The Not So New, But Very Much Improved Blake Griffin
Is there a player in today’s NBA that has moved around the spectrum of overrated to underrated more than Los Angeles Clippers’ forward, Blake Griffin? Maybe Russell Westbrook, but unlike Griffin, Westbrook’s game has remained relatively consistent throughout his career barring the astronomical statistics we saw last year. Like Westbrook last year, Griffin has seen the departure of a franchise superstar and seen his game skyrocket in ways that not many saw possible. Paul leaving for Houston is the best thing to happen to Blake Griffin’s career since he was traded to the Clippers in the first place back in 2011.
In nine games, it’s safe to say that Blake is having the best season since 2013-14 where he came third in MVP voting. Funnily enough, a key reason why he polled so well was the absence of Chris Paul for 18 games due to a shoulder injury. However, it is finally time to assess the high-flyer without referencing the Point God.
Griffin currently has the highest effective field goal percentage of his career so far at 55.9%, despite the fact he’s taking more three-point shots per game than he ever has. In fact the most he’s attempted per game was less than two, whereas now he’s jacking up five. His efficiency from the perimeter has improved markedly as well. As of nine games in, he’s shooting 42.2% from the arc; his best percentage since 2014-15 where he only took 25 shots from there for the entire season (he’s taken 45 in nine games). The volume of shots he’s taken from deep is reflective in his shot selection too. Griffin has taken a whopping 31% of his 16 field goal attempts from the perimeter. It has made him a more complete player offensively and lead to plays such as this:
Surprisingly his three-point percentage is higher than his field goal percentage from 16ft to the three-point line (25%) and even better than from close to the basket at 3-10 ft (41.7%). His much improved perimeter shooting has also opened up the threat where he can be absolutely lethal around the rim, case in point A:
And point B:
Another statistical category that has grown in prominence via NBA.com is the player impact estimate. It shows the statistical contribution an individual player has overall against the total statistics in games they play in; in essence how much one player impacts their team as whole. Griffin is equal ninth in that category, showing how important he is to this reformed Clippers team.
While Griffin is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Clippers nowadays his usage has barely gone up, in comparison to some seasons it’s actually dropped.
He’s nowhere the top players in the category: Kristaps Porzingis (35.7%), James Harden (35.6%) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (33.8%). His teammate, Lou Williams, has a similar percentage at 26.5%, albeit Williams spends the majority of his time with the second units.
Griffin has often been revered for his passing game as a big man. Many pundits expected an increase in assist numbers though at this early stage they remain relatively on par with his career average of 4.2.
He’s passing the ball at a rate of 57.7 passes per game which is good enough for 17th in the NBA, so he’s still moving the ball consistently. He’s also eighth in assists per game for forwards behind only: LeBron James, Ben Simmons, Draymond Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Khris Middleton and James Johnson.
In the absence of the ball dominant and highly efficient, Chris Paul, Blake’s turnover percentage has increased to 12.7%; the highest number since 2012-13, though a similar number to his near MVP year in 2013-14 where that number was at 12.4%. With an increased responsibility for Griffin there’s likely to be fluctuations in that area of his game. Along with an increase in turnover rate, Griffin is creating his own shot a whole lot more. His two-point fields made via assists (2FGM% AST) is the lowest of his career by a significant margin, as is his three-point percentage.
That’s the area, along with his three-point shooting, where Griffin’s game has changed the most. In the absence of passing savant, Milos Teodosic, Griffin has been forced to find his own shot on a much higher basis. As evidenced by the numbers above, his efficiency hasn’t been affected by that; if anything it has caused him to improve and become a more well-rounded and even more dominant offensive player.
The numbers show Griffin has changed in a number of ways, a lot of them for the better. He talked about his goals for the season to Rachel Nichols of ESPN a few days ago:
“For us this season it’s about proving ourselves.”
That desire has certainly shown in the early parts of the 2017-18 season. However, Griffin’s biggest change may have come in his leadership style which he also commented on ESPN’s The Jump:
“Sometimes it’s (about) saying the unpopular thing.”
All stats via Basketball Reference, NBA.com and Cleaning The Glass.