One of the ways analysts project a player’s production is through similarity scores; other players of comparable attributes and stats, then integrate that information into the player one is projecting. ClipperBlog has opened up the archives looking for historical comparables to key members of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers team. Today is 2012-13 Blake Griffin and 1986-87 Karl Malone. This is the third in a series of four.
Then roll it.
Or pop it.
And that’s it.
Hopefully, Blake Griffin and Karl Malone are sending out holiday cards to their protectors this season, because without Chris Paul and John Stockton, the forwards’ careers may look a bit different.
Malone came into the league with a different reputation than Griffin. Both were big, bulky forwards with superheroic athleticism, but Griffin was a high-profile, high-flying, Big 12 talent that was the guaranteed No. 1 overall pick.
Malone, on the other hand, was coming from the mostly unacknowledged Louisiana Tech University, where he hardly played any top-tier competition. But both showed in their first NBA season that jumping over the opposition was a viable option for a young, NBA player.
The biggest commonality between 23-year-old Malone and 23-year-old Griffin may not actually directly involve either of them. Both players succeed ultimately in the pick-and-roll and have been lucky enough to find Stockton and Paul under their respective Christmas trees.
In the 1986-87 season, Stockton was still rounding into shape. He wasn’t yet historically dominant, not yet in the echelon in which Paul rests. His jumper wasn’t consistently there until his sixth year in the league, but Stockton always had the vision. He could always dominate off the dribble and that pick-and-roll with Malone was basketball beauty wrapped into a couple bounces, a pass, and a shot.
Griffin’s ability to roll is similar to Malone’s. They are both so powerful. If a truck driver has his foot on the accelerator, no one can stop a tractor trailer, especially if that vehicle is able to go from zero-to-sixty as well as a Ferrari. Or a Kia, I guess.
It wasn’t until later in his career that Malone perfected the pick-and-pop. His shot wasn’t fully there right out of college and neither were his free throws, something to which Griffin can surely relate.
When Griffin’s jumpers fall shorter than Malone’s 1985 Draft Day tie and his free throws only lead to clanks, just keep in mind that 24-and-older Malone hit 75.7 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe after shooting only 54.8 percent in his first two seasons.
Griffin’s shot is getting there. In fact, it’s become a myth to say that Blake doesn’t have a jumper. He can be inconsistent. Some nights are better than others. But either way, he’s sinking 39.3 percent of his shots from 16-to-23 feet, continuing his year-to-year improvement.
With the development of his jumper could come progress at the line. Griffin has been working with Clippers’ shooting coach Bob Thate on a hitch that has plagued him throughout his career. Some nights, that hitch is gone. Some nights, it decides to come back without a warning.
But the free throw shooting is improved, up to 63.3 percent this year after falling to 52.1 percent last season, a lockout-shortened year with no training camp. Because of those unusual circumstances, it could be more appropriate to consider 2011-12 as a mere extension of Griffin’s rookie year and not its own individual season. It was so quirky, so different from the longer, slower 82-gamers that allow for more one-on-one time with coaches and practice time with teammates.
So if this is Griffin’s de facto second year, maybe the free throws finally take the rise next season. Once Malone’s percentage increased, so did his confidence. He used his power and agility to get to the line at a better rate than anyone else in the NBA. He led the league in free throw attempts seven times and in free throw makes eight times. Griffin, whose free throw rate has steadily decreased in each of his pro seasons, is capable of doing the same thing. Those 5.5 free throw attempts per 36 minutes should change. And they can change. The confidence just needs to be there.
It all starts with free throws. If Griffin and Thate solve that, it should all transform from there. And if it does, he has a chance to become his generation’s Malone.