The Los Angeles Clippers are a team that is on the rise.
In the offseason, everyone speculates on what it will take for a squad like the Clippers to reach that elusive next level. There are obviously a number of strategic elements that must occur, including cohesive play, health and momentum. Do you know what might make the difference between the Clippers winning and losing in the playoffs?
Blake Griffin hitting his free throws.
Think about the way the Clippers are built. Chris Paul is arguably one of the most clutch players in the NBA, and at the end of the game you expect the ball to be in his hands. However, championship squads need more than one player to make big plays down the stretch.
That includes hitting free throws, which may make the difference between a four-point lead and the other team hitting a three to win the game because your star went 0-2 from the line.
Blake Griffin is an absolute monster in transition. If CP3 and Blake are running a 3-on-1 fast break, get out of the way or get your camera ready. Griffin is either going to fly by the defender or he is literally going to jump over him on his way to another spot in the highlight reel.
However, Griffin is not always a smooth player when it comes to playing with his back to the basket. How do you stop Blake Griffin?
Put him on the free-throw line.
The numbers from the line just are not good. As a rookie, Blake shot 64 percent from the line, and in his second year he got worse. When you shoot 52 percent from the line, teams are going to put you there on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, his teammate DeAndre Jordan is not much better.
The big man was an underwhelming 53 percent from the line in the 2011-12 season. It is not hard to imagine what the opponents' strategy will be down the stretch when they play the Clippers.
There is no reason why a professional basketball player can’t shoot at least 70 percent from the free-throw line. I don’t expect Calvin Murphy numbers. However, I have a hard time believing that a full-time basketball player with access to all sorts of professional instruction can’t develop a reasonable shooting stroke. Shooting free throws is about technique and disciplined practice.
Some will put forth a theory that big men can’t shoot because they have large hands and it is awkward to hold and shoot the ball.
I don’t buy it.
To my knowledge, Magic Johnson has some fairly large hands, and he shot 85 percent from the line. David Robinson shot 74 percent for his career, while current center Marc Gasol shoots 72 percent. Even 7’2” center Roy Hibbert hits 73 percent of his throws. There are plenty of centers and power forwards that don’t have these numbers, but they can be achieved.
Obviously, free throws are not glamorous. Fans do not stand around the water cooler and say, “Yeah, the dunk was OK, but did you see Griffin knock down those free throws last night? That was amazing!” However, teams must convert from the charity stripe. In a close game, Blake Griffin can’t be sitting on the bench because he is a liability from the line.
After rehabbing his knee, Blake can’t spend all of his time practicing lob dunks with Chris Paul. He needs to get some specialized coaches and spend hours at the line every day until the season begins. Otherwise, the Clippers may have some problems in close games.