With Blake’s 47 point destruction of the Pacers on Monday, the Clippers have been showered with attention, mostly Blake-centric with a smattering of Gordon and Baron in the mix.
- John Hollinger’s statistical breakdown of Blake’s historic rookie year:
In the past four decades or so, however, players have routinely left school early and taken more lumps as NBA rookies. In that light, Griffin’s rookie season seems even better. Only two rookies in the past 40 years have exceeded Griffin’s current 23.26 PER, and one of them was a 24-year-old David Robinson. The other was a fairly decent player by the name of Michael Jordan.
Everybody else takes a back seat to Griffin. EVERYBODY. Shaq, Duncan, Magic, Bird — no dice, fellas. The comparison of Griffin to other dominant big men of recent vintage is particularly noteworthy. Once we adjust for pace and minutes, as I’ve done in the chart, his rookie season seems completely in place next to those of Robinson, Duncan, Shaq, and Olajuwon. And in one respect (his passing ability) he’s already far beyond them and nearly into Larry Bird/Chris Webber territory.
Hollinger has plenty more words and graphs to chart the significance of Blake’s year, but no matter how you look at it, the above two paragraphs put everything in context. Blake’s year is phenomenal.
- Old friend D.J. Foster peeks into the question of the clutch performer on the Clips, not surprisingly, it’s Eric Gordon:
Gordon ranks 15th in the league in points per 48 minutes in the clutch – maybe not the most impressive number, but there’s more to it. Of those players ahead of him, Gordon is 5th in field-goal percentage, 4th in free-throw percentage, and 3rd in 3-point field-goal percentage. As far as efficiency goes in the top tier, only two players – Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry – have been better than Gordon this season. The percentages across the board speak for themselves: 52 percent shooting, 40 percent from 3, and 91 percent from the free-throw line.
Compare those numbers to Kobe Bryant’s. Widely considered the most “clutch” player in all of basketball, Bryant is shooting 38 percent overall, 21 percent from 3, and 89 percent from the free-throw line. That’s not to say Gordon as a whole is more clutch than Kobe, who obviously has hit plenty of big shots and continues to hit big shots. But at the very least, the numbers do show that Gordon is much more efficient with the game on the line than Kobe has been this season.
It’s dangerous to read too much into one game, but let’s look at what happened when the two met up with the game on the line this Sunday. Check out each player’s line when the game was within 5 points with 6 minutes left, and keep in mind that Gordon and Bryant covered each other for a good portion of this time:
Bryant: zero points, 0-for-1 from the field, 1 assist and 1 turnover.
Gordon: 8 points, 3-for-3 from the field, 2-for-2 from behind the arc, 2 assists, no turnovers and 1 steal.
Having watched every game this season, it doesn’t surprise me at all, but I continue to marvel at how simple those big plays feel. Seemingly every night Gordon knocks down momentum-changing shots and does it with bravado, yet somehow it feels normal or expected. It’s more than that though, because fans have expected players like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan to come through too, and they’ve been ‘loud.’. I think what differentiates Gordon is the low-difficulty of the shot he gets (a large reason for those efficient stats), he’s not making fadeaways with opponents in his jersey, he’s making open layups, dunks and threes because he has shook his defender so well. It’s a testament to his patience and his ability that he gets those shots, but I find it fascinating that more people haven’t caught on to his play, he’s often highlight worthy. On top of his dunks and clutch threes, he has one of the most unique plays in the game, that lay-back floater as he goes to the rim. I haven’t seen that shot from anyone else.
- Yahoo’s Marc Spears tackles the issue of retaliation on Blake’s play, something that has caused many a Clipper fan or NBA fan to cringe on many occasions:
In the process, Griffin also has become something else – a target for many opponents who have grown weary of his limitless energy and flyover act.
