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2016 Clipper Exit Interviews: Blake Griffin

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The 2015-16 Exit Interview series continues with the Clippers' 5-time All Star, Blake Griffin.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Blake Griffin

Age: 27

Key Stats: 21.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 4.9 APG

Years in the NBA: 6 seasons with our Los Angeles Clippers

2015-16 Salary: $18,862,876

Contract Status: Two more seasons at the league maximum, with the final season having an early termination option.

Summary:

Blake was having another all-star season for most of the first half of the year. Despite inconsistent performances from the new members of the Clippers and a generally underwhelming start, Blake (along with J.J. Redick) was one of the only bright spots for the Clippers early in the year. For these first 30 games, Blake looked like he’d once again taken strides in his game, and it seemed inevitable that he would accept the mantle from Chris Paul to become the team’s new leading superstar. Blake’s numbers were consistent with (or even better than) last year’s, despite moving his game even farther from the basket, and he seemed to have an extra flare of confidence and decisiveness in his game.

Then, in an easy win over the Lakers on Christmas day, Blake tore his quad with what was thought to be a two-week recovery timeline. As we all know, the injury ended up lasting a lot longer than two weeks (93 days, to be exact), and unfortunately those 93 days were not without incident. Per my exclusive sources, while peacefully resting his torn quad, Blake was afflicted by a rare airborne disease called Punchyourfriendinitis and mistook his friend and trainer Matias Testi for a pirate, hitting Testi in the face and breaking his hand in the process. Ultimately, the incident resulted in Blake being suspended 4 games (after his hand and quad had healed), and his absence was stretched to an even 100 days.

When Blake was cleared to return, his torn quad technically hadn’t fully healed, but team physicians (………cough…) felt it was just pain management at that point. Blake was a bit rusty in his first few games back, but the team had already learned to play and win without him, so any activity he could provide was a nicely added boost. Blake helped the team win all 5 games he played in April, as well as the first two games of the opening playoff series against the Portland Trailblazers.

And then, because we can’t have anything nice, in game 4 of the Portland series Blake Griffin re-injured his quad and abruptly ended his season, somehow on the same night that Chris Paul broke his wrist. (Oh, are you a masochistic psychopath? If so, please follow this link to relive the moment in the hardest recap I’ve ever had to write!)

So, given that everything after December 25, 2015 was a nightmare for Blake Griffin, filled with torn quads and re-torn quads and pirates, everything after this point will focus on those first 30 games.

Strengths:

As mentioned, Blake’s rebounding rate finally increased back to more than 9 rebounds per 36 minutes. This is impressive considering he was taking even more shots from outside: 55.6% of his shots this year were from 10 feet or farther, as compared to 48.3% last year. All of his increased rebounding was on the defensive end. He posted his highest defensive rebounding percentage since his sophomore year. Last year, this was a point of weakness since outside shooting should have no bearing on one’s defensive rebounding rate, but this year he turned it back into a strength.

Now, over the course of Blake’s career, each year he’s increased his outside shooting, his true shooting percentage has dipped. While this initially appears to be a weakness, what’s gone unnoticed is that as his outside shooting increased and true shooting percentage decreased, his assist percentage simultaneously skyrocketed from about 19% to over 26%. In fact, this year (per basketball-reference.com) Blake had the third highest assist percentage among qualified frontcourt players (forwards/centers with >1000 mins played) at 27%, trailing only LeBron (36%) and Draymond Green (29%). And while LeBron and Draymond are often considered some of the best passing forwards in the game, their turnover percentages of 13.2% and 21.2% respectively trail pretty significantly behind Blake's 10.8%. Blake’s mix of scoring and passing and taking care of the ball has put him in his own class.  Seriously, just look, it's awesome. (He's actually 34th all time under those criteria, with only 6 of those above him posting a lower turnover percentage.)

Weaknesses:

While Blake’s certainly worked to keep himself from being a defensive liability, using his quick feet and quick hands to bother ball handlers, he’s still far from a rim protector. As the league moves towards smaller and smaller lineups, rim protection by players at the 5-position becomes more and more vital. And the Clippers may not be able to survive defensively for long stretches with Blake at the 5. Considering the shorter Draymond Green seems to be able to protect the rim just fine as a small-ball center, it’s certainly Blake’s most glaring weak point. That, and Blake doesn’t follow me on Twitter, which is a must if he ever expects to be my best friend.

Future as a Clipper:

Blake has two more seasons with the Clippers, with an early termination option before the 2017/18 season. Most likely, he will exercise that option and want to sign a new contract as the salary cap spikes for the second time. And the Clippers will be able to offer him the most money of any team.

Favorite Moment of the Year:

Initially, I was going to go with the Halloween game vs Sacramento, where Blake had 37 points, 9 boards, and 6 assists. Blake ended up scoring over 30 in 3 of his first 6 games, and he looked like he was last year’s "Playoff Blake" for good. I also considered going with the alley-oop three pointer that Blake somehow knocked down in the middle of a Denver game to beat the shot clock.

But while those were fun, they didn't give me the same warm feeling inside that I got when I watched him posterize Mason Plumlee early in the first playoff game against Portland. Though it was brief, for a moment I had hope that Blake, a.k.a. the Flying Lion, a.k.a. Quake Griffin, a.k.a. Blake Superior, was back for good, and the NBA was going to have to deal with the 53-win Clippers plus this Monstar. Blake looked incredible that game, bullying Portland forwards deep underneath the hoop and repeatedly dunking on Plumlee.  Blake ended the game with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, in full Playoff Blake form.  The series ended depressingly, but for that brief moment, Clipper fans were in heaven.