After taking the league by storm as a rookie, Griffin began to face a wave of critical backlash. Instead of focusing on the double-doubles he averaged during his first two seasons, detractors slammed the Clipper big man for relying so heavily on ferocious slam dunks.
The pendulum of judgment should soon start swinging the other way, though. Griffin's mammoth jams continue to draw most of the headlines, but beneath the surface, he's quietly blossomed into a much more well-rounded player.
As noted by ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton before the start of the 2013-14 season (subscription required):
Although it might not be as fast as his critics want, Griffin's game is developing. He has improved his post-up game, adding an occasional Dirk Nowitzki-esque fadeaway, and ranked fifth in the NBA in post scoring, per Synergy Sports. Griffin is especially dangerous as a low-post passer, having improved his assist rate dramatically last season. Pau Gasol was the only full-time big man who handed out assists more frequently.
Shedding the "overrated" label won't be easy, but the former Oklahoma product deserves a second chance from NBA fans. Those who dig deeper will see that he's far more than just a beneficiary of Lob City.
More Than Just a Dunker
On The Dan Patrick Show back in June, TNT commentator Charles Barkley put Griffin on blast, saying the Clipper big man was only "great" in terms of dunking and making commercials. (Skip ahead to the 16:50 mark in the below video.)
No disrespect to Sir Charles, but dunks happen to be the highest-percentage shot in basketball. What could be more efficient than keeping a hand on the ball until it's jammed through the hoop? Criticizing Griffin for his dunking ability is akin to bashing LeBron James for taking advantage of his passing prowess.
And here's a newsflash: Griffin isn't just a dunker anymore. He's been making strides with his mid-range shooting in recent years, which should put the rest of the league on high alert.
Take a look at Griffin's shot chart from his rookie season in 2010-11, via NBA.com/stats:
Inside the three-point arc, there isn't a single zone from which Griffin shot above the league average. He particularly struggled on the left side of the court between eight and 16 feet, knocking down only 48 of his 143 shot attempts (33.57 percent) from that area.
Now, check out his shot chart from this current season (via NBA.com/stats) through games played on Dec. 19:
He's still shooting below the league average on eight- to 16-foot attempts from the center and right but has made significant strides on the left. Drilling nine of his first 15 attempts from 16-to-24 feet can only be seen as a positive sign in terms of his development.
In total, Griffin knocked down 52 of his first 145 mid-range shot attempts this season (35.9 percent), per NBA.com/stats. Of the 36 forwards with at least 50 shots from that area, Griffin boasts a better shooting percentage than Tim Duncan, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith and David Lee.
It's not just an example of small-sample-size theater either. He knocked home 20-of-54 shots from between 16 and 24 feet on the left side of the court in 2012-13, per NBA.com/stats, and 32-of-79 shots from between eight and 16 feet on that side.
There's no doubt that Griffin owes Chris Paul for helping his outside-the-paint shooting blossom. Through Dec. 19, 20.4 percent of the big man's shot attempts came as the roll man on a pick-and-roll, per SynergySports (subscription required). He averaged exactly one point per possession on those attempts, which ranked 42nd among all players in the league.
CP3 can't take all the credit for Griffin's improvement, though. As evidenced by the below video, the Clipper big man is learning to leverage his athleticism and generate easy looks through a variety of off-ball action and post moves.
As the 2011 Rookie of the Year continues to improve his mid-range shooting, he'll become a much more dangerous pick-and-pop threat too. But his ability to pour in points isn't the only thing that makes him special.
A Double-Double Machine
Immediately upon coming into the league in 2010-11, Griffin asserted himself as a nightly double-double threat.
He dropped 20 points and 14 rebounds in his NBA debut against the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 27, 2010, and racked up 10 more double-doubles by the end of November. In total, he averaged 22.5 points on 50.6 percent shooting and 12.1 rebounds per game as a rookie, posting double-doubles in 63 of his 82 starts.
This season, the Clipper big man posted a double-double in 17 of his first 25 games. Since his NBA debut, he's tied with Kevin Love for the second-highest number of nights in which he scored at least 10 points and snared at least 10 rebounds (149), per Basketball-Reference. Only Dwight Howard (173) ranks ahead of Love and Griffin.