In the closing seconds of the Clippers’ victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, Lamar Odom(notes) grabbed Griffin by the jersey and tried to yank him off the court, igniting a brief scrum that led to the ejection of four players. Odom’s complaint: Blake was battling too hard for a rebound – or, in Odom’s words, delivering a “ram in the back” – in a game that had already been decided.
Griffin didn’t retaliate, throwing up his hands in defense and trying to back away from Odom. But his teammates – in particular, veteran point guard Baron Davis(notes) – have grown increasingly frustrated with the perceived “cheap shots” the young forward has been subject to from opponents. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports on Friday, Davis said it was time for the Clippers to start protecting Griffin. He made good on his vow, pushing Odom and jawing at the Lakers forward during the scrum.
Frankly, I think the cheap shots have been dramatically reduced since the Andre Miller tackling incident. Lamar’s move was just grabbing him from the front, something that Blake can manage. What were more dangerous were the holds on the shoulders from behind as Blake went up for dunks earlier in the season. Thankfully, I haven’t seen too much of that lately. The physical play or Lamar confronting him face to face is part of the game, but the takedowns are what should be nipped.
- SI.com’s Zach Lowe even delves into this year’s surprising evolution:
As for this season’s Clippers, folks are starting to wonder if they’re good enough to contend for the final playoff spot. They likely dug themselves too big of a hole when they started 1-13, but it’s clear something has changed in the last month. If their upward trend continues, the Clippers could easily approach 35 wins. That would be a nice start.
So, what exactly has changed in the last 14 games? For starters, the Clippers are playing like an elite club on both ends. Over that span, the Clippers are scoring 108.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Hoopdata.com. That’s about seven points higher than their season average, and it would rank fifth in the league, tied with their Staples Center co-tenants. And on defense, L.A. has yielded just 103.4 points per 100 possessions in that stretch. That’s about the league average on D, but league average is a huge improvement for the Clippers, who rank 23rd in points allowed per possession for the full season.
Their points differential over their last 14 games — +4.7 points per 100 possessions — would rank eighth in the league, right behind the Mavs. That is a real improvement, and it has come against a decent schedule and not a parade of cream puffs.
Lots of good stuff right? The Clippers continue to play better and better. Despite Hollinger’s prediction that the Clippers are going to slide back down because their schedule was so home heavy, I think that the Clippers are improving so much that a similar 16-26 or worse record down the stretch would be a disappointment, even with the heavy road schedule.
Keys to the Game:
- Three pointers. Not a surprise, since the Clippers are still giving up 39 percent from three on the season, but there was an especially big difference in the game that the Clippers won and the game that they lost. In November, the Wolves eked out a win over the Clips in large part due to their 53 percent shooting from three (10 for 19). But in the Clipper win in December the Wolves “only” shot 39 percent from three (7 for 18).
- Rebounding. Led by the best rebounder in basketball Kevin Love, the Wolves are a top 5 team in both total rebounds (due to pace) and rebound rate. The Clippers, however, are the top team in rebound rate, not just because of Blake Griffin, but DeAndre Jordan. In their win against the Wolves, the Clippers had 20 more rebounds than the Wolves. Granted, it ended up a bloodbath, but that kind of success on the glass correlates to wins for the Clips. In the first game they played the Clippers just barely had a better rebound total and lost a close one. They have the athleticism and drive to get the rebounds, they just need to focus on it (like they usually do) because that’s where they will control the game.
- Don’t be scared of the pace of play. The Wolves have the most possessions per 48 minutes in the league, but they’re not nearly the offensive team that the Clippers are. They have the same turnover rates but the Clippers are 15th in eFG percentage and Minnesota is 22nd. Not only that, but the Wolves don’t have the athletes that the Clippers have. If the game starts to go fast, the Clippers don’t need to worry about that, instead they need to focus on their own fundamentals.
- Chris Kaman left ankle, out
- Brian Cook right ankle, doubtful
- Craig Smith herniated disc, out
Note: I’ll be on ESPN’s Daily Dime Live chatting it up during the game.