An in-depth look at Blake Griffin.
by Cub Buenning
Friday night, Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and the Los Angeles Clippers were in town to face the Denver Nuggets. I have spent a inordinate amount of time over the past few years imploring people to check out/keep their eyes out for Griffin. Although, I have seen at least 50 of his prep/collegiate/pro games, this was my first chance to see him live in person. I neglected my assigned seat about a half the way up the lower bowl and found my old courtside table perch just to the side of the visitor’s bench. Instead of the standard game report, I also decided to just take a scouting list by hand of plays involving the rookie, Griffin. Due to the form, it is not written for the usual clarity and style, rather, criticism and insight. Not every play is included, but the majority of my observations are contained within this report.
**Blake also made himself available to chat before and after the game (RARITY ALERT) but I was not using my usual tape-recorder and all I have is a few minutes of jarbled or high-speed talking.**
-First offensive possession, he takes two dribbles into the body of Sheldon Williams, then swishes a deft little one-foot fade-away.
-Gets bumped a bit on the block by Williams which forces BG into a tough baseline fade-away-brick.
-He seems very involved on every offensive set, setting high screens for Eric Bledsoe and Baron Davis to come off.
-He seems very unselfish on offense, constantly looking to get guys involved.
-I repeat, he seems very interested in playing defense. He’s talking to teammates and helping guys get through screens. He is showing and recovering on the high screen-and-roll and is contesting open perimeter jumpers. (Maybe I am jaded as someone that watches more college than pro ball, but the previous words I typed just seemed a bit “outdated” in the NBA. It shouldn’t.)
-Clipper sideline reporter, Dain Blanton (my press row neighbor) and I discuss Blake’s progression to this point. The reporter mentioned as the game was just minutes in, “The spotlight’s getting brighter every day. People are coming to games just to see him!”
Me: “Yea, I know, my wife and 4-year-old daughter are right over there.”
-BG knocks down an open 18-footer off a pick-and-pop. If he hits that every night? It’s over. If there is ever any kind of scouting report that mandates that a Griffin opponent play him honest on the perimeter, it opens the door for so much more. Like a drive and a dish (which he will and can) or someone probably getting dunked on.
-He is not getting any calls. I guess you can’t change a guy from being a rookie.
-6:30 left in the first, Griffin is 2-4 from the field for 4 points and 1 rebound.
-He gets a little “outhustled” coming out of the timeout by Chris “Birdman” Andersen. The Bird, however, has made a living out of doing just that.
-The next defensive possession he contests an outside jumper by Al Harrington, forces a miss, leaks out and gets an uncontested lay-up dunk.
-2:34 left in 1st, 19-19. BG: 3-6 6 points/1 rebound
-Rebounds are not coming his way at all. Not for a lack of effort, of course.
-After a Clipper stop, a teammate inadvertently throws the outlet to BG near the free-throw line. Instead of trying to lead the break and go coast-to-coast (which all big guys WANT to do), he immediately snaps a diagonal one-handed bounce pass to a streaking Rasual Butler for an easy score.
-He checks out with 1:25 left in the first.
**End of 1st Quarter, Clippers lead 29-25, BG is 3-6 for 6 points/1 rebound (but no assist given on that earlier sweet pass.)**
-Griffin checks back in at the 8:35 mark and is immediately playing tough defense, again.
-On consecutive possessions, BG gets good low block position and makes a quick “Antawn Jamison at UNC-esque” righty jump hook over Al Harrington. Then moves his feet on defense against Harrington and pins his attempt on the backboard.
-On next offensive possession, Harrington and Nene switch back and forth on BG and confuse him into a traveling call making a move on the right block. He doesn’t argue the call, rather a bit frustrated with himself.
-5:48 left in 2nd quarter: 38-38 BG is 4-8 for 9 p/3r/1a/1b
-Blake immediately comes out of the time out and shows my No. 1, most important aspect of a player coming into the league, BODY CONTROL. BG corrals a loose ball in the paint with tons of traffic and just elevates, turns in the air and banks in a jump-hook. 5 percent of players in the League make that play. Maybe more like 3 percent.
-He misses a short hook, but then sprints back on defense to prevent a lay-up for a guy that was clearly not his responsibility.
-BG seems as comfortable on the block with his back to the basket as he does setting screens in the high post. Here he posts up on the right block and draws a double-team, but doesn’t hang on too long and finds a cutting teammate who gets fouled. Two free throws.
2:53 in the 2nd 43-46 BG is 5-10 11p/4r.
**At this point in the game, Blake has done little to fully assert himself as the dominate presence in the game. However, his teammate, Eric Gordon is not so passive. This cat is quicker than I thought, but more importantly, stronger! He may go harder to the basket than any guard in the league. STRONG! It goes without saying, but it appears the Clippers have struck gold with this tandem.**
-Back on the block, BG tries to post up his Oklahoma City neighbor, Williams, who was his match for much of the game. An offensive foul is called on BG for grabbing back Williams’ own hand. No argument, glare or muttering under his breath.
-Off a Gordon 3-point miss; BG snares a long rebound but gets stripped below by one of those pesky guards.
