NBA

The Rise of Blake Griffin

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2014

The Rise of Blake Griffin

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Ever since he first laced up his kicks in Norman, Oklahoma, Blake Griffin has been one of basketball's most captivating talents. 

    A 6'10'' forward who ran the floor like a gazelle, Griffin's never-before-seen combination of size, speed and athleticism vaulted him into the national spotlight as he evolved from a compelling freshman into a coveted franchise-changing prospect during his sophomore year with the Sooners. 

    After being selected No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Clippers, Griffin put the weight of the franchise on his shoulders and began to churn out unprecedented numbers as a rookie. 

    Since shattering expectations during his first year as a member of the Association, Griffin has been showered with accolades that have helped solidify his status as one of the game's premier power forwards. 

    With so many notable achievements already under his belt, we're here to break down Griffin's emergence from college stud to NBA superstar, his jaw-dropping in-game dunks as well as the development of his game over his first four pro seasons. 

Freshman Season

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    Blake Griffin's path to superstardom began at the University of Oklahoma, where he came in ranked as a five-star recruit and the No. 5 power forward in his class behind Michael Beasley, Donté Greene, Patrick Patterson and Kosta Koufos, per Scout.com.  

    Given where those other players are now, Griffin's ranking seems criminally low.

    Greene hasn't stepped on an NBA court since 2012 after playing four underwhelming seasons for the Sacramento Kings while Beasley has become a career journeyman plagued by attitudinal problems. Elsewhere, Koufos and Patterson have each settled in as rotational players, and have already donned the uniforms of seven different teams, combined. 

    During his inaugural season as a member of the Sooners, Griffin put up some gaudy nightly averages that were matched by only two of his fellow freshman.

    In 2007-08, Griffin was one of three freshman (along with Beasley and Kevin Love) to average at least 14 points and nine rebounds, per Sports Reference, and finished with the highest field-goal percentage of the three (56.8). 

    Griffin also finished the season with the Big 12's third-highest effective field-goal percentage and fourth-most rebounds. 

    However, it was Griffin's sophomore campaign that sent his draft stock soaring and ultimately propelled him to tremendous new heights. 

     

     

The Breakout Sophomore Campaign

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    After staking his claim as one of the nation's top freshman, Blake Griffin exploded during a breakout sophomore season that saw him average 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds. He was the only player in the country to finish with averages of at least 22 points and 14 rebounds during the 2008-09 season, and led nearly every key statistical category in the Big 12, as well. 

    According to Sports Reference, Griffin led his conference in scoring, rebounding, true shooting percentage, effective field-goal percentage and offensive win shares en route to capturing the Wooden Award, which is handed out annually to the nation's most outstanding college basketball player. 

    Griffin also added a collection of other awards to his trophy case, including the Rupp Trophy, Naismith Award, AP Player of the Year, and was named a Consensus First Team All-American along with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Tyler Hansbrough and DeJuan Blair. 

    And from a team standpoint, Griffin helped the Oklahoma Sooners reach their first regional final since 2003. 

    A year after the Oklahoma Sooners were bounced in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by the Lousiville Cardinals, Griffin carried his school to its seventh regional final before losing to the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Elite Eight. In the 72-60 loss, Griffin poured in 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. 

    Although the Sooners were ultimately bounced from the Big Dance, Griffin didn't leave without padding his resume with a signature performance against Syracuse. In the regional semifinal, Griffin torched the Orange to the tune of 30 points (12-of-15 shooting) and 14 rebounds in an 84-71 victory. 

    Many will remember that game as the one in which Griffin famously banged his head on the backboard as he skied for a baseline slam. 

     

The Face of a Franchise

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    After finishing with a 19-63 record in 2008-09, the Los Angeles Clippers were in desperate need of a game-changer.  

    Fortunately, L.A.'s once-overlooked franchise was granted a gift when the ping pong balls bounced just so (the Clips owned the third-best lottery odds behind the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards) and Blake Griffin fell into their laps after securing the rights to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft.

    By selecting Griffin, the Clippers began to lay the foundation and establish a winning culture, one that took shape when Griffin first stepped on the court during the 2010-11 season.

    Although the Clips missed the playoffs with a record of 32-50, an air of optimism started to envelop a franchise that had not tasted postseason success since the 2005-06 season. 

    In addition to boasting a three-win improvement over the 2009-10 season, the Clippers' offensive and defensive ratings improved by two and 1.4 points, respectively. 

    It wasn't long before Griffin and the Clippers began to emerge as one of the league's trendier young squads. 

