The events that took place on Jan 23, 2016 in Toronto may have been a blessing in disguise for the 2016-17 Los Angeles Clippers. I am not going to restate what we already know. Blake Griffin make a huge mistake that night. One that pretty much cost him the remainder of his 2015-16 season. As the reports trickled out over the next few days, Clippers fans were left confused, wondering what truly had happened. For all accounts and purposes, Blake Griffin had up to that point, had a pretty quiet off-court record. Yes, there was that one time in a Las Vegas nightclub that he reportedly slapped a phone out of someone’s hand, but that case was dropped after prosecutors decided that there was insufficient evidence. Other than that, Griffin was a model citizen.
But that all changed in January. The aftermath of that night was a broken hand for Griffin, and a broken trust with fans. Clippers fans began to question their loyalty to the player they saw as the savior of the once troubled franchise. Ever since Griffin was drafted by the Clippers in 2009, and debuted in 2010, Clippers fans felt a hope that they had never truly felt. Before Griffin, there was just empty promises. But from 2009 to January of 2016, Clippers fans saw and felt their team rise from nothings to media darlings. But after that night in January 2016, Clippers fans couldn’t figure out how they felt. Some fans felt betrayed. Some felt he should be traded, even though his value was probably at its lowest. Others just felt confused. Yet, through all this, there was still a hope that Griffin would be able to help the Clippers win an NBA championship.
Fast forward 9 months. With Clippers fans still uncertain on how they felt about Blake Griffin, and trade rumors swirling around the franchise all summer, Griffin, on September 23, 2016, made Clippers fans worldwide second guess their confusion with their all-star power forward. On that date, Griffin issued an open message to Clippers fans on The Players Tribune, and for the first time in a long time, Clippers fans felt comfortable with their guy.
So what does all of this have to do with the 2016-17 Clippers? How does this blemish that happened 10 months ago affect the team this season? That night was a slap in the face of an NBA star, who up until that point, had not experienced so much negativity, a negativity that would affect his team, and would ultimately lead to unmet expectations. Blake Griffin appears to be more committed than ever before to reach the only goal that the Clippers have, to win an NBA championship. You can see it in the way he came into training camp.
Griffin’s coach, Doc Rivers, noticed a ready to go Griffin. “Where I’m a little surprised with Blake is his conditioning. He’s probably one of the best conditioned guys, so that’s a feat. To not play and be in that type of shape means he had to work pretty hard.”
And work hard he did. Watching Griffin at training camp in Irvine, you can see that he is NBA season ready. Not many players can say that entering training camp, but Griffin can. And it’s not just that he is season ready. He has been working hard to improve his game, adding a 3-point shot to his already dangerous arsenal of offensive weaponry.
“He’s shooting the ball a lot better, he actually stretches it to the three a lot more now and stuff like that,” teammate Chris Paul said after practice in Irvine. “We’ve been together for a while now, you’re not surprised when you see different things from him.”
Entering this season, there is a new kind of confidence and work ethic in Griffin. He is looking more comfortable, but at the same time, looking to show the fans that he is back, and better than ever.
Speaking with media after a practice at training camp, Griffin shared that he worked on “a lot of pick-and-pop”, post moves, and “a lot of ball handling, almost every day.” He also shared about his work on his shot from beyond the arc with Dan Woike of the OC Register.
“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) ... they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”
Part of that work ethic is putting in extra time on the practice court, which he did pretty much everyday he was in Irvine for training camp. That includes working on his post game with one of the all-time greats, Kevin Garnett.
Clippers fans got a sneak peak at the new Blake Griffin on Saturday at the Bren Events Center on the campus of UC Irvine. Griffin didn’t let them down. He showed off his new confidence from deep, comfortably hitting a few shots. He also showed them some of his classic moves, like the moment he posterized rookie Brice Johnson.
With the NBA season fast approaching, one thing is certain. Blake Griffin is ready to move past the 2015-16 season, and help his team compete for the NBA title. He has admitted his mistakes, worked hard, and improved his game. He has a hunger to lead this Clippers team into uncharted territories. This year, we will get to witness a new, more powerful Blake Griffin, who has worked harder than ever, to come into this new season ready to win. Enjoy Clippers fans!