If you missed it, Blake Griffin will be the NBA’s fifth-highest paid player in 2017-18 at $29.5 million and, for a franchise that lost Chris Paul over the summer, the recapture of their franchise forward was well worth a pretty penny. But the Los Angeles Clippers’ plan for success in the ultra-elite Western Conference seems to be running on borrowed time these days, just narrowly avoiding a complete rebuild in free agency last month. With Griffin now set as the team’s leader and first option, there’s some incredible pressure on him heading into training camp next month.
Since Griffin was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Clippers have reached the playoffs’ second round on just three occasions – 2012, 2014 and 2015 – and all of those appearances resulted in eliminations. For his worth, Griffin is a five-time All-Star and his statistics pass the eye test for an NBA-level superstar as well. He’s averaged 20 or more points per game in all but one year of his seven-season career (2012-13) and just tallied an all-time best mark of 12.1 rebounds over 38 minutes last season. Still, after all this time, his improved play hasn’t helped the Clippers join the conference’s elite contenders and it won’t get any easier this fall.
Despite his frequent inclusion on highlight reels, Griffin is still a somewhat limited player and one has to wonder how he’ll hold up for an 82-game season without Paul’s effortless playmaking abilities. While Griffin has certainly evolved past his dunk-only preferences – he dunked just 68 times in 2016-17 compared to his rookie season total of 214 – a look at his field goal percentage by distance still illustrates somebody that has struggled to expand his range.
Last year, 53.9 percent of Griffin’s shots came between 0-10 feet, a pretty typical range for an athletic power forward, and he knocked those attempts down at a 53.7 percent clip. In terms of finding your bread and butter and excelling at it, Griffin dominates the paint on most nights. Past that range, however, and it gets a bit dicier. From 10-16 feet, Griffin’s percentage fell to 32.2 percent, his lowest mark from there since 2011-12. A dip in percentage would be excusable if he was shooting it from that distance more, but Griffin actually attempted a shot from 10-16 feet just 6.1 percent of the time – the last instance in which he took that shot less was, once again, 2011-12.
Seeing a fall in both mid-range attempts and percentage is perfectly fine as long as Griffin continues to develop from three-point distances, right? Griffin posted a 33.6 percent mark from three-point range in 2016-17, his second-highest tally from deep in his career – a notch only beaten out by his much smaller 10-for-25 (40 percent) sample size from 2014-15. Even then, his 38-for-113 total falls far short of many of the elite big man shooters in the league, like Serge Ibaka’s 124-for-317 (39.1 percent), Kevin Love’s 145-for-389 (37.3 percent) or Ryan Anderson’s 204-for-506, (40.3 percent) ranges.
Ultimately, Griffin is a well-oiled superstar, one that’s probably well worth the fifth highest contract league-wide. However, considering Griffin’s current skill-set in comparison to many of the elite advances his position has made recently, he may come up just a little short. With the NBA’s best floor general now residing in Houston, we’ll have to wait and see how that influences Griffin’s ability to find quality, open looks at whatever distance he so chooses. Overrated may not be the best word to describe Griffin these days, but in an ever-evolving league, he’s fallen behind his positional peers, forever attempting to permanently extend his range.
– Benny Nadeau