7 Things Blake Griffin Must Learn from Kevin Garnett
Blake Griffin is already well on his way to dominating the NBA at power forward the way Kevin Garnett has since the late 90s. After just two years as an active pro, Griffin has established himself as a perennial All-Star and 20-10 guy with the talent to carry a franchise in the not-so-distant future.
As ESPN's Tom Haberstroh discussed prior to the 2011-12 season, Griffin, like KG, is unusual for a big man (in a good way) in the sense that he's a "triple threat," which is to say, he has the ability to dribble, pass and shoot, particularly out of the high post.
Both also happen to be freak athletes, though Blake, at a bulky 6'10" and 250 pounds, is already stouter and stronger than The Big Ticket has ever been.
This isn't all to say, though, that Griffin is already in KG's class as far as power forwards are concerned. Garnett may be nearly a full Bar Mitzvah boy older than Blake, but as he demonstrated during the Boston Celtics' most recent playoff run, he can hardly be counted out of the league's elite just yet.
That said, if Griffin is to ever so much as sniff the heights that Garnett reached at his peak (between 2002 and 2007), he'd do well to absorb these five lessons from one of the game's all-time greats.
How to Shoot
First up on Blake's "Be Like KG" to-do list: work on his shot.
Shooting has long been one of the strengths of Garnett's game. He's never been one to step out to three-point range—he set a career-high with 1.4 attempts per game in 2001-02—though he regularly knocks down long twos and mid-range jumpers.
Granted, such shots are widely considered among the least efficient in basketball, though they're still necessary weapons in the arsenal of any player who attacks the basket as often and with as much ferocity as Griffin does.
To his credit, Griffin showed significant improvement on shots between 16 and 23 feet and those between three and nine feet from the basket in his sophomore season, according to Hoopdata.
But if Blake is to truly take his offensive game to KG-esque levels, he'll need to up the proficiency of his stroke from just about everywhere inside the arc.
How to Succeed in Crunch Time
Speaking of which, Griffin's free-throw accuracy remains a thorn in the side of his potential greatness.
Consider that Garnett came into the league as a 70-plus-percent free-throw shooter and sharpened his stroke to the point where he now regularly converts upwards of 80 percent of his foul shots. Griffin, on the other hand, converted 64.2 percent of his freebies as a rookie and regressed to 52.1 percent as a sophomore.
Such struggles rendered Griffin a liability in crunch time—something that KG has never been. He was often loath to do what he does best (attack the basket) when the game was on the line out of fear of winding up at the stripe.
In turn, the Clippers took to putting the ball in Chris Paul's hands in the clutch, not that he didn't merit it but rather that the tactic became so predictable over time.
Griffin won't be able to rise into Garnett's stratosphere of the basketball realm until he proves to be boon, rather than a burden, to his team's efforts when it matters most.
How to Play in the Post
Part of succeeding in crunch time—or any time, for that matter—is sporting a repertoire that extends beyond just dunks and jump shots.
That's certainly been the case for Garnett, whose post game still ranks among the most unique and effective of its kind in basketball. KG has long been comfortable operating with his back to the basket just about anywhere, be it high post or low, left block or right.
And while he's more than capable of throwing in a hook shot from time to time, Garnett's at his most lethal when he's turning over his shoulder for a fadeaway jumper.
All of which is to say, The Big Ticket has a wide array of options from which he can draw when he's in the post, while Blake could stand to expand his own selection. As Sebastian Pruiti pointed out in August, Griffin already sports an excellent spin move, particularly off his right shoulder, and though he's capable of working toward the middle, he winds up on the baseline more often than not.
That sort of predictability, along with Griffin's subpar face-up game, often render him much easier to defend and much more turnover-prone than he ought to be. Griffin, then, would do well to comb over some game film of KG torching defenders down low, to see if there are any moves in particular that he can and should work on for his own good.
How to Defend Man-to-Man
Garnett's greatest legacy, though, will be left on the defensive end. His Hall-of-Fame resume is littered with such accolades, including 12 All-Defensive selections and the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Even after 17 years in the NBA, KG remains one of the league's premier defensive forces, anchoring a Boston Celtics unit that regularly ranks among the stingiest across the board. At 6'11 and 220 pounds, Garnett is not what one might call a physical presence.
