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The Major Flaw with Evaluating Blake Griffin

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The Major Flaw with Evaluating Blake Griffin
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Blake Griffin's dunking ability might be the best thing that ever happened to him. 

It's what put him on the map, dating all the way back to his time with the Oklahoma Sooners and a game against Syracuse in which he actually hit his head on the backboard. Dunking during his rookie season made him a sensation, and he quickly became one of the more popular players in basketball. 

When you watched a Los Angeles Clippers game, Griffin was one of those players you had to remain focused on throughout the contest. If you got up to grab a snack, you risked missing a play that would be all over SportsCenter

You ran the chance of missing one of these: 

Mozgoving was a thing. Then it became Perkinsing. Now it's become...Humphriesing?

Hell, let's just call it Griffining.

Without his dunking prowess, Griffin wouldn't have been an All-Star during each of his first three seasons. He became a fan favorite during his rookie season, and that hasn't changed too much as his career progresses.

However, Blake Griffin's dunking ability might be the worst thing that ever happened to him.

 

Overexposure

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Early in his career, Griffin's dunks were fun. 

When he threw down a big slam, either elevating to the point that his eyes were level with the rim or posterizing a new player, everyone flocked to YouTube, waiting for the replays to become available. 

But what happens now? 

The basketball community as a whole loves to nitpick. Comment sections on videos and articles about Griffin's latest dunk—the one over Kris Humphries, for example—are flooded with complaints. While Jamal Crawford told the Associated Press (via ESPN), "I can't wait to go home and watch it on YouTube," that didn't feel like the majority opinion. 

"He didn't actually touch the rim, so it's not really a dunk!" "He made too much contact!" "Kris Humphries sucks, so whatever."

"Yawn." 

Have we really become that inured to athletic feats? Do we really need to criticize plays that made most rational people jump out of their seats if they were lucky enough to be watching the action unfold live? 

Are we no longer able to appreciate what we watch? 

The primary problem here is overexposure. Between SportsCenter, YouTube, the ability to rewind broadcasts and the sheer number of legitimate highlights that Griffin created, his dunks have become devalued.

It's possible to have too much of a good thing. 

And really, the fault goes both ways. 

On one hand, Griffin is too good at dunking. He creates highlights left and right, and it seems like we're treated to a never-before-seen dunk every time he steps onto the court for the Clippers. Between his knack for being in the right place and his ability to elevate with the best of 'em, it's too easy for him to produce plays that everyone needs to see. 

But on the flip side, even the less impressive throw-downs are played up. 

If Griffin does anything, you're sure to hear about it the next day. Sometimes, you don't even have to wait that long. In a lot of ways, it's similar to the story of the boy who cried wolf. 

Networks and video producers tried to inundate fans with less-than-stellar dunks, and it made the real thing (in this case, the truly ridiculous highlights) seem less special. 

Media simply became oversaturated with examples of Griffin making the impossible look possible. 

 

Overshadowing 

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

That oversaturation isn't the biggest problem, though. 

The real tragedy here is that Griffin's dunking ability has become a major flaw in the way the average fan evaluates his game. They're so accustomed to hearing about the big man's dunks that it's impossible to properly value anything else he does on the basketball court. 

How many times have you heard that the power forward is overrated? How many times have you heard or read something about him not being able to do anything but dunk? 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

First, there's the snarky and obvious rebuttal: Griffin has scored 836 points this season and made 76 dunks, according to CBS Sports. Last time I checked, each throw-down wasn't worth 11 points, so he clearly does more than dunk the ball. 

More seriously, though, the 24-year-old big man has made major strides throughout his NBA career. He was admittedly a limited player during his rookie season, but his post-up game and jump shooting have both improved rather dramatically. 

Even comparing last season to this one, there's a big difference. Here's Griffin's shot chart from 2012-13, courtesy of NBA.com (subscription required): 

NBA.com

And now, here's the one from the current campaign: 

NBA.com

The most noticeable difference comes on long two-pointers. Griffin is not only nailing them at a higher rate, but he's almost surpassed the number of attempts in most zones, and the season is still far from over. 

Plus, he's actually hitting three-pointers this season. Even better, he's making 70.2 percent of his shots from the charity stripe, which is a substantial improvement over the percentages he's posted in the past.

All that means—gasp—he's developing a jumper. But...doesn't he only dunk? 

And how about his post moves? 

Take a look at this evolution, per Synergy Sports (subscription required): 

Season % of his Plays as Post-Ups Points Per Possession NBA Rank
2010-11 29.4 0.9 67
2011-12 33 0.83 71
2012-13 35.3 0.88 42
2013-14 27.4 0.96 18

Although Griffin's growth stagnated earlier in his career, he's made remarkable strides this year. He's been more selective with his back to the basket, choosing instead to rack up assists out of the post, and he's become one of the most efficient players in the NBA in this situation. 

The narrative won't shift from "Griffin has no post game" to "Griffin is an elite post-up player," though.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

And that's because his dunking continues to overshadow everything he does. That includes the jump shooting. It includes the post-ups. It includes the increased impact he's making defensively under Doc Rivers' tutelage. 

As ESPN's J.A. Adande wrote after Griffin helped take down the Boston Celtics with yet another impressive performance: 

It’s Griffin who’s getting them the rock. And it was Griffin who got the ball repeatedly in the half-court offense, going inside, absorbing the fouls, cashing in often enough at the line to get him to 29 points on only 14 field goal attempts. 

All the stuff you won’t be seeing on YouTube.

Is Griffin an elite power forward?

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But it's all the stuff you should be paying attention to. 

Griffin has become a truly elite power forward. Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are in a class of their own right now, but Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki and Anthony Davis occupy that next tier. He deserves to be in the company of such stellar players at this stage of his career. 

Go ahead and indulge in the highlights he provides. Watch them over and over if you must. 

But don't let it overshadow everything else Griffin brings to the table. 

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