So, how 'bout this Blake Griffin guy?
The numbers just keep flowing into the box scores, and the wins are coming right along with them. Griffin's latest strokes of brilliance led to 118-105 Friday night victory over the Toronto Raptors, as he continued to prove what most dedicated basketball watchers have fully realized—he's so much more than a dunker.
Forget about calling him a bona fide All-Star. Forget about trying to argue that he's one of the 10 best players in basketball. But seriously, try to name 10 guys who have been better than him this season, and you'll be left grasping for straws.
It's time we start putting Griffin in the same category that's currently occupied by Kevin Durant and LeBron James. He's still below that duo of superstars, but the Los Angeles Clippers big man has become a legitimate MVP candidate.
After going for 36 points—including those two fancy ones—and eight rebounds in the 13-point victory over Toronto, Griffin removed what little doubt should've existed prior to the outing. NBA.com had already moved him up to the No. 3 spot on its Feb. 7 edition of the MVP Ladder, and Griffin did one hell of a job affirming the site's decision.
Earlier in the same week, Bleacher Report's Josh Martin posted his updated MVP odds, and he wrote the following about a handful of big-name players who didn't earn featured spots:
We're just a few days into February, so there's still plenty of time for the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Blake Griffin and the Houston Rockets' duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard (among others) to get themselves back into the mix, health permitting.
Apparently, plenty of time was only the three games since Martin published his odds:
|A Griffin Rising|
Griffin has been absolutely fantastic ever since Chris Paul separated his shoulder while driving into the paint during a Jan. 3 contest with the Dallas Mavericks. It was easy to assume that his production would quickly fall off, and yours truly fell into that trap.
Surely, Blake's scoring would dip now that he would be tasked with creating looks for himself. His field-goal percentage would certainly decline as well, and there was a great chance the Clippers would fall out of contention for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference standings.
Well, so much for that.
Heading into the contest with Toronto, Blake had been averaging 27.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game without his talented point guard in the lineup, and he was doing so while shooting 54.4 percent from the field.
Well, those numbers are even better after the Raptors came to Staples Center and allowed Griffin to drop 36 points on 13-of-18 shooting. To put that in perspective, Basketball-Reference shows that prior to Feb. 7, only 12 performances had been recorded in which a player went for at least 36 without taking more than 18 shots.
Oh, and Griffin did all that in only 28 minutes, because he didn't have to play much during the second half. In fact, he was loose enough to rap along with Tupac:
"I expected greatness, but Blake's done some things we didn't know he could do," Doc Rivers told the Associated Press, via ESPN, after the victory over Toronto. "Clearly, we're taking advantage of him in the open court with the ball. And he'll be even better when Chris comes back."
For Griffin, it was just the latest performance in a stretch of unquestioned offensive dominance. Over his last five games, the power forward averaged a cool 33.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest while shooting 54.9 percent from the field.
Additionally, Griffin has taken major strides on the defensive end of the court, as ESPN's Tom Haberstroh (subscription required) makes clear:
Among the gallery of Synergy statistics, Griffin shines in their measure of perhaps the most important defensive skill for a big man in today's NBA. Griffin has allowed just 142 points on 202 plays that ended with the ball going to the big in a pick-and-roll. That's 0.7 points per play, a rating that ranks among the top half of big men in the league. Couple that with the versatility that allows Doc Rivers to put Griffin on LeBron James, as he did Wednesday night, and you have yourself a far more useful defender than his reputation suggests.
These are all MVP-caliber numbers, especially because the Clippers are hanging tough in the race for No. 1. After all, that's what it's all about.
While L.A. did drop games to Denver—thanks to a miracle buzzer-beater from the Nuggets' Randy Foye—and the Miami Heat, it was Griffin who actually kept his team in both games. The Nuggets had no answer for him, and the Clippers responded by feeding him the ball on each and every possession. Two days later, Griffin's heroics dragged Los Angeles back into contention with LeBron and co.
And even with those losses, the victory over Toronto moved Los Angeles to 12-6 without CP3, and only the dropped game to Denver came against a team that wouldn't make the postseason if the season ended in early February.
Rather than plummeting into the bottom half of the Western Conference standings or creating an unbridgeable chasm between themselves and the No. 1 team in the conference, the Clippers are right in the thick of things. They currently sit at No. 4 in the West, 5.5 games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder, a gap that can easily be closed once Durant cools off a bit.
Why? Because of Griffin, as well as Jamal Crawford, who shouldn't get completely overlooked for the work he's done in CP3's stead.
"Other players have made statistical improvements that will garner more attention than Griffin's all-around upgrades," writes Maxwell Ogden for Yahoo! Sports. "With that being said, no one in the NBA has improved as drastically as the former Slam Dunk champion."
Forget about the improvement, though.
Griffin's output is simply staggering, and he's consistently proving that he can handle being the focal point of an elite offense. This power forward has shrugged off all the criticism and been consistently dominant while keeping his Clippers near the top of the brutally difficult West.
Does he deserve to move past LeBron and Durant in the MVP conversation? Nope, not yet.
But he's at least starting to insert himself firmly into that conversation.