Trainer, coach and ESPN.com contributor David Thorpe was in Minneapolis on Wednesday for the Clippers’ narrow loss to the Timberwolves. He had a chance to get a close look at the Clippers’ trio of rookie and came away with these impressions:
There’s almost nothing not to like about him. It’s a very, very short list.
He’s got an issue with his shot and it’s pretty severe. He has a severe hitch in his jump shot. It’s not Chuck Hayes-esque, but it’s not far from it. Mechanically, he actually has a “wrist turn” — it’s hard to see unless you watch up close or in slow motion. As he’s setting the ball before he releases it, his hand definitely moves. I don’t love that. It’s not something you normally can repeat every single time, and every little change in that mechanic tends to lead to more missed shots. One of the reasons why the hitch is a problem is that he’s a little bit undersized for that position, especially since 5s will guard him at times because he’s so powerful. And the hitch — by definition — makes it a slower release, which invites a better contest from his defender.
Now, if he develops a little craft, he can actually have a more effective shot-fake-attack game because players might be more committed to contesting his shot knowing that they can. Sometimes, when you’re defending a shooter with a quick release, you won’t contest it because you know you’re not going to get there anyway. That’s not the case with Griffin. So it can actually work to his favor to some degree if he develops a really nice shot-fake attack move. He doesn’t have that yet.
That’s about the only negative I can see. He’s already the best slashing 4 in the league. I can’t think of a better one. He’s so powerful. It’s almost like a primal jump where you don’t even see him coming and all of a sudden he’s all over the rim on a cut. It causes problems for defenders who are trying to get over to the ball side, or at least get one foot on the ball side for a second or two before they get a 3-second call. Griffin hides on that baseline. Anytime they go up the floor and out towards the ball, they can’t recover fast enough to him. He’s moving that quickly and jumping that explosively with power behind him, so he’s not vulnerable to any kind of physical play.
Defensively, it’s hard to evaluate a player individually when there’s not a good strategy and synchronicity among the five players, but he should be an outstanding defender. Not just a good one — an outstanding one. He should be a great ball-screen hedger. Also, for example, one of the most common plays in the NBA when you have a good center is a pick-and-roll to the rim if that picker is an athletic dude who can get right to the rim and the other big is a shooter. The defender of the shooter has to rotate to protect the rim. And if you don’t do that with some speed and power, you’re going to get victimized. Griffin will be great in that situation. So as a ball-screen hedger and a helper in the paint off the ball, he should be really good. I don’t think he’ll be much of a shot blocker, but he’s not going to be a zero. You can’t just shoot the ball casually when you beat your man and not account for Blake Griffin. He’s capable enough and he plays above the rim.
I love him. I constantly see him thinking when it looks like he’s about to make a mistake — he’ll catch himself and make the right play. I watched him for a week in Las Vegas (Summer League) and he made so many bad plays. He’s so much better now.
I’d like to see him race John Wall. I’m not convinced Wall would win — that’s how fast I think Bledsoe is. He’s a jet. Watching him live, I think he’s as fast as any guys I’ve seen in a couple of years at pushing the ball up the floor. He’s a blur — and he’s powerful. As an old SEC football fan from Florida, I think he and Eric Gordon would make an amazing tailback tandem like Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams at Auburn.
His shot looks good. I think he’ll be a pretty good one with a chance to be a great one. He’s grown in almost every facet of the game. Baron being hurt is the biggest blessing the Clippers ever got because the one silver lining of this season is they may get what Philadelphia got last season when it was forced to play Jrue Holiday. Even now, as bad as the Sixers are, nobody is arguing that he’s not a legitimate starter even though he’s only 20 years old. I feel the same way about the Clippers. They may very well have their starting point guard. I don’t think we knew that going in.
Minnesota is not the best team to watch to evaluate how a point guard defends the ball screen. Bledsoe had a little trouble with Ridnour, who’s crafty, but like Blake Griffin, Bledsoe should be a plus defender. There’s no question he has the length, athleticism, strength and quick feet. If he does not grow into a good defender, it’s his fault or the coaching staff’s fault — they’re both part of that equation. He doesn’t have any physical limitations.
