A few weeks ago I wrote our NBA Draft Value Column, where I broke down the value of the top 32 players in the NBA. According to that post I had Blake as the 13th most valuable player, but I’m starting to see evidence that I may have undervalued him even there. Before this season began, Blake was arguably a top 3 “must-watch” player in the NBA behind LeBron and KD. This was mainly, if not entirely, due to his freakish athleticism and ability to catch an ‘Oop from just about anywhere on the floor. However, for as amazing an athlete as Blake was, his “watchability” and his actual “ability” were not nearly at equal level. But fast forward 6 months and damn do we have a different story now. Over the course of this season Blake has taken his game to a different level, culminating in his 37 point game on Monday night.
Highlights from Blake’s 37 point Game 3/10 vs Phoenix: 14/16 FG, 9/10 FT, 6 Reb
Blake absolutely dismantled the Suns on Monday night, and he did it with way more than just points in transition; something which Blake has been doing with almost nightly consistency this entire season. Blake has always been a good low post player, but his improved footwork this season has allowed him to take advantage of his speed and athleticism while operating on the block. He can hook that elbow and spin to the basket going either direction. He can receive the pass with his back to the basket, and pull the ball through and face up his defender giving him the option to drive to the hoop (usually to his right, but he can go baseline as well) or pull up for the J. He also operates really quickly, not pounding the ball excessively, which prevents defenses from being able to rotate over to help in the paint. But his biggest improvement by far, as can be seen in his game against Phoenix, is in his shooting.
Blake’s midrange game has developed into a thing of beauty. Once a guy who, when he faced up, his defenders dared to shoot, Griffin is now making them pay for sagging off of him. He is becoming deadly from 17 ft in. According to BasketballReference.com, Blake is hitting on 41% of his jumpers longer than 3ft (his shooting percentage inside of 3ft is an insane 74%). This is making his face-up game even more problematic for defenders. The threat of him hitting that little 10-15ft jumper means that defenders need to play up tighter on him. When they do this, Blake can take advantage of his explosive first step and blow by them to the rim. Otherwise, if they sag off, he’s becoming totally comfortable just sitting there and hitting the J. Add this to the fact that Blake is also now able to hit his elbow jumpers with regularity, and his defender can’t even get too tight on him to deny the entry pass. When they do this, Blake has proven the ability to utilize a “pindown” screen and float up to the elbow and knock down the jumper or put the ball on the floor and get to the rack.
Now let’s briefly mention the sick back shoulder spin, fadeaway jumper that Blake hit (41 sec mark of the above video) over Morris. The pure athleticism and grace he shows here is unprecedented from a true big. The only other players measuring 6’10 or taller that I’ve seen (in recent memory) hit that shot with any regularity are KG, KD, Dirk, and McGrady. Of these players, only KG was an actual big. The others were/are all hybrid guard/fowards. Either way, it’s a very impressive group to be mentioned with.
Griffin still does leave a lot to be desired on the defensive end (not that the majority of the NBA seems that concerned with playing any kind of defense). With his strength and athleticism there is really no reason that people should be scoring on him as easily as they do. However, I do believe he’ll get better with time. Defense is, for the most part, a question of effort. No one has ever questioned Blake’s effort on or off the court, even though they did question his toughness. But Blake has started addressing this of recent as well. In that same game against Phoenix on Monday night, Blake made sure to let PJ Tucker know that he’s not afraid to throw down if you’re going swing at his face. I mean, how’s he going to do all those Kia commercials if someone breaks his nose? Blake, like Ron Burgundy, clearly draws a line in the sand at the face.
All-in-all, if Blake finishes this season playing at this level, then I greatly underestimated his draft value. At 6’10 270lbs, with freakish athleticism and this midrange game, don’t you have to pick him over Kevin Love? I mean I am obsessed with Love’s game, but with Griffin playing like this and you had one game to win, wouldn’t you have to pick him? While CP3 was out, Griffin averaged 27 and 9 and led the clippers to a 12-6 record. Those numbers are MVP level, especially when you factor in the Clip’s winning percentage over that time. If Blake can use this off-season to learn to hit the corner 3 with any regularity, he’s going to become an absolutely impossible defensive assignment. If/when this happens, not only might the Clips may have the ability to make a deep run in the playoffs, but you may see Blake bring home an MVP trophy as well.