A Chink in a Juggernaut’s Armor
Blake Griffin’s working hard to improve at the stripe.
by Patrick Crawley / @BasketballFiend
Gravity-defying dunks. Emphatic blocks. More double doubles than an In-N-Out kitchen. These are Blake Griffin’s specialties, and he’s used them to skyrocket to star status less than midway through his first NBA season.
He is a dominant athlete, a one-of-a-kind crowd pleaser capable of going up, around or through any player in his path. He’s averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds and at least one SportsCenter-worthy dunk per game. And he already has a signature posterization in his repertoire: The Mozgov.
By the time his career is over, he will have likely redefined the power forward position.
But Griffin is not, contrary to popular belief, invincible.
He has flaws, among them: mid-range shooting, man-to-man defense and free-throw shooting; especially free-throw shooting. In fact, it’s the primary chink in his armor.
Through 25 games, Griffin has missed 83 free-throws.
He’s 109-192 from the stripe (56.8 percent if you’re into percentages), meaning not only has he out-shot the closest rookie (DeMarcus Cousins) by 100 attempts, he has also missed more free-throws than any other rookie (other than Cousins) has taken.
In some respects, this is amazing.
Kevin Durant, the best player in the League last season at getting to the line, attempted 448 free-throws his rookie season. LeBron James: 458. Griffin is on pace for 629.
But it’s also disconcerting.
In a recent loss to the Trail Blazers, Griffin shot extremely poorly from the line. He missed 11 of 17 free-throws, essentially costing the Clippers a win (they were down just three points in the final minute). That’s hardly an isolated incident, either. Griffin has shot 50 percent or below from the line in 14 games this year.
Bad free-throwing shooting is nothing new when it comes to big men – Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal both shot under 60 percent from the line in their rookie seasons – but it’s a problem nonetheless.
Griffin averages 7.7 free-throws per game, and the Clippers lose by an average of 5.9 points. It’s not like he’s singlehandedly costing his team games or anything (even if he made 80 percent of his attempts, it would only reduce his team’s losing margin by about 1.8 points). Quite the opposite – he’s the one keeping his team in the game in the first place.
Still, it’s something you’d like to see a star player improve on, a point that’s not lost on the Clippers’ coaching staff or Griffin.
“He works every day on [free-throws],” said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. “You’ve got to throw him out of the gym. But shooting them in practice and shooting in games are different.”
Griffin’s having a difficult time making that adjustment. When asked why, he’s puzzled.
“I wish I knew,” he said, shaking his head. “I can shoot free-throws great in practice.”
The team tracks free-throw stats in practice and Griffin gets high marks, according to his coach. He has a problem with his mechanics: “He shoots with his arms a little more than his body and his legs, especially when he gets tired,” Del Negro said. But Del Negro tries not to preoccupy him too much with fixes.
“We’re working on certain things with him,” Del Negro said. “But if you give young players too much then they start thinking and they get too technical.”
It’s a hands-off approach, something that may not please Clippers fans but does make Griffin feel more comfortable as he tries to improve.
“I shoot with Coach [Marc] Iavoroni and Coach Del Negro will come over and help sometimes,” he said. “But they don’t really do a lot of correcting or anything like that. In practice I can hit [free-throws], it’s just a matter of taking that and transitioning it to games.”
Making that transition is easier said than done. Howard and Shaq continue to struggle from the line, even after years of NBA experience (18 years of experience in Shaq’s case). But if Griffin’s work ethic is any indication, he’ll pick it up sooner rather than later.
“I’m going to keep working on it,” he said. “Eventually I’ll get it.”