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NBA PM: Griffin Still Adjusting to Expanded Game

Blake Griffin is still getting used to his evolving game, but his teammates and coaches love what they see from their star.

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Updated 12 months ago on
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Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders and Noah Coslov of CineSport discuss why the Memphis Grizzlies are the best team in the NBA and how they’re winning games.

Griffin Still Adjusting to Expanded Game

Blake Griffin has always been an elite athlete. He hit the genetic lottery, so even when he’s matched up against fellow NBA players who are freaks of nature in their own right, he’s typically the most athletic player on the court. There are plenty of YouTube videos that show he can impose his will athletically and there are many poster victims who could back up that evidence.

However, in recent years, Griffin has also become an elite player. In Griffin’s case, that leap occured when being the most athletic player was no longer enough to satisfy him. He wanted to be one of the NBA’s best players, not just one of the league’s best athletes. This meant training extremely hard, changing his game, expanding the range on his jump shot, improving his ball-handling, working on his passing and growing as a leader. Some elite athletes never become elite players, but Griffin has made that transition. He never liked being described as a dunker, and he was determined to prove he’s much more than that.

Jamal Crawford joined the Clippers prior to the 2012-13 season, after Griffin and Chris Paul recruited him to Los Angeles. When asked how much Griffin has improved since he joined the Clippers, Crawford raised his eyebrows and immediately blurted out, “Night and day.”

“He’s such a hard worker, and I didn’t know that,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “From a distance, all you see is the commercials and dunks and SportsCenter [highlights], but he’s always the first person in the gym and the last one to leave. Each year he has added something to his game, and obviously this year it’s his consistent jump shot. That’ll add some more years [to his career] on the back end. He doesn’t even know that yet, he’s not even thinking about it; he just wants to expand his game. He’s special.”

Last season, Griffin finished third in the NBA’s Most Valuable Player voting after averaging 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals. This year, he is picking up where he left off, averaging 22.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists, as he continues to become more comfortable and versatile on the court.

Griffin is becoming a well-rounded superstar – one who can dunk on you or knock down a jumper if given space. There have been growing pains at times, as he’ll be the first to admit, but as he continues to improve he won’t hesitate before hoisting shots, he’ll have more confidence in his expanding skill set and he won’t worry about being perceived as selfish when he shoots the ball.

Griffin talks about the ball “getting stuck” like it’s the worst thing imaginable, and it’s always good to have a star who values ball movement and wants to get his teammates involved. However, Griffin’s teammates and coaches say that he’s too unselfish at times, and that they’d like it if the ball were to “get stuck” in his hands more often. This season, Griffin is being encouraged to shoot more from the perimeter – since honing his shot will make him much harder to guard – and be more assertive. At times, teammates and coaches have to tell Griffin to shoot more and take over games.

“Keep shooting!” Crawford said of his advice to Griffin. “I mean, Blake finished third in MVP voting last year! To me, he’s as good as anyone else in the world right now. He doesn’t have to worry about being selfish, we want him to take those shots. And if misses some, so what? It’ll balance out. He’s so talented, it’s truly unbelievable, but he’s also so unselfish.”

“I don’t think we have any selfish players on this team; if anything we have guys who are too unselfish like Blake, who really wants to pass the ball,” DeAndre Jordan said. “I think we just have to tell him [to shoot]. A lot of the time, Blake wants to pass it, but sometimes we need him to score. Sometimes we’ll need him to pass it, but he’s definitely our first option. When he has it going, he has it going.”

This advice also goes for games in which Griffin has struggled shooting the ball. During a recent game against the Orlando Magic in which Griffin shot 5-12 in the first half (with most of his points coming off of lay-ups and dunks since his jumper wasn’t falling), Doc Rivers delivered a message to his star forward.

“I told him at halftime, ‘If you want to be great, you have to be willing to go 0-for-30 and just keep throwing it up until it goes in,’” Rivers said.

The Clippers are clearly being patient with Griffin as he gets comfortable with his expanded game. One of the things that Griffin is still learning is when to take jumpers and when to attack the basket. All players who add to their game go through this adjustment period when they must figure out how to use all of the weapons in their arsenal, and Griffin is no different.

“I need to do a better job of mixing up and attacking more, not settling for jump shots,” Griffin told Clippers.com earlier this month. “That’s something I’ve got to work on, something I’ve got to kind of figure out. Hopefully that brings a different dynamic to our offense.

“Part of it is trying to space the floor properly. Then part of it is reading space if you catch the ball in the post. Whatever it is, I need to pick and roll, pick and pop. I just need to get a different dynamic, get a different mixture of what I’m doing.”

Rivers isn’t worried about his superstar finding that balance.

“When you work on something all summer, you tend to want to do it,” Rivers told Clippers.com. “It’s tough because sometimes you get away from what you’re really good at. The fact that he’s now good at both of them, he’ll figure out that balance. I have no doubt about that. … The great ones always figure out how to get back to that right balance. It may be tomorrow, it may be in a week, but I can guarantee you he’ll figure that balance out.”

Griffin is getting better at figuring out the best way to attack a defense, and it can vary from game to game. Sometimes, he’ll attack the basket more and get a ton of free throws in addition to points in the paint. Other nights, he’ll fill the stat sheet, as evidenced by his near-triple-double in the Clippers’ win over the Charlotte Hornets yesterday when Griffin had 22 points, 16 rebounds and nine assists.

Last year was Griffin’s breakout campaign, when he showed the league that he’s a superstar who can impact every game in a multitude of ways. This season, he has even more ways to affect the outcome on a nightly basis, so don’t be surprised if he’s once again in the MVP conversation (and extremely difficult to guard) once he gets completely comfortable with his evolving game.

Rockets May Add Al Harrington?

Former NBA player Al Harrington, who has played 16 seasons in the league, was recently released from the Fujian Sturgeons in China so that he could try to join an NBA team.

According to our own Yannis Koutroupis, the Houston Rockets have considered signing Harrington.

The 34-year-old Harrington played 34 games for the Washington Wizards last season, averaging 6.6 points and 2.2 rebounds. He has averaged 13.5 points and 5.6 rebounds over the course of his NBA career.

For a complete list of the free agents who are currently available, click here.

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Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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