For the first time since his rookie campaign (2010-11), Blake Griffin will be the primary option for the Los Angeles Clippers. Griffin spent the last six seasons playing with Chris Paul, one of the best all-around guards in the NBA. With Paul now suiting up for the Houston Rockets, it’s time for Griffin to prove he can lead a team to the playoffs, though it might be tough in the stacked Western Conference. After a couple injury-filled seasons, it’s time for Blake Griffin to step up and embrace the new spotlight.
In what was relatively surprising news, the 28-year-old forward signed a monster five-year, $171 million extension during the offseason. It was expected by many that Griffin would leave the Clippers to explore free agency, especially with interest from high-profile teams such as the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder growing. After all, he was born in Oklahoma City and attended the University of Oklahoma, where he made a name for himself and became a first overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Blake Griffin throwing down 2 unbelievable dunks at Oklahoma…in the same game. pic.twitter.com/HhD4aAX64o
— Aram Cannuscio (@AramCann) September 18, 2017
For the upcoming 2017-18 season, the success of both the Clippers and Griffin will depend almost entirely on his health. Since entering the league, Griffin has experienced some of the worst injury history of anyone in the league, suffering a torn ACL, a broken hand, surgeries on his knee and toe, a torn quad, and plenty more. He’s missed 83 games over the past three seasons and appeared in just 35 games in 2015-16.
While Griffin is still one of the league’s premiere big men, the injuries are beginning to take a toll on him, and it can be seen not only in his stats, but also his playing style. His regression on the boards is most obvious; after finishing fourth in the NBA with 12.1 rebounds per game his rookie year, he’s averaged just 8.4 per game over the last five seasons. This can be traced to his enhanced abilities to play outside the paint, and now outside the three-point line. For the first time in his career, Griffin attempted over 100 three-point shots last year; his previous high was just 44.
For his first few NBA seasons, Griffin was known for two things: his quality rebounding and his absolutely vicious dunking. From 2010-2013, he averaged over 207 dunks per season, or 2.69 per game; last year, he dunked just 72 times, or 1.18 per game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Griffin has continued to improve his jump shot as well as his dribbling and passing abilities. This is exhibited in his increased assist numbers, better free throw percentage, and a dip in rebounding. Not to mention his teammate, fellow big man DeAndre Jordan, is an absolute ball magnet, averaging 14 rebounds per game over the last four years.
He no longer has to simply power through his opponents; he can beat slower big men off the dribble and finish at the rim, or he can shoot over a smaller defender. Of course, this won’t help his rebounding or his shooting percentage, but this makes him a much better player overall, as well as a better fit to lead a successful team. Then again, he hasn’t exactly lost his bounce. Griffin remains one of the league’s best finishers and he proved it last season, throwing down flashes of his vintage self.
This has to be the year where Blake Griffin puts it all together. Remember, he’s just three years removed from a top-three MVP finish, behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Without Chris Paul in the picture, Griffin will be the leader on this Clippers squad, and their success rests almost solely in his hands. It’s not crazy to think that he’ll produce his best season, possibly surpassing his career-high of 24.1 points per game set in 2013-14.
With a full, healthy season, Blake Griffin could be one of the most exciting players in the NBA.