Taking the Association by Storm

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Tasked with being the Los Angeles Clippers' leading man, Blake Griffin made good on the franchise's investment in him during the first phase of his professional odyssey. 

    Appearing and starting in all 82 games as a rookie, Griffin took the NBA by storm with his unique blend of freakish athleticism and compelling upside, posting historically significant averages of 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds in the process. 

    According to Basketball Reference, Griffin became just the seventh player to accrue averages of at least 22 points and 12 rebounds during a rookie season. The other members of that elite club? Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Bellamy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Elgin Baylor and Elvin Hayes. 

    In addition, Griffin is one of only three players (Abdul-Jabbar and Baylor the others) to average 22 points, 12 rebounds and three assists during a rookie season and one of 10 to play 37 minutes or more per game and post a player efficiency rating of greater than 21 during a rookie campaign, per Basketball Reference

    What's more impressive is that Dwight Howard was the only other player to match Griffin's 22-point, 12-rebound benchmarks during the 2010-11 season. 

    By posting such unprecedented numbers, Griffin began to state his case as one of the game's premier and most versatile power forwards. 

    The No. 1 overall pick cemented his opening act by capturing the league's Rookie of the Year hardware and winning the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest in spectacular fashion

The Signature Dunks

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    Above all else, Blake Griffin has become a household name thanks to his in-game dunking capabilities. 

    And when you ponder the myriad breathtaking slams Griffin has produced, there's always one that stands out above all others: His desecration of Timofey Mozgov. 

    Prior to humiliating the former New York Knicks big man on a national stage, we'd never seen a dunk like it. But thanks to Griffin's presence, there have been several more entries in the posterization chronicles, including dunks over Kendrick Perkins, Pau Gasol and Kris Humphries

    Starting with the Mozgov massacre, the players Griffin has dunked over stopped being opponents and started becoming victims. 

    These types of slams have become so prevalent since Griffin burst onto the scene that fans can sense when they're coming as the Clippers execute their patented side pick-and-rolls and pocket passes with ease. 

     

The Inception of Lob City

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    The Clippers' winning percentage began to skyrocket to unprecedented heights when point guard Chris Paul joined Blake Griffin and Co. shortly before the abbreviated 2011-12 season got underway. 

    From the moment the news broke that the Clippers were acquiring Paul and two second-round picks in exchange for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and an unprotected first-round pick, the basketball world was abuzz. 

    However, no one was more excited than Griffin and teammate DeAndre Jordan, who were captured jubilantly celebrating the arrival of their new partner in crime. It was then that Griffin exclaimed "It's going to be Lob City!" and immediately had fans salivating over a team that was dripping with potential. 

    Not only did catchphrases like "The lob, the jam!"  and "Oh me, oh my!" from Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler immediately become a part of the NBA lexicon, but the Clippers started to flourish in ways they never had before.

    During Paul's first season alongside Griffin, the Clippers went 40-26 and topped the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. 

    The following year, the Clippers topped 50 wins for the first time in franchise history and captured the team's first Pacific Division title. Although they weren't able to replicate their relative postseason success from the year prior (they lost in the first round to Memphis), the 2012-13 season represented a time of significant growth and development for a team that's embraced a win-now mindset. 

     

His Evolving Game

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    While detractors have been known to label Blake Griffin as nothing more than a slam dunk maestro, his game consists of so much more than high-flying artistry. 

    Let's start with the passing. 

    Since his rookie year, Griffin has finished among the top two power forwards in terms of assists per game each season, and led his position with 3.7 dimes a night in 2012-13. 

    This season, Griffin ranks No. 3 among power forwards with 3.4 assists per game, although it's worth noting that his numbers are climbing. After averaging three assists in November and 3.1 in December, Griffin is up to five a game so far in January. 

    And as B/R's Adam Fromal notes, Griffin's shooting stroke has improved significantly since last season:

    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. 

    Following Wednesday night's win against the Dallas Mavericks, Griffin is now shooting a shade under 40 percent between 16-24 feet, according to NBA.com, up more than five percent from last season. 

    In addition, Griffin has already attempted 178 jumpers and made 71 from that distance, which is staggering when you consider that he attempted 245 and converted on just 84 last season, per NBA.com

    There's also the matter of Griffin's evolving post game. 

    Through 39 games, Griffin is scoring a career-best 0.97 points per possession on post-ups, which ranks No. 21 overall, according to SynergySports (subscription required). Per Synergy, 27.5 percent of Griffin's touches come in post-up situations, eight percent more than any other play type. 

    It's these reasons, and not the dunking, why Griffin has been selected as a Second Team All-NBA member two years running.  With his work ethic and drive, it doesn't look like he'll be regressing soon.

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