Let’s talk about snow for a second—it’s that time of year. Heading up to Alta in Utah in a couple of weeks for my annual Manly Men ski trip, a bunch of pathetic middle age guys who happen to be pretty good skiers. Alta is an amazing place that happens to get about 500 inches of snow every year, and the entire Wasatch gets a regular extra dumpage because of what is known as the Lake Effect. I was just in Syracuse early last month when the same thing happened there, a big storm stalling over a big lake and dumping snow in multiples of feet, not inches.
It’s funny to think about the way that fans and pundits speculate on an upcoming season. We’re all a lot like weather watchers, amateur and professional. We think we have a pretty good idea about what to expect from established patterns, some basic metrics, and how the more things change the more they stay the same. But a team still has to go out and play the games, and the storms of injury and emotion battle against experience or the lack of it. We never really know what’s going to happen.
We knew that Blake Griffin was going to be a great basketball player. Now that he has played 35 games with some success it makes his absence last season even more bizarre, and it seems incredible that he was something of an afterthought in the Rookie of the Year conversation because of the excitement about John Wall. Griffin was certainly a strong and formidable contender, but people worried about his injury and trotted out the dictum that all things Clipper will go wrong one way or another. These are the same people who thought the Clippers might mess up a #1 pick in a no-brainer draft. It didn’t happen. What did happen is that Griffin had to sit out an entire season, getting what I like to call an M.A. in NBA Studies, a degree that is an important factor to remember in analyzing his performance thus far and through the end of a truly extraordinary rookie season. It really is a perfect storm. The dumpage or dunkage or whatever you want to call it is truly astonishing, an ongoing marvel to behold.
And now, as the weeks go by and the snow of highlights, points, rebounds and now even wins piles up, we can begin to see a noticeable Blake Effect. Some NBA scientists might have predicted it, but not many, and the most optimistic views were cautious about connecting anything extraordinary to standard Clipper futility. Naysayers nodded confidently at their smart bets as the team started 1-13 and Chris Kaman suffered a quietly disastrous injury. One unknown property of the Blake Effect, however, is that silver linings seem to abound and produce gentle, soft, deep snow, rather than nasty sleet.
The best general approach to begin measuring the Blake Effect is to look at the amazing progress of the Clippers’ U23 team. From a player development standpoint, the Clipper rookies and youngsters have gotten unimaginable experience, success, and confidence. It would be one thing if it was just Griffin getting solid minutes and putting together a nice rookie season. Or if Eric Bledsoe got a few starts and performed well, showing that he could play the point and might turn into a competent backup one day. Or if Al-Farouq Aminu, clearly a longterm project, worked his way onto a beachhead in the rotation with rebounding and defense. The main hope might have been that Eric Gordon was ready to step up as a primary option and solid scorer, that he would fulfill his promise as a 20+ ppg scorer and show some progress after a good run with Team USA.
But no, it’s not just Griffin’s shocking effectiveness and fast-growing mastery. Griffin is the clear leader, with a deadly full partner in Gordon, of an entire team of surprising accomplishment, skill, and promise. All five U23 guys are progressing at an extraordinary rate. These are silver linings to injuries and futility. It’s also a clear marker of the Blake Effect.
Next comes Aging Point Guard Baron Davis. APGBD’s futility over his first two Clipper seasons has been painful to watch. He went away depressed at the end of last season’s catastrophe and set himself up for failure by enriching his life experience, at the expense of focusing on basketball. What could go wrong did go wrong in September, October and November, and APGBD’s Clipper tailspin continued. Enter the Blake Effect. As good and intriguing as Eric Bledsoe has been, over the past two weeks we’ve had a chance to see Clipper Baron Davis 2.0, a pass-first point guard with good shot selection, a low turnover rate, superb court sense, and a maestro’s touch at getting the ball to the flying Clipper big men. As he put it last night: “it’s been a couple of years.” At least. What we’re seeing now is not only the Blake Effect on Baron Davis, but the kind of role APGBD can play on a team with this type of athleticism and talent.
Griffin might have an assassination partner in Eric Gordon, but one of the things that is most satisfying about the Blake Effect is that he also has a lovable sidekick. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan formed an immediate bond as soon as Griffin was drafted and came to LA. They were remarkable together in summer league in ’09. I thought that no one perhaps suffered more from Griffin’s shelving last season than DJ, who lost his partner. It was a feeling, unclear at the time, that DeAndre Jordan would be a primary beneficiary of the Blake Effect. And oh how obvious that was in last night’s game. DJ has been steady and solid, making great progress over 35 games, and he was ready to break out. What seemed clear suddenly became obvious. And DJ’s big night was the ultimate Blake Effect silver lining: Kaman’s injury, which prevented the Clippers from being in playoff contention this year, accelerated DJ’s development and made a key element of the Clippers future absolutely clear. We saw something extremely important revealed last night: we can expect Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, and DeAndre Jordan to be playing together for a very long time.
All of a sudden we can have a new conversation: shouldn’t Jordan be the starter, and when Chris Kaman returns he should come off the bench? Jordan is like Andrew Bynum, a massive anchor, rebounds and defense personified. Kaman can provide shot-making, offensive options, and great defense off the bench. There are plenty of minutes to go around between Griffin, Kaman and Jordan. It’d be nice if Kaman could come back before the Laker game, to see them go against Bynum-Gasol-Odom. But we’ll get there when we get there. In the meantime, we can look forward to every game with great excitement, knowing we will see a rapidly evolving, improving, dynamic team, knowing that we are witnessing the Blake Effect. It’s real.