Name: Blake Griffin
Weight: 251 lbs
Experience: 6 years
Key Stats: 21.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, with 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game in 33.4 minutes per game, while shooting 49.9% from the field and 72.7% from the charity stripe (5.5 FT attempts per game) in the 2015-16 season.
Contract Status: Blake is in the fourth year of the $95 million contract he signed with the Clippers, with the fifth and final year being a player option. Should he choose to do so, Blake can opt out and test free agency next summer.
Breakdown: Blake Griffin played only 35 games in the 2015-16 season. That means the Clippers played 57% of their games without their superstar on the court, somehow managing to go 31-16 in those 47 other games. Many surmised that the Clippers were actually better without Blake, with a better on-court mix by playing a spot-up shooter like Wes Johnson or Paul Pierce at Power Forward next to DeAndre Jordan. And while there isn’t really much evidence to support (or debunk) this notion—simply not a definitive sample size—at the end of the day the fact remains that after December 25, 2015, the Clippers were without the team’s 4-time all-star/#1 scorer/#2 rebounder/#2 playmaker/#1 redhead.
And of course, when it comes to Blake Griffin and last season, most fans remember one thing more than anything else: the punch. As Ray Samora covered wonderfully, Blake’s already started to put those unfortunate events behind him, beginning with a letter of apology he wrote in the Player’s Tribune directly to Clipper fans and continuing with a visibly increased focus on nothing but basketball, basketball, and more basketball during training camp (about which he’s been very vocal).
The Blake Effect: Okay. But let’s be honest. We’ve all heard this before, right? Players come into training camp thirsty and optimistic. They know they have a long haul ahead of them, but they feel invincible and confident they can keep pushing towards their goal for 82 regular season games and as many as 28 more playoff games. Many stat-geeks feel that at the point Blake is currently at in his career, most players are who they are, and that we shouldn’t expect to see any major improvements in their game. But when it comes to previewing the 2016-17 season, Blake doesn’t need to improve to make a huge impact on the team.
It was Blake’s absence from the 2015-16 season that’s so important to the 2016-17 season. Sure, the Clippers were good when Blake was out, but a huge part of that is that many other Clippers were forced to improve their games to fill the void. Chris Paul stepped up, and JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan, and Austin Rivers had the best seasons of their respective careers, mostly without Blake Griffin on the court. Recalling the days leading up to the start of the first-round playoff series against Portland last season, Clipper fans were filled with anticipation regarding the super team that would be “the 53-win Clippers plus Blake Griffin.” Then, when it turned out Blake was not only incredibly rusty, but also not completely healthy, Clipper fans were naturally disappointed.
But here we are, leading up to the 2016-17 season, and the super team is real. Chris Paul, JJ Redick and DeAndre Jordan figure to be just as good, if not better than last year (particularly in Olympic Gold Medalist DeAndre Jordan’s case). And if training camp is any indication, Blake’s quad is no longer limiting him; so he's healthy and as dominant as ever.
New Role, New Skills: In addition to essentially joining the 2015-16 Clippers, Blake’s also going to have the opportunity to take on a new role thanks to some of the new player additions on the team this year. Last season, when playing alongside paint-campers like DeAndre Jordan or Cole Aldrich, Blake rarely had opportunities to attack the basket. Now with Marreese Speights, who’s truly a different brand of sharpshooting big than the likes of Byron Mullens or Spencer Hawes, Blake can freely roam the paint while Speights spreads the floor, hunting for the open jumper.
On top of that, Blake's training this off-season has been different than in years past. For starters, he appears to have possibly extended his shooting range beyond the arc, nailing 2 of 3 (very pretty) three pointers in his most recent preseason game against the Toronto Raptors. According to Dan Woike of the OC Register, he’s going to try and stretch his range this season in an effort to spread the floor and unclog the paint for his teammates. Additionally, Blake’s been seen working with recently retired future-hall-of-famer Kevin Garnett for at least a couple days of training camp. Anything Garnett can teach the young power forward would be welcome.
Blake Griffin, 2016-17 Edition: This will truly be Blake’s year to shine as the face of the franchise. Though he’s still rebuilding his brand after the punch, he's got a great shot at being the best all-around player on the Clippers this year. It’d be a complete shock if he wasn’t top-2 in points/rebounds/assists once again this year. And since we know a healthy Blake Griffin is capable of putting up insane numbers like he did during the 2015 playoffs (his last healthy playoff series), expectations are high for the big man. But we also know that Blake likes to take it easier during the year to save himself for the playoffs.
As far as statistical predictions go, Blake is likely to score a ton of points, grab a decent (if not slightly underwhelming) amount of rebounds, and rack up a ton of assists for a forward. I don’t know that we’ll see any huge statistical boosts this season, so something like 24/8.5/5.5, while shooting 48% from the field and 33% from deep, seems appropriate.
There are a ton of compelling reasons to follow Blake Griffin this season (as if you needed any). And if you're at all like me, you can't wait!