He’s very much an “incomplete.” His talent is immense. He’s no Joe Alexander at the No. 8 pick. He’s going to play in the NBA a long time, especially if keeps shooting 3s, which is actually something I wish he’d stop even though he’s making them right now. I just don’t trust that he’ll make them all season and I think it takes away from what should be a dominant offensive rebounder at that position. As a small forward, he should be just a terrific offensive rebounder, but I think he’s a little lazy. He likes to hang around the perimeter. And because he’s allowed to shoot that 3, he does, but I don’t think that’s good for him.
He’s doing a nice job of sprinting the floor when opportunities arise, but I don’t think he does it consistently — which is something they can coach. On Wednesday night, when he saw a run-out chance, he flew. But when he didn’t see it, he didn’t. When you start picking and choosing, you’re losing opportunities to create shots for teammates or maybe even sometimes yourself. Kevin Love is a great example on the other side. When Minnesota’s wings fly up the floor and attract defensive attention, Love is able to get some pretty easy trailer 3s. When they don’t, Love doesn’t because the bigs that are back on defense don’t have to worry about protecting the paint. So I think Aminu needs to learn how to play harder, which is not unlike any rookie.
The biggest problem I saw was on the offensive end. He has no chance right now. He can’t defend the ball. He can’t defend cuts, and he certainly can’t defend any kind of ball screen — he has no idea what to do, which is like every other rookie who used to be a 4 and is now playing the 3.
Kurt Rambis said something interesting. He said, “When you’ve got at the 4 who’s been playing the 3 his whole life, sometimes it takes month and sometimes it takes years to figure out how to defend ball screens.”
For Aminu, there’s not just a physical component. There’s footwork, timing, mental approach, stance — all those things factor into on the ball and ball-screen defense. You don’t just do the same thing to every player and in every situation. Some of these balls screens happen so fast. And, because of switches, Aminu doesn’t always end up guarding a 3. That’s tough for the Clippers. Gordon and Aminu is a tough combination because against a lot of teams, Gordon is going to have to guard a much bigger 3 and Aminu is going to have to guard a much smaller 2. In both cases, they’re mismatches. For instance, here’s what happened against Minnesota. The Timberwolves got into a switch where Gordon was guarding Beasley. And I thought, there’s no way Beasley is going to be able to take Gordon to the rim because Gordon is just too powerful and too low to the ground. But Beasley, being a very advanced offensive player, just let everyone clear out of the way, took a nice little dribble, then took an uncontested 15-foot shot like he would any day in his life when no one is guarding him because Gordon gives up seven inches to him.
By the same token, Aminu, against little guys, is just going to be a foul magnet or he’s going to create all kinds of 5-on-4 or 4-on-3 situations because he won’t be able to move with those little guys. I almost think Gordon is better off playing with a smaller 3 on the defensive side so he doesn’t have to worry about it because it’s a mismatch in either direction — or a bigger 2 for Aminu. Not being able to switch 2/3 screens gives an offense so many more variables to run.
Defense always starts below the knees and above the neck. I have no doubt that Aminu will become much, much better, but it’s just not there yet. He’s not going to be able to stay in front of guys — even if he wants to, which I’m entirely sure he does.
I didn’t see any interest at all in doing anything other than wanting to dunk and shoot 3s. There didn’t seem to be much interest in the little things, whereas as Gordon, Bledsoe and and Griffin are very interested and very invested in all those nuances that win and lose the game. Now, Aminu is a young kid, so I’m not at all being judgmental in a big-picture sense. He absolutely can learn that. But for now, he just looks to me like someone that is out there ballin’ and there’s no thought about winning. That’s going to have to be developed. Bledsoe has it, Gordon has it, Griffin has it. At some point they should be demanding of him as leaders.