Breaking Down What Blake Griffin Must Do to Become a Legitimate NBA Superstar
I'm not sure how well-versed Blake Griffin is in the works of William Shakespeare, but the following quote from Twelfth Night applies almost perfectly to the situation in which the Los Angeles Clippers standout currently finds himself in the NBA hierarchy.
"Be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them."
Not that he was born great or has yet achieved it, but rather that he's had such designations thrust upon him. Fairly or not, Griffin was anointed the savior of a wayward franchise by a long-suffering fanbase almost as soon as he returned from a knee injury that kept him out of what would've otherwise been his rookie season in 2009-10.
Then again, it's not as though the praise was entirely undeserved or the hyperbole unwarranted. Griffin's NBA career began with a 20-point, 14-rebound outburst against the Portland Trail Blazers that, after two 20-10 seasons, now comes off as commonplace.
Still, gaudy numbers and All-Star appearances do not a true superstar make. To be sure, Griffin is approaching the league's upper echelon, remarkably so for a 23-year-old. He's already one of the top three power forwards on the planet, alongside Kevin Love and Pau Gasol, and he's yet to prove that he can shoot or handle the ball reliably.
Which (wouldn't you know it?) brings us to those areas of Griffin's game that require the most attention in his journey to superstardom—his shooting and his ball-handling.
Griffin's shooting troubles are old news by now. He struggled with his strokes as a rookie, when he hit just 64.2 percent of his free throws and 29.2 percent of his threes, and seemed to regress further as a sophomore, when those numbers dropped to 52.1 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively.
Furthermore, according to Hoopdata, Griffin converted just 37 percent of his attempts between 16 and 23 feet last season and an even more paltry 27.7 percent of those taken between 10 and 15 feet.
All of which is to say that Griffin needs to work on his shots.
By his own admission, he has been working on it this summer. A consistent shooting stroke (or at least one more consistent than the abomination of a shot he has now) would expand Griffin's game considerably and bring him one giant step closer to joining the truly elite in basketball.
First and foremost, improved shooting would presumably extend to the free-throw line, thereby allowing Griffin to be something other than a liability in crunch time. In the past, Griffin's poor foul shooting has made him an easy target for teams trying to climb back into games against the Clippers and rendered his own game inert as a result.
That is, Griffin has often been hesitant to attack the basket late in games as he would under normal circumstances because he'd rather not wind up at the free-throw line as a result of absorbing fouls. By refining his form and boosting his confidence on freebies, Griffin should become an even more important and effective clutch player for the Clippers.
Not that being "clutch" is necessary or sufficient for superstardom, though being a detriment to one's team when the game is on the line can only hold back an All-Star of Griffin's caliber from climbing into the upper echelon.
Now, if Griffin can somehow improve his jump shot, then he might soon be able to make a case for himself as a top-five player, regardless of position. It would have the obvious effect of bolstering Griffin's scoring and shooting numbers simply by virtue of the ball going into the basket more often.
Beyond that, the mere threat of a jump shot would make Griffin that much more dangerous when flying to the rim. He's already deadly in isolation with his quickness and agility to maneuver past bigs.
But if Griffin can hit jumpers on a regular basis, opposing defenders will have no choice but to close out on him rather than back off and dare him to shoot. That'll leave less margin for error on their part when attempting to cut off his drives and, in theory, result in easier and more frequent finishes for Griffin.
And of course, more superstar-worthy stats for the big redhead.
It'd also help Griffin's case to tighten up his handle a bit. As Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti points out, Griffin's penchant for suspending/losing his dribble on the way to the basket (along with his poor shooting) feeds into his problems when facing up.
He must be more decisive when driving to the baseline and could stand to be more amenable to operating toward the middle. That way, defenses would have to account for more of Griffin's options, and Griffin himself won't wind up stuck in awkward spots, where missed shots and turnovers become the likeliest outcomes.
As for Griffin's post game, it may not be pretty, but it is surprisingly effective. According to Pruiti, Griffin averages 0.836 points per possession on the block, which puts him well above average among his peers, and posts up 31.6 percent of the time. He does particularly well when turning over his right shoulder and sports a spin move with which he can create separation more often than not.
The key for Griffin in this regard is to diversify his arsenal of moves. As good as his spin move is, it's not always as effective as it could be because Griffin uses it so often and lacks other options with which to score in the post. If Blake were go to his hook shot and/or his "up-and-under" move more often, he'd find it much easier to fool his opponents and take defenders to task down low.
These offensive upgrades, in particular, will help mold Blake Griffin into the bona fide superstar he appears destined to be, but if he wants to be a champion during his tenure in Lob City, he'll have to step up his game on the defensive end as well. Like so many bouncy, young athletes, Griffin has a tendency to leave his feet at even the slightest of fakes on occasion and rely on his otherworldly physical gifts to compensate for poor fundamentals.
That leaves him (and by extension, the Clips) vulnerable against smart, savvy veterans like Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan, through whose respective squads Griffin and company will likely have to pass if they're to compete for the Western Conference crown this season.
As it happens, the surest way to superstardom is to win games and contend for titles.
When will Blake Griffin be a bona fide superstar?
Does this mean that Blake is bound to align his on-court skills more closely with his public persona as an NBA tour de force this season?
Not necessarily. It may be too much to expect a 23-year-old kid coming off (relatively minor) knee surgery to take so many steps in the course of one summer.
And frankly, as easy as it is to criticize Griffin for the holes in his game, let's not forget that he's still as young as he is and, in the span of two seasons, has racked up two trips to the All-Star game, Rookie of the Year honors and a spot on the All-NBA Second Team.
He's done all right for a guy who doesn't shoot, dribble or defend well, and if/when he improves in those areas, he'll likely have achieved some semblance of the greatness with which he's been burdened since his NBA debut.
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