Blake Griffin's Versatility Key to His Evolution

Jared DubinFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 3: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers posts up against Shawn Marion #0 of the Dallas Mavericks on January 3, 2014 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)
Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

You've heard the standard Blake Griffin criticism before: all he does is dunk. It's lazy and it's horribly outdated, but these things tend to catch on quickly and stick like glue, and so calling Griffin one-dimensional has become the easy go-to move for those who wish to denigrate his skill set.

That it's no longer remotely true doesn't particularly matter to them. 

Griffin's evolution into an all-around force whose versatility is his greatest asset outside of his athleticism is of great import to the Los Angeles Clippers, though, particularly now that Chris Paul will be sidelined for multiple weeks with a shoulder injury. 

When considering Griffin's versatility, it's best to start with what he's best at: the pick-and-roll.

Griffin remains, as ever, a devastating finisher. He's able to leap above the rim to snatch and slam lob passes; he can catch on the move in the paint and finish over or around multiple defenders; he's capable of stepping outside and hitting the occasional pick-and-pop jumper; and every so often he'll receive the ball in space, put it on the floor and take it to the rim. 

Of course, more often than not in the last few years Griffin has done this dance with Paul by his side. One of the league's foremost pick-and-roll practitioners, Paul has helped shepherd Griffin along in his development from an athlete who was strictly a finisher to the diverse threat he is today.

Whether working the pick-and-roll from the top of the key, from the wing on either side of the court or running what has become a personal favorite of mine—the "snug" pick-and-roll from the low box—the two share a special chemistry. 

While Griffin is explosive and efficient as a pick-and-roll player, he is not without his flaws in this arena. He's sometimes too eager to "slip" his screen (roll to the rim or pop out to the perimeter without making contact with the defender), and he still fades away too much and too freely when taking perimeter jumpers—even when uncontested. These issues don't stop him from being one of the best pick-and-roll men in the league, though he's obviously risen to that level with Paul's help along the way.

Like when working in pick-and-rolls, Griffin has his issues operating out of the post—his footwork in particular. It can't be denied that there are smoother, more calculated post-up players in the league than Griffin. But anyone who tells you that Griffin doesn't have a post-up game is either willfully lying to you or hasn't watched him play in years. It's that simple. 

Let's take a look at how his post game has progressed since he entered the league, with numbers courtesy of the video tracking service mySynergySports (subscription required).

via mySynergySports

Griffin seems to have found his sweet spot with his post game this season. After increasing the percentage of his total possessions he finished out of the post the last two years, he's dropped back down to the point where post-up plays again comprise less than 30 percent of his total, per Synergy. His average points per play on post-ups has shot up to a career-best level, while he's shooting over 50 percent from the field out of the post for the first time and drawing fouls at a hyper-elite level. 

He has a wide variety of post moves, but prefers facing up for a jumper or backing down to work his way to a hook shot that he can hit with either hand. One of the reasons he's become such a good post player is because he gets such great post position.

He has an incredibly strong base and rarely gets pushed off his spot. He catches with one or both of his feet in the paint as often as any other player in the league—a testament to both his hard work on the block and the entry passing of Paul, Darren Collison, Jamal Crawford and even DeAndre Jordan. 

Griffin's greatest asset in the post is his quickness. He's simply too much to handle for most power forwards, and he can blow by them on his way to the rim for a dunk or a layup. Even his more involved post moves tend to happen in a very rapid-fire manner, as he very quickly transitions from a drop step to an up-and-under, to a step through, before spinning around and putting up a hook shot. It can all look pretty choppy at times, and the footwork isn't perfect, but it works. 

As you can see in the chart above, though, the turnovers out of the post have shot up this year. Many of those are a result of the aforementioned footwork issues, but still more are coming from trying to too cutely thread the needle on passes that aren't there, charging recklessly into the paint or getting careless with his dribble. 

The Clippers' recent game against the Utah Jazz provides a representative sample of a few of these issues. 

Despite those struggles, Griffin is still an excellent playmaker. Although his AST percentage (the percentage of teammate baskets he has assisted while on the court) stands at a career-low 14.7 according to Basketball-Reference, that number still ranks in the top 15 for forwards league-wide. Additionally, the SportVU data released by the NBA and STATS LLC credits Griffin with creating 6.2 assist opportunities per game so far this year, the 13th-best figure among forwards. 

Griffin's best passing attribute is his ability to make the big-to-big pass after catching the ball on the move in the pick-and-roll. He's netted quite a few dunks for Jordan in this manner this season already. 

Griffin has also been injecting some variety into his game over the last few years, mostly in the form of catch-and-shoot threes, occasional quick-hit freelance plays as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and, every so often, carrying the ball up the court in transition by himself rather than hitting Paul or another guard with an outlet pass. 

He's made 4-of-11 spot-up threes this season, per Synergy, which may not seem like much until you realize it's one less three than he made all of last season. His seven total three-point makes after 33 games are one half of his career total entering the season, a total he amassed in 228 games. 

The quick-hitter in the video above isn't something we've seen a lot of the last few years, but it's an interesting way to use the defense's expectations against it given what they expect to happen in the Paul-Griffin two-man game.

Blake is athletic enough to get to the rim against almost any defender, and Paul is a tough little sucker who is willing to put his body on a man to create space. 

And this—well, this is just unfair. Guys, Blake's size with Blake's sheer power, should not be able to do that, let alone make it look as natural as he does. 

Griffin is not perfect, and only time will tell how he fares without Paul around to generate open looks. But anyone somehow still of the belief that he is a player entirely dependent on others to create his offense for him is sorely mistaken.

Blake's offensive evolution has taken a few years, but it's happened, and both he and the Clippers are far better off for it.  

Jared Dubin works for Bloomberg Sports, writes and edits for the ESPN TrueHoopNetwork sites Hardwood Paroxysm and HoopChalk, is a freelance contributor to Grantland and is coauthor of We'll Always Have Linsanity.