-He’s pulled with 6 seconds to go but reinserted when the Clippers get a last-second shot to end the half. The ball does, ultimately come to BG, but he has to unsuccessfully chuck up a fall-away deep shot from the corner.
**HALFTIME 49-49 BG is 5-12 with 11 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block.**
-BG seems to be playing in a different spot this half. Actually it seems that LAC Head Coach Vinny Del Negro is running a different set with more high post entry feeds to Blake rather than high screen-and rolls with him.
-Baron Davis can’t make a high post feed, so ball gets reversed and BG dives to the post and gets the ball. A bit out of position, he kicks it back out, then reposts. Again, he flashes a classic fundamental part of basketball that is largely absent from the pro game. However, after making his move, an apparent foul is not called on Nene. Rookies don’t get calls. For the first time, he seems a bit frustrated. (Meanwhile Clipper center, DeAndre Jordan has griped, glared and seemed offended by every call that has not gone his way.)
-While he doesn’t seem too foul prone, Blake does have active hands and here strips Melo down low.
-I have not seen one pick-and-roll this quarter, instead, the aforementioned high-post entries followed by flare-screens or dribble-handoffs. Blake is not near as much a part of the offense when he can’t dive to the hole or post, reverse pivot and face up from 10-15 feet.
-He continues to struggle in the third, as Williams is really making life tough on the rookie.
-5:27 left in the 3rd 65-67 Clippers lead only by two despite the fact that Denver can’t make any shots, but they are going to the free-throw line with regularity. BG has 11 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks.
-They finally run Gordon off of a Griffin high screen and they connect with BG getting an easy lay-up.
Blake sits the last four minutes of the quarter.
**Denver’s Ty Lawson hits a half-court-plus buzzer beater to give Denver an 81-77 lead going into the fourth. BG is 6-16 for 13p/9r/3a/4 turnovers/2b.**
-The Nuggets chase out quickly to a 9-point lead on the heels of that buzzer beater.
-Blake is struggling from the outside and should abandon the perimeter and get try to get his points around the hoop. He takes my “advice” but this time gets stripped, which is his fifth turnover of the night.
-The Clippers are again taking my mental suggestions, as they start running Gordon off of Blake with regularity. After a well-defended dive by BG, the ball gets swung back to Brian Cook who knocks down the open 3 from the top of the key. Cook continues to get this open shot and his production gets the Clippers back into the game.
-BG posts up after a high-post dive and gets great position. Instead of rushing his game, he starts to facilitate, finding another open cutter that gets to the free throw line. Seriously, I think BG has at least a half-dozen “free throw assists.”
-5:50 left in the game, 91-88 Denver. BG is 6-17 for 13/10/3/2/5TO
-Off of a long Clipper miss, BG attempts a put-back dunk, gets fouled and lands very hard.
-With 4:30 left, Cook and BG don’t talk out a defensive switch and Nene gets an open dunk. Clipper frustration and a 7-point deficit.
-Still down 7 with 3:30 left, BG catches a nice alley-oop from Baron Davis.
-On the next defensive possession, BG frustrates Carmelo Anthony and forces a turnover.
-With under 30 seconds remaining and the Clippers down 4, Blake gets a nice feed and draws an extremely hard foul, getting his right arm twisted on the floor. He truly seems hurt as he writhes in pain, clutching his right shoulder. He makes the first but short-strokes the second. Free-throws, I remember, were his Achilles Heel in college, too.
-The Clippers eventually lose 109-104 after some late-game Nugget free-throws.
-Griffin ends with one of his worst statistical evenings of his young career, but he was more than impressive in every other facet of the game. He played with maturity and patience. His only referee complaining seemed to happen when one of his teammates was “wronged,” but never did he “blame” the refs for one of his own mistakes. He took care of his defensive responsibilities and showed a consistently concerted effort on that end of the floor.
-After game, however, he was inquisitive about the free-throw discrepancy that largely affected the game’s flow and eventual outcome. (Here my recorder was cooperating)
“It was tough out there, playing them here in Denver. How many free throws did they shoot?”
Before I could relay the exact stat, teammate Chris Kaman (sitting to BG’s right and apparently competing in the National Fastest Texting Finals) blurted out, never looking up, “59 to our 29!”
Blake continued, obviously frustrated “You know, that says it all right there.”
But he paused and showed composure immediately, continuing, “I’m not saying going to say anything else.”
Kaman stepped back in, but this time as a reporter, “What about Carmelo didn’t have any fouls?”
Griffin quickly retorted, “Oh yeah, whatever, I’m not going to say anything else. All the fouls did make it tough to get into a flow but we didn’t execute or box out in the end.”
-His final line read 7-18 FG, 3-5 FT for 17 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 5 TOs. Again, one of his least numerically productive games (especially with the gargantuan games he has had lately, averaging 27/14 over his past 8 games), but not too bad for a rookie. In terms of where this game fell in the 82-game schedule, the outing might not be such a “quarter-pole downer.” If this type of performance constitutes what “laying an egg” looks likes now for Blake Griffin, the sky is the limit and I’ll take mine sunny-side-up.