percent to 42 percent. Previously Griffin's defender would sit back, forcing him into weird driving angles. Last year, Blake was able to clip the hip of the defender with more decisiveness, beat him, and have a little more space before the weak side defender rotated. Blake said he worked on a floater over the offseason, which could be devastating in the 5-9 foot area. In preseason, Blake has been quicker to pull the trigger on his mid-range jump shot. His old instinct of looking for a pass first and then shooting has diminished. The continuing evolution of Griffin's jump shot makes the lane more open for everybody.
BLAKE THE GUARDIAN
When Blake Griffin is the primary rim protector, things don't go all that well for the Clippers. Players shot an astounding 67 percent when Blake was the primary defender at the rim. Luckily, Deandre Jordan isn't in Dallas and he remains the Clippers' primary rim protector. The Clippers are also trying out a new pick-and-roll defensive scheme that is geared towards keeping their big men closer to the basket. In the old scheme, if Deandre's man was setting the screen, Blake was left as the sole protector of the paint. Now, Deandre should be a little closer and able to guard the rim more often. With DJ or another big near Blake, his rim field goal percentage dropped to a serviceable 50 percent. In the games Blake missed last year, the Clippers' defensive efficiency as a whole dropped from 114.6 with him to 105.5 without him according to Nylon Calculus. However, there are encouraging signs of Blake's development as a defender. NBAStats.com shows that defenders shot about 2 percent worse with him guarding them six feet or closer. When he's engaged and using his lateral quickness, Blake has the tools to be an above average defender. Although he can obviously jump, his limits as a rim protector are tied to his limited length. He's going to need to get to the right defensive spots early, and Regular Season Blake might not do that. In the playoffs, with a renewed focus and increased intensity, Blake was rotating early, and it was evident: His defensive box plus/minus jumped from 1.0 to 3.8.
Blake in 2015-2016
Blake Griffin has said that he thinks a 66-game regular season would be best for the NBA and its players. Last year, he played 67 games. With an improved bench (and barring an injury to Chris Paul), Griffin should get lots of rest during the regular season. Once the postseason comes, we can expect to see a different Blake: a more active and energetic Blake, a superstar Blake. As I said above, all of the good things that have happened to the Los Angeles Clippers in the last five years started because of Blake. If the Clippers finish this season as champs, it will be because of Blake too.