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Clippers 2017-18 Player Previews: Blake Gets the Car Keys

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No, he’s not gonna play point. But he’ll have an opportunity to carry the team the way Clipper fans desperately hope he’s still capable of.

Height: 6’10.

Weight: 251 pounds. 250 pounds of which are pure muscle.

The other pound is Kendall Jenner.

Age: 28

Position: Power forward. But can freelance at point guard in many Ringer think pieces.

NBA Experience: Entering season 8.

Key Stat: 46% from three in three pre-season games (on 13 attempts!). Some would argue that’s small sample size. They’re right—he’ll probably shoot over 80 percent once the regular season starts.

Contract Status: Entering first year of five-year, $173 million max deal. Which five years from now we’ll look back upon as an amazing bargain. Or an albatross we will regret for the rest of our waking lives.

Expectations: Good God. Where do we start?

Flom had the Blake Griffin think piece to end all Blake Griffin think pieces last January, and most of what he wrote still holds true: We’re still waiting on Blake to make the transformative leap we thought he was more than capable of just a few seasons ago. He showed sustained flashes of brilliance in 2013-2014, when he finished third in MVP voting and helped carry the team through a sustained Chris Paul injury. He tantalized even more during the 2014-2015 postseason, when he averaged a triple double.

But there’s little doubt he’s regressed since then. Part of that is fit. Blake and DJ play together better than they’re given credit for, but the league’s pace-and-space revolution has rendered Griffin’s outside shooting an anachronistic liability, no matter how much it has improved in recent years. We expect Blake to benefit in many ways from Paul’s departure because the Point God was so ball dominant (although I think that’s overstated as well—Blake got lots of easy buckets from Paul). But Griffin will have to figure out a way to overcome the shortcomings of his pairing with Jordan for the team to be successful. Whether that comes as the point-forward facilitator extraordinaire of basketball Twitter’s wet dreams, or by keeping up his pre-season success from three, something will have to change in Griffin’s game.

Ask any Clipper fan what they expect from Blake this season statistically, and the stubborn Clipper optimist inside all of us will likely rear his browbeaten head: “20-10-5—he’s more than capable of it, and he’ll have the ball more and we’ll play at a faster pace. Ok, 20-9-5. DJ will get the rebounds he doesn’t.”

But ask any Clipper fan how many games they expect Blake to play this season, and the Clipper optimist inside all of us will cower in fear and start yelling obscenities about Jason Powell.

Griffin average 54 games the past three years, including two premature playoff exits ruined by injury. If he misses a major gap of time this season, he’s officially in Amare Stoudemire territory—a formerly athletic big man beset by one injury after another. Let’s hope that things turn out better here than they did in New York.

What Griffin Offers: At his best, a powerful, playmaking bruiser with a knack for interior passing and finishing at the rim. Aside from Lebron, there really is no other player in the league quite like him offensively. Lebron is way, way, way, way, way, way better, with a far more refined offensive game. But the combination of power, speed, ups and vision at his size—that comparison was fair of Blake as recently as two seasons ago.

Defensively, Blake still has room for improvement. He’s hampered by a short wingspan that can’t adequately defend the rim nor disrupt a three-point-attempt by a stretch four. He often relies on Jordan to clean up his dirty work.

This season, expect Griffin to be slightly more exposed defensively. While Patrick Beverly makes the Clippers miraculously better defensively at the point than when they had Paul, the roster has new chinks in the armor. Danilo and Milos will suffer lapses, as will Lou Williams. While JJ Redick was a poor one-on-one defender, he played excellent and reliable team defense. As the new roster congeals, it’ll be up to Griffin to make life easier for Jordan and Beverly by making timely rotations and expending a good amount of energy on the defensive end.

Helping anchor a solid defense while conserving enough energy to lead the team offensively and execute in crunch time—those are the specific roles Paul filled so admirably that Griffin will be asked to assume this year. We’ll get to see Blake as the de facto leader of the team—something he’s never really been before with Paul’s domineering presence soaking up all the oxygen. Blake has enjoyed the luxury of occasionally sulking and forfeiting end-of-game responsibilities for seven seasons. That time is over.

Thanks to the homie Connor for the beautiful cover art. Connor, here’s hoping you are the Milos to my Austin.