Additionally, he's one of only three players to have averaged a double-double in three or more seasons between 2010-11 through 2013-14, per Basketball-Reference. Below, you can see where Griffin stacks up compared to the league's other elite bigs in terms of rebounds per game, double-doubles and seasons averaging double-doubles (through Dec. 19, 2013).
|Rebounds Per Game||Double-Doubles||Double-Double Seasons|
During his first three seasons in the league, Griffin averaged 20.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 53.1 percent from the field. Per ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi, he's only the second player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game while shooting at least 50 percent from the field over his first three seasons.
Who's the other? A fellow named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league's all-time leading scorer.
The only year in which Griffin didn't average a double-double (2012-13), he played a career-low 32.5 minutes per game. His diminished playing time wasn't the only culprit, however, as he grabbed a career-low 9.2 boards per 36 minutes that season too.
He bounced back strong with his rebounding this season, inserting his name into rarefied air in the process.
An Underrated Playmaker
Fundamentally sound passes don't often possess the appeal of a mammoth slam dunk, which explains why you likely won't see a highlight reel of Griffin's assists any time soon.
Don't let that fool you, though. For a big man, he's an incredibly gifted passer.
Over his first three seasons in the league, Griffin averaged 3.6 dimes per game overall. The only power forward who dished out more assists per game from 2010-11 through 2012-13 was Josh Smith, who averaged 3.8 in total, per Basketball-Reference.com.
He's also plenty capable of some steal-your-breath dishes, as evidenced by the two videos below. In the first, he hits Reggie Bullock with a behind-the-back pass for an easy layup; in the second, he pulls off a one-handed touch pass to DeAndre Jordan for a vicious lob.
While on the floor, Griffin racks up an assist on just shy of one in every five made field goals, per Basketball-Reference.com (18.1 percent to be exact). That's the second-highest mark of any power forward since 2010-11, once again behind only Smith.
"When I feel I'm playing at my best, I'm facilitating," Griffin told ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne back in May. "I like having the ball in the post—not because I need to score every time, but because I like to make plays from there.
Griffin's passing ability from inside the paint opens up easy looks for his perimeter teammates. It's an invaluable skill for a big man to have, especially considering the Clippers' depth-of-shooting options this season (Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, to be precise).
Room for Improvement
Here's what's truly scary: At only 24 years old, Griffin isn't anywhere close to a finished product on the court. Theoretically, he's still a few years away from hitting his athletic prime, as terrifying as that prospect might sound.
To force his way into the first-team All-NBA conversation, he first needs to improve his free-throw shooting. He's only a 61.6 percent career shooter from the charity stripe, which allows opponents to hack away at him in late-game situations without reproach.
Griffin recognizes this limitation in his game, to his credit, and appears intent on rectifying it. In mid-December, he told ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi:
It's something I've been working on. It's a confidence thing for me, going up there and feeling like you're going to hit every single one and not being worried about getting fouled at any point in the game. I think that's the difference for me this year as opposed to the past.
He must continue to improve defensively too. Per 82games.com, the 2012-13 Clippers allowed opponents to score an average of 107.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the floor compared to only 99.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. That 8.1-point differential was the highest of any Clipper last season.
This year, Los Angeles has been slightly more defensively stout with Griffin playing than when he's on the bench. The team allows 104.7 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the court compared to 105.6 points per 100 possessions with him seated, per 82games.com.
If the Clippers hope to win a championship some day, they'll need Griffin to keep making strides in these two main facets of his game. Given the improvement he's demonstrating in both areas this season, there's little reason to expect he won't.
"I'm on [Griffin] pretty hard," Clippers coach Doc Rivers told the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner back in November. "I ask a lot out of him… I just think he's going to keep getting better and better."
As long as the former Oklahoma product keeps throwing down dunks with reckless abandon, he may never fully shed the "overrated" label. He can't force critics to embrace the less flashy aspects of his game, after all.
For those who look beyond his top-10-worthy jams, however, it's evident that Griffin excels elsewhere as well. He's a double-double machine, an underrated passer and boasts a burgeoning post game too.
It's easy to get caught up in the "all he can do is dunk" perception, but make no mistake: Griffin is a far more well-rounded player than that.