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Myth Buster: Blake Griffin Edition

2014-15 Season Stats: 21.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 5.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.5 bpg, 50.2% FG, 40% 3PT (10-25), 72.8% FT

2014-15 Playoff Stats: 25.5 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1 spg, 1 bpg, 51.1% FG, 71.7% FT

Clippers big man Blake Griffin is one of the more talented big men in the NBA. He’s also passed Dwight Howard as the most unfairly scrutinized star in the NBA — and that’s saying something.

Fresh off of his best playmaking campaign of his career, Griffin potentially made his superstar leap with a remarkable postseason run. First, he battled with Tim Duncan in a first round series for the ages, capped off by Chris Paul’s ridiculous floater over Duncan and Danny Green.

Blake Griffin vs. Tim Duncan, 2015 Round 1 (7 games)

Blake vs. Duncan

It should also be noted that Griffin went for 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in Game 7, his second triple-double of the series, and his second of three triple-doubles he racked up during the postseason.

He then went up against the Houston Rockets and their deep front-court rotation of Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, and Josh Smith — mostly matching up against the latter two.

Blake Griffin vs. Terrence Jones + Josh Smith, 2015 Round 2 (7 games)Blake vs. Rockets

Even with Griffin eventually burning out towards the end of games (he went 19-53 (35.8% FG) in the 4th quarter for the postseason), we finally saw him put everything together. He became only the second player in NBA history to average at least 25 ppg, 12 rpg, and 6 apg throughout a postseason, joining Oscar Robertson. It wasn’t just about what Blake did numbers-wise — it’s how he did it.

He bullied guys in the post, beat guys off the dribble with his face-up game, crashed the offensive and defensive glass like we saw in his rookie year, knocked down, but didn’t settle for mid-range jumpers, and served as the Clippers’ secondary play-maker. There isn’t another true* big man in the NBA quite like Blake Griffin.

*I included the word “true” because you could make the argument for LeBron James just because we still don’t know what lab he was created in

For whatever reason, people still see what they want to see when it comes to Blake. Although IT IS 2015 FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, people still believe Blake is primarily a dunker with no other above-average skill — much less a transcendent, superstar-caliber one. He’s still viewed as a soft player by some, which, when you really think about it, doesn’t make much sense when you consider that he earned the dunker tag by posterizing just about everyone in sight.

You don’t see too many soft players pull off dunks like this:

Or this:

Or this — good God, especially not this:

Haters are going to hate, and outdated, inaccurate stigmas have stayed attached to Blake Griffin because of it. However, I’m going to do my best to break all of them down. If you still believe Blake Griffin is a one-dimensional dunker, you’re just willfully ignorant.

MYTH #1: All He Does is Dunk

We’re going to end this one once and for all. Although the statement itself is obviously hyperbolic (and lazy), even if you don’t take it literally, it still is factually incorrect.

Looking back at Blake Griffin’s first couple of years in the NBA, there’s nothing wrong with saying he was best known for his dunks. He did it often, and he did it very, very well.

Griffin had 214 and 192 made dunks in his first two seasons, ranking second and first in the NBA, respectively. In other words, 406 of the 1,257 field goals he made in his first two seasons were dunks, good for 32.3 percent. While that obviously isn’t all (100%), virtually one-third of his made shots being dunks combined with his highlight reel dunks being looped all over SportsCenter made it a lot easier for couch-analysts to grab hold to this claim.

Throughout the last three years, Griffin has had 202 (1st), 176 (4th), and 84 (18th) dunks respectively — a total of 462 for all of the math majors out there. Going back to his “dunk percentage” if you will, 462 of his 1,869 made shots were dunks — a whopping 24.7%. Griffin obviously didn’t forget how to dunk, but his game becoming more well-rounded, adding range on his mid-range jumper, and fatigue has played a part into Griffin dunking less. Heck, he said so himself in this piece he wrote for The Players Tribune back in February:

“Do I like a jam or two? Sure. I do it for the children. But honestly, there’s nothing more satisfying than hitting a jumper. People have been telling me I couldn’t shoot since I came into the league. I remember when I was drafted Skip Bayless even said that I would never amount to anything more than “a poor man’s Dennis Rodman.”

Dang, Skip. I can’t even be a middle class Rodman?

Honestly, they had a point. My first few years in the league, I was relying on my athleticism to get me by, because that’s what got me to the NBA. The problem with that is, you end up getting really, really tired by February. My rookie year I tried to get out of bed on a road trip near the end of the season and I was like, Am I physically able to walk right now? I went out on the floor that night and ran up and down just trying to look like a real NBA human.”

Aside from being a great athlete, Griffin is one heck of a ball-handler and passer. His ability to handle the rock at his size is pretty unfair. His hesitation dribble, in-and-out dribble, and his behind-the-back dribbling ability is of that of a shooting guard. Because of how well he handles the ball, combined with his ridiculous athleticism, he’s incredibly difficult to guard when facing up against slower big men.

This is from his second year in the league — big men aren’t supposed to be able to do this:

He’s one of the few players over 6’9 that can take the ball coast-to-coast and finish at the basket, or set the table for others:

The Grizzlies just had no answer:

Here’s another fun fact: among players 6’9 or taller, Blake Griffin leads the NBA in assists since making his debut in 2010-11.

