ESPN.com’s Chris Palmer writes a column once a week analyzing two similar players, coming to a conclusion through a five step process of Key Strength, Key Weakness, Secret Skill, Intangibles and Player POV. On the heels of the Clippers comeback upset of the Thunder, Palmer released a comparison of Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant with a judgement that shocked, and angered, many NBA fans. He chose Griffin as the better player.
Durant is as pure a scorer as there is and looks to be a perennial MVP candidate. But the league has simply never seen anything like Griffin’s skill set before. Despite the fact that Griffin has not yet mastered the nuances and subtleties of the pro game, Durant’s efficiency rating is only slightly better.
Griffin is the first rookie since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the 1969-70 season to average 22 points, 12 rebounds and three assists. His March 23 triple-double of 33 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists was the first time a rook posted at least 30-plus points, 15-plus rebounds and 10-plus assists in 50 years (Jerry West, 1961).
Griffin is a raw, mountain of a power forward in the early stages of understanding the NBA game, yet still averages a full assist more than the highly skilled Durant. He already does a lot of little things better, too. For example, passing out of double teams. (Griffin’s assisted on 85 3s to Durant’s 40.) With his rapidly improving ballhandling, floor vision and understanding of the game, Griffin could average six to seven assists without compromising his scoring one bit. Continuing to improve his free throw shooting would add 2-3 points to his average.
Durant’s averages of 6.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists are very solid, but he loses ground because he doesn’t necessarily improve those around him. Both players have a tremendous work ethic but what makes Griffin scary is his time warp-like improvements. He seems to add a new element to his game each month. In November, his bringing the ball up the floor was a novelty. Now it’s a weapon.
Despite his victory, Griffin has a long way to go. He isn’t particularly long and is bothered by post players who have exceptional length and must learn not to beat himself up when he makes a mistake. He could also stand to block more shots given his terrific hops.
Durant is a phenomenal talent who can explode for 40 on any given night. But there’s a way to deal with him — be physical and push him as far out as possible to disrupt his rhythm.
What makes this article so interesting, though, is the reader reactions. Here are just a few:
From DonDada118: “Griffin is better than Durant……..a better dunker……thats it, nothing else”
From gerrysmithaz: “Watched Griffin play this past Friday versus the Suns. For years, every player in the league has career games against the Suns. Griffin had to be put back in during garbage time to get his final statistics that totaled 20 points on 6 for 15 shooting. He had no touch or luck with any shot that wasn’t a dunk. He has springs for legs and can real elevate, but stars in the NBA must score in more ways than dunks and a few fast break layups.
Amare Stoudemire was far superior and showed more upside as a 19 year old rookie than this 22 year old rookie. Griffin is a good player, but he will never be a superstar. And an NBA championship will never be won by a team centered around Griffin. He just isn’t good enough!
Durant is far superior and has more upside and confidence than the overhyped, because he is in Los Angeles, Griffin.”
And there are many, many more that aren’t all that suitable to post.
Not to say there aren’t some valid points. I don’t believe that Blake Griffin is a better athlete than LeBron James, but even mentioning the two together alludes to the unbelievable physical gifts of Griffin. And to say that Kevin Durant “doesn’t necessarily improve those around him,” seems a bit excessive. But I’m not sure the commenters have watched enough Griffin to know that this comparison is much closer than they think.
To compare the offensive repertoire is silly, it’s like comparing LeBron and Kobe. Kobe is much more skilled than LeBron, but like LeBron, Blake doesn’t need the same level of intricacy in his game because he’s at such a ridiculous athletic advantage. Still, Blake has a handful of moves, the spins off the left and right block, the new little up and under, the righty bank off the glass and when his jump shot improves beyond just being passable, he’ll be uncontainable. Also, Palmer touched on something that I think he might have wanted to give more due: Blake improves so fast. Palmer mentioned dribbling as a November trick, but he failed to bring up his vastly improved free throw shooting and the fact that Blake is even starting to play good defense already.
I don’t have the gall to say that Blake is better than Kevin Durant just yet, but it’s close. However, I will say if Blake stays healthy, something that’s a greater concern with him than with KD, BG will be the better all-around pro.
Keys to the Game
– Keep cool. The last game featured 6 technical fouls and since there have only been a few days between games, so the anger my not have been completely squelched. The Clippers will probably bang with the Thunder, but they can’t let that affect their emotions. Also, the Thunder will have added motivation to win at home after the Clippers embarrassed them, which could mean some really hot offensive stretches. If the Clippers can deal with the emotion and the aggressive offense, then they’ll have a much better chance to pull of the upset, again.
– Continued defensive success on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The streak looked like it would break last game when Durant started hot (4 for his first 5 shots), but the Clippers buckled down and held Durant to 9 for 23 shooting. And on the season he’s even worse, averaging 20 points on 34.8 shooting and 6.7 rebounds. Westbrook is even worse, averaging 12.3 points 33 percent shooting and 7 assists. To start the year, Gomes did a great job guarding Durant, but even without Gomes the Clippers played Durant tough. There was an admirable platoon defense on Durant, with Jamario Moon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Randy Foye and Blake Griffin all got an opportunity to guard Durant. Although, I wouldn’t expect Foye to be as successful, seeing as he gives up at least 6 inches on KD.
– Perimeter offense (and I’m going to include Kaman in this). Kaman has, for a center, turned into much more of a jump shooter this year, which should work perfectly against the Thunder. If he drags Kendrick Perkins away from the paint, that gives Blake Griffin a whole lot more room to operate on Serge Ibaka. Aside from one huge block —
— Ibaka hasn’t done a great job on Blake (Blake went off for 26 points on 7 for 16 shooting and 16 rebounds). Also, Mo and Gordon need to play more efficiently, because they won’t have the same opportunity for heroics if they have similarly ineffective games. Westbrook and Sefalosha are elite defenders at their positions, so Gordon and Mo will have to be especially on point.
Ryan Gomes: knee, questionable