Photo Credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
Heroes, past and present, are all wrought with foibles. It’s part of what compels and endears us to them. There’s no shortage of flawed superstars, either— James Harden on defense, Kobe Bryant and his affinity for bad shot selection, Dwight Howard at the stripe. Exclude LeBron James and there isn’t an unblemished talent in the NBA. Most of the time, we acknowledge both sides of the coin but laud stars for the things that separate them from the pack.
With Blake Griffin, it’s different. It’s the nature of the thing, really: The young poster boy for a fraudulent contender, he involuntary triggered a potentially dangerous narrative every time he jumped two feet off the floor. The short-lived stretch of flamboyant complaints to referees was like throwing stones at a glass house. A string of posterizing dunks? He was just asking for it. Griffin is now one of the NBA’s premier forwards, a transition terror and a guaranteed source of entertainment to the tune of 22.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Still, the popularized wisdom of the day is only too keen to punish his shortcomings.
He can’t shoot. He can’t defend. He’s one dimensional. All he does is dunk.
But Griffin’s mid range shot is ever-improving. After finishing with a 35 percent mark last year, he’s shooting a 38.4 percent clip this season— just 0.8 percent below the league average. The early knock on Griffin was his lack of a post game. Blake’s problem wasn’t that he didn’t have moves, he just didn’t hedge his bets well. Now, he leverages his strength and speed to maximize the utility of his post repertoire. That’s spelt an improvement from 0.88 points per play in the post to 0.97— improving his rank from 42nd in the league to an astounding 22nd.
After a season-high 40 point effort against Utah, Griffin credited his new-found assertion to improved free throw shooting. At 56.7 percent over his first two seasons, Griffin was a putrid free throw shooter— a point of, you guessed it, contempt. This season, he’s shooting 71.3 percent from the charity stripe.
“It’s just the confidence to step up and make free throws… It’s allowing me to attack a little bit more. I almost welcome those fouls.”
There is one remaining solace for the ‘all he does is dunk’ side. Griffin, the everyman that he is, sometimes opts to dunk the ball after beating an opponent in the post.
Against Detroit, the Pistons doubled Griffin in the post with two minutes remaining in the first quarter. No matter. Griffin’s ongoing tirade is all-around scintillating but playmaking is where he truly activates the dormant layers of the brain. How many big men can grab a rebound, initiate a fast break, dribble the ball up the floor—with two or three behind the back and spin moves, just for good measure—and deliver a perfect no-look pocket pass to a shooter? It’s a one-man list.
Unlike most athletic bigs, Griffin isn’t just a mere force of nature in transition; he’s the driver, a skilled practitioner. And the bravado doesn’t falter in a slowed down half court setting. With Chris Paul sidelined, Griffin has settled in as the starters’ primary playmaker with an infinite understanding of every contour in the Clippers’ evolving offense.
None of this is to say Griffin doesn’t have flaws, nor that we shouldn’t give them credence. He does and we should. But the mockery doesn’t only ring hollow, it clouds the talent of a player who is so profusely greater than any of his shortcomings. Yes, a big man as the leading attacker in transition can feel like an uncomfortable act of theatre. But it’s more perplexing for the opponent than it is the viewer. And in this league, a confused defense is a roasted defense.
So, the question on the table becomes this: When do we stop punishing Griffin for his shortcomings and begin to appreciate the unique talent which only he can bring to said table? When do we let Griffin be Griffin? Because, with the aforementioned exception of LeBron James, Blake Griffin might be the best point forward in the NBA and not even know it.