Blake assists

Stats and height listing courtesy of Basketball-Reference (LeBron is listed at 6’8)

Arguably the biggest part of Blake Griffin’s transformation has been due to the improvement of his jumper. When he first entered the league, his overall delivery was slow, and he released the ball on the way down:

Now, there isn’t much hesitancy on Griffin’s jumper. He drifts backwards a little bit, but he releases at the top of the jump, and gets a little more lift on his jumper overall:

Of course, playing with one of the best point guards in NBA history can go a long way to getting open looks, but Blake Griffin has put in the work to improve his jumper. Here’s Blake, again from his piece from The Player’s Tribune:

“I’ve actually been working on changing my technique for about three years. When your muscle memory is so ingrained to shoot a certain way, it takes years to tweak different parts of the release.

I’ve put up more than 250,000 jump shots with my shooting coach Bob Thate over the past three years in order to re-wire my brain. That breaks down to roughly 300 shots per day just on my mid-range form alone. Bob has a saying: “How do you build a mansion? Brick by brick by brick.” It’s kind of like how Apple releases versions of the iPhone. Each year we’ve worked and worked to be able to roll out a new feature of my shot.”

The benefits have been pretty nice. As his jumper has improved, so has his confidence.

blake midrange

Now that Blake’s jumper has improved to the point where defenders have to respect it, it opens up his entire offensive arsenal. If defenders give him too much space, he has no issue making them pay from the mid-range area. If defenders play him too close, he can put the ball on the floor and either finish above the rim (ain’t that right, Pau?), kick the ball out to open shooters, or…..

Or…….

MYTH #2: Blake Griffin Isn’t a Post Player (on either end)

I’m just going to get this out of the way; watching Blake Griffin operate in the post is not a pretty sight. At all. It’s awkward, unnatural, and flat-out ugly at times.

He also happens to be pretty effective on the block now.

It’s funny, because as blessed as Blake Griffin is with his height/weight, muscle, speed, quickness, and leaping ability, he got absolutely shafted with a 6’11.25 wingspan and an 8’9 standing reach. Because of this, Griffin has to get creative or ugly — sometimes both — when getting his shot off below the rim:

As you can see with the first hook, Blake takes a couple of dribbles, jumps and turns (almost simultaneously) and goes with a quick hook shot that looks more like a desperation flick or push shot. On the second one, Blake does a good job of sealing off his man, getting deep position in the paint, and throwing up another one of those turning, quick flicks.

His footwork is improved, but it still could use a good bit of work — at least it looks that way. You can see that on this drive against Donatas Motiejunas. He faces up, drives right, quickly pivots, turns over his left shoulder and gets a quick hook to go before Motiejunas could really react:

Another thing Blake loves to do use his lower center of gravity and core strength to gain inside position and back up his defender, giving him some relatively easy layups. He tends to do this when he goes baseline, or after he grabs an offensive rebound:

I’ll give you some time to rinse your eyes out after watching all of those clips.

*waits*

Now, check this out.

big menMinimum of 150 attempts, players with at least 0.9 points per possession (PPP) on post-up plays last season (2014-15)

On the defensive end, Griffin gets sold short for the most part overall. That’s especially true in the low-post, though. He’s never been, and likely will never be a prolific shot blocker. His lack of a solid wingspan, as well as his lack of natural instincts in terms of shot blocking will make it hard for him to make a consistent impact in that area. However, you don’t have to be an elite shot blocker to be a solid low-post defender.That’s some amazing company for him to be in, ugly post game and all.

Here is how Griffin checked out overall defensively last year.

Blake D

Griffin uses his strength well down low, making it difficult for opposing players to gain inside position. He has to fight extra hard because he knows if he does give up position, it’ll be nearly impossible for him to truly bother shots because of his lack of length. Something I’ve noticed from Griffin over the past couple of years is his use of the “verticality rule” that has been made famous by Roy Hibbert. From a statistical standpoint, Blake Griffin is pretty weird to me on defense. I would think, because of lack of natural instincts on that end and the (relatively) short arms, he would be poor in any interior stat. On the flip side, because of his insane athleticism and quick feet, I would imagine he would be pretty versatile and competent when guarding players in space. The opposite seems to be true in both cases — at least this past season.

Assuming Doc Rivers will play newly signed big man Josh Smith significant minutes off the bench, Griffin perfecting going vertical will allow him to play some center when DeAndre Jordan goes to the bench. If Griffin proves to be competent protecting the rim in spurts, it’ll open up a lot of options for the Clippers moving forward.

Honestly, it’s 2015, y’all. It’s really time to appreciate just how talented Blake Griffin is. He’s, at worst, the third-best power forward in the NBA and a top 12 player in the league. After his playoff performance, it’s more than fair to acknowledge that Griffin isn’t too far behind Anthony Davis, who’s the NBA’s best 4. He’s a superstar, ladies and gentlemen.

Not just that — a high-flying, dime-dropping, lob-catching, board-grabbing, awkward-posting, rare athletic specimen of a superstar that’ll only keep getting better moving forward.

For more Myth Busters, check out the Russell Westbrook edition here.

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