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LA Clippers

It’s time for Point Blake Griffin to be at his best

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) walks up court at the end of the first quarter in an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Thursday, March 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Players often have a best version of themselves. LeBron donning a black mask is the scariest LeBron James you could hope to see. Hoodie Melo is the Carmelo Anthony who’s ready to take over the league.

Point forward Blake Griffin, especially without Chris Paul next to him to control the ball, is the Blake Griffin that’s at his best. Unfortunately, it’s something we haven’t seen enough in recent years.

It’s understandable when one of the top point guards of all time is on the team. But it means we haven’t seen Griffin play to his strengths as much as desired. Coach Doc Rivers could (and should) have staggered the two more often during their time together to achieve just that, ensuring that his team always had an elite facilitator on the floor. Instead, Griffin spent 73 percent of his minutes playing with Paul on the floor at the same time.

But no more. Paul is in Houston and Griffin has the reins to the Los Angeles Clippers’ offense at long last. He’ll also benefit from an almost ideal point guard playing next to him: Patrick Beverley, an All-Defensive first team scrapper who can help out with playmaking duties (he’ll need to do more than he did in Houston) and excels operating off the ball and spotting up from 3.

While Beverley can do a little more with the ball in his hands than he could next to James Harden, and despite Milos Teodosic arriving in LA as one of the most creative passers there is, Doc should let Griffin be the lead facilitator of his offense. He’s clearly the best option. There’s no doubt that he’s at his best with the ball in his hands, fully playing to his strengths as a playmaker.

Another excellent passing season is under Griffin’s belt now. He handed out 4.9 assists per game and recorded a 24.5 assist percentage. Those are impressive numbers, as he also had his lowest usage rate since 2012-13. Even though his explosiveness has been hit by a barrage of injuries in recent years (and his reputation has wrongfully been hit as a result), his combination of speed, agility, almost guard-like ballhandling on the move, vision and variety of passes — whether he’s dishing from the post or passing between his legs — are practically unmatched for someone his size. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Al Horford were the only players 6-foot-10 or taller last season to record more points created by assists per game than Griffin (12).

Griffin is an excellent triple threat when working from the elbows, as he can utilize the threat of his jumper, drive to the rim if defenders press him too closely, or pass when he draws double-teams to free up teammates. Despite getting the ball from Paul to start this play, this sequence illustrates just how creative Griffin can be if he’s initiating more offense. It’s unfair how effortless it seems for him to behind-the-back dribble past Tobias Harris, collapse the defense and fling a gentle lob to DeAndre Jordan:

 

Powerhouses the likes of Griffin (6-10, 250) aren’t supposed to be able to do that. It’s easy for him to find shooters or set up lobs, as you saw above. He reads the floor well and can pass out of traffic.

There will be extra attention on Griffin a lot of times next season, and when that’s the case and he’s posting up, he can punish defenses with his awareness to pull in defenders and hit the open man:

 

These kinds of possessions running around Griffin at the elbows (and those involving more movement off the ball, of course) can be used more often, and to good effect. Even using him to execute more simple high hand-offs will be helpful. He can pick teams apart as a scorer or passer when he’s unleashed (his 2015 playoff performance with averages of 25.5 points and 6.1 assists per game is the best example) and will likely push the pace more in transition than Paul did with his surgical pace. We could easily see Griffin put together a 24-point, 8.5-rebound, 6.5-assist season.

Griffin executing more pick-and-rolls will be another perk of his increased role. He was fantastic last season, ranking in the 94th percentile as a pick-and-roll ballhandler with 1.04 points per possession. The problem is that such plays only accounted for a mere 7.2 percent of his possessions. Paul’s mastery of the same thing limited Griffin’s chances. He can do more, though. Specifically, 4 to 5 pick-and-rolls with his high-flying center.

It’s incredibly difficult to stop Jordan, the league’s best roll man, and contain the driving scoring threat of Griffin, all while worrying about how easily Griffin could just pass the ball outside once the defense crashes around the pick-and-roll:

 

To begin, I said point forward Blake is when he’s at his best. After all, that’s what we’ll see most when he’s sharing the frontcourt with Jordan. However, working as a point center is when Griffin can really hit his ceiling. It’s what allows him to be surrounded by four 3-point shooters, to play in lineups that aren’t hindered at all by Jordan’s lack of floor spacing and attack more mismatches against centers that can’t contain his mobility and speed handling the ball in transition.

This will also be important in allowing new addition Danilo Gallinari to play at his best position of power forward as much as possible. Which will be key right away, especially with Griffin saying he’ll ready by training camp rather than December after undergoing toe surgery earlier this year. The more Doc staggers Griffin and Jordan to give Griffin decent run at center with a bunch of shooting and Gallinari’s skill at the 4 gives the Clippers a new level of lineup versatility and offensive firepower. Griffin running the show will be tough for teams to handle, not to mention using his own improved 3-point shot (37.1 percent with 1.1 makes over the last 30 games, when he started attempting more than one a night) to keep spacing across the board.

The Clippers obviously won’t be nearly as good without Paul. Having two elite ballhandlers is always better than one (Daryl Morey wanted CP3 for a reason), especially when one of them is arguably the best floor general in the game. That said, Griffin should be at his best if he’s at all healthy. And if the team can find the right balance of using smaller lineups with a Gallinari-Griffin frontcourt to maximize Griffin even more, he might reclaim his status as one of the NBA’s premier talents.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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