If Stephen Curry wasn’t lighting the NBA world on fire like a human flamethrower that does his dirty work from behind the 3-point line, we’d all be talking a lot more about Blake Griffin. Averaging an obscene 29.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists on 62.2 percent shooting, playing a magical brand of basketball that would have Harry Potter and his housemates hanging a Blake poster over the Gryffindor entrance, the power forward is taking his game—and his team—to an entirely new level.
It’s not just that Griffin is scoring more (with improved efficiently) than he ever has in his career, but instead about the complete stylistic shift we’re seeing from Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers. Serving as a first option when his club is looking for a bucket, a facilitator when others are open and staying comfortably closer to the basket instead of floating aimlessly around the 3-point line, Griffin’s newly packaged game is the biggest story on a team that has been in headlines since its action-filled, drama-packed summer.
Griffin first grabbed headlines like they were alley-oop passes after dunking his way through the league. Incorrectly labeled as just a freak athlete capable of tearing the rim down, the gifted big man began to show us his game was about so much more than that. Checking in at a LeBron-like 6’10” and 250 lbs., Griffin has underappreciated passing skills many guards are envious of, speed that few at his position can compete against and the strength to overpower anybody. And now that the Clippers realize he is clearly their best player, the entire basketball world is being treated to a more entertaining Blake Show.
Griffin is one of the biggest nightmare matchups in the entire league. The opposition can stick a smaller guy on him in order to keep up with his quickness, but Griffin’s strength will be too much to handle. The defense can try bullying Blake with a bigger body, a tactic we’ve seen countless times before, but Griffin can quickly scrap that plan with his ability to play on the perimeter. Short of a pre-game prayer circle where the other team asks the Basketball Gods to slow Griffin down, there is no blueprint in how to defend Blake.
Griffin, by his own admission, is taking a different approach to the 2015-16 campaign than he has in the past (via Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times):
“We’re not going to let things slide this year. If we see something, we say something. Whether it’s practice, shoot-around, games, we know the difference” between good and bad habits. “So we’re not going to allow our teammates and ourselves, really first, to fall into that.”
Previously enrolled in the Dwight Howard School of Fun, there is an incredibly serious demeanor in Griffin’s game that we just haven’t seen from him until now, and Doc Rivers knows it. “He’s still fun and having fun, but he’s deadly serious, locked in defensively and just talking more. I like where he’s at.”
And Griffin, a player who has some people still foolishly wondering about the evolution of his game and if he can take the next step, has already taken a gigantic leap forward. “Leadership-wise, how I carry myself every day, I think I tried to make a little bit of a difference, a change.”
This is more impressive, and far more valuable, than any slam-dunk Griffin has thrown down throughout his Clippers career. This is the off-the-court maturation that Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Griffin’s teammates desperately need in order to push through to the next barrier. At 26 years old, a time when many are learning about themselves, their values and what type of person they want to be, Griffin is undergoing the same metamorphosis on a much greater—and far more public—stage.
Individual greatness is such a fickle concept in a team-based game where perceptions are constantly changing. Griffin has had really good years before this one, but he’s now at the very edge of that border and, just like the Clippers, could be on the brink of a truly great season.
With an improved mid-range game, a more dedicated approach and a clear understanding of the kind of player he wants to be, Griffin could blow the roof off of his brand new ceiling. And we won’t need a SportsCenter highlight to see that.