Sure, KG's willing to bang bodies, but his effectiveness stems as much from his long arms and quick feet as from his focus, intensity, communication and consistent commitment to excellence on that end of the floor.
In this respect, Griffin has a long way to go. He can't control the fact that his arms are relatively short, though he has been blessed with a chiseled frame, unbelievable athleticism and the strength to move mountainous men.
The key, then, is for Blake to pair those skills with better fundamentals. He has a tendency to lean on his man when defending in the post, thereby making it easier for the opposition to spin off of him for easy baskets. Griffin wouldn't have such troubles if he were to keep his upper body more upright and shuffle his feet.
Those same tenets of footwork and fundamental awareness apply to Griffin's defense of face-up forwards. He's quick enough to stay in front of his man just by moving his legs, but too often is caught flat-footed and winds up behind the play, wherein fouling is his only option.
How to Be a Help Defender
More importantly, Griffin could use a tip (or 14) from Garnett with regard to help defense.
On the one hand, it'd be unfair to expect Griffin to be a help-side shot-blocking menace like KG if only because Griffin's arms aren't frighteningly long.
On the other hand, Griffin's wingspan is only a shade under seven feet and the dude is perfectly swell at another skill that comes in handy as as helper—jumping. Griffin can only leap, but also do so multiple times in succession, thereby making him a threat to alter and block several shots on a single possession.
What Griffin lacks (other than human flyswatters for appendages) is a supreme sense of timing and spacing on the defensive end. Griffin often finds himself out of position or too late to help on defense, with his head turned from the action or his feet tangled this way or that.
That figures to change in time, as Griffin continues to grow into the NBA game and gains a better grasp of where he needs to be on the floor at any given moment.
Until then, Griffin would do well to keep his eyes and mouth open and his head on a swivel, just as KG does whenever he's barking out assignments and holding down the fort in Boston.
How to Lead
With a decade-and-a-half of NBA experience separating them, it's no wonder that Kevin Garnett stands head-and-shoulders above Blake Griffin with regard to leadership.
As vocal a player as he is, The Big Ticket spent much of his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves learning to follow behind more veteran teammates—even ones who were inferior players (see: Cassell, Sam)—before taking over as "the man."
That apprenticeship has yielded some rather impressive results for Garnett, most notably an MVP with the T-Wolves in 2003-04 and an NBA title with the Celtics in 2007-08.
Nobody's expecting Blake to be a Garnett-type locker room presence just yet. He's technically been in the league for three years but has only been playing for two, after missing the 2009-10 season with a knee injury.
And though he's been an All-Star twice and an All-NBA performer once in those two seasons, he still has plenty of work to do establishing his credibility as a leader, particularly on a team as replete with well-respected veterans as the Clippers.
On the flip side, playing alongside the likes of Chris Paul, Chauncey BIllups and Grant Hill can only further Griffin's education as someone with the interpersonal acumen to lead. Improving his crunch-time performance would certainly help, though true authority in the locker room will require that Blake be vocal as well, albeit in a carefully measured manner.
Likewise, Griffin will need to work on his body language, to pout and hang his head less, to stand tall through thick and thin and to keep his wits about him under pressure. These are all lessons that Garnett learned the hard way over the years, and Griffin will likely have to do the same be a competent commander, both on and off the court.
How to Channel His Energy
In a similar vein, Griffin must understand how to pick his battles and find the line between physicality and recklessness if he's to last as long and as successfully as KG has in the NBA.
Griffin has already earned a reputation for himself as a whiner and an instigator, for which he's become the target of more than the occasional injurious response.
Not that Kevin Garnett hasn't been the subject of many an incident in his time. As it happens, Garnett is no stranger to the dubious "dirty" label. He's been known to throw his fair share of elbows and knee caps with less-than-savory intent, and is regarded as one of the league's most fervent trash talkers.
But rarely does Garnett go around dunking on opponents and staring them down. While he's as prone to berating officials during the game as much as anyone, he's at least done his time to earn some measure of respect among them.
Griffin, meanwhile, flies around like he's invincible and has been known to jaw at referees after any and every play.
Again, not that this is at all unique to Griffin, but if he's going to reach his full potential as a basketball player, he'd do well to save his energy by showing some class and shutting his mouth on occasion.
Lest he subject himself to another blindside hit and the potential for serious injury with which it comes.