Breaking Down How MVP Candidate Blake Griffin Can Get Even Better in 2014-15

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Breaking Down How MVP Candidate Blake Griffin Can Get Even Better in 2014-15
USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers have a bona fide superstar in Blake Griffin, and the best news for anyone rooting for Doc Rivers' squad is that he's only going to improve. 

That may seem like a tall order for a player who was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2013-14 behind LeBron James and eventual winner Kevin Durant, but Griffin has several key areas for development. 

What's most encouraging is the fact that it won't take a major overhaul to get there. With a little fine-tuning, Griffin can be in the conversation of the NBA's top player year after year. 

 

Stretch the floor 

While Griffin's propensity to make the highlight reel has earned him a nice paycheck off the floor, his ability to knock down shots from the perimeter consistently has come into question at times. Fortunately, he addressed that area in 2013-14 with his best mid-range shooting numbers to date. 

According to NBA.com, he shot 37.1 percent from 16-24 feet in 2013-14, up from 34.1 percent in the same metric the previous season.  

He's improving here, but he can still do better. NBA bigs, particularly at the 4 spot, are being asked to step out and make outside shots more often. For Blake, the ability to do this serves two key purposes.

First, the defense has to remain honest and contest the shot, giving him more freedom for dribble penetration. And second, there's a substantial amount of space created when Griffin stretches the defense.

Him doing so gives DeAndre Jordan more room to work. The results of such can make the Clips' offense especially dangerous:

 

Notice that Griffin's defender has to come out and defend the mid-range jumper. Though it's only a split second, it's plenty of time for Jordan to sneak behind the second level and finish with ease.

Even as Griffin expands his range, the three-point shot should still remain elusive. Though the stretch 4 is a hot commodity in today's NBA, a career 23.2 percent shooter from deep likely won't find any role as a true perimeter player. 

But that's OK. If he can expand his range slightly, he will give opponents problems. 

 

Defense 

Griffin has the athleticism to be an elite defender. He's quick, has the speed to recover when he over-rotates and can change shots with his leaping ability.

What's most important, however, is that he gives strong effort consistently. When combined with his natural gifts, that alone has the potential to make him special in this regard. 

The voters have an appreciation for defense as well. Here's a look at how the last three MVP winners have fared on that end of the floor: 

 Player (Season)  Points Allowed Per 100 Poss.  Def. Win Shares (Team Rank)
Kevin Durant (2013-14)  104 4.4 (T1)
LeBron James (2012-13)  101  4.7 (1)
LeBron James (2011-12)   97  4.5 (1)

By comparison, Griffin finished second on the Clippers to rim protector Jordan in defensive win shares with 4.1. In addition, he allowed 103 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers suggest he's already doing enough to be considered alongside the league's best all-around players.

That holds especially true once what he brings to the table offensively is factored in.  

But another year under Rivers will give Griffin more tools for success on defense. As he and Jordan improve their communication and familiarity with one another in the framework of the scheme, Griffin will see spikes in defensive production. 

 

Crunch-time hero

This last point is more of a continuance than a necessity. The Clippers will keep going to Blake down the stretch in close games, and he's got to deliver.

He shot well enough from both the field (52.8 percent) and the free-throw line (71.5 percent) last season to prove trustworthy with the ball in his hands late. 

That's a must for anyone to get the nod as the NBA's top player. 

The production from the charity stripe is especially encouraging considering it was a career-high by a fair margin. His previous best was 66 percent in 2012-13 over an 80-game stretch.

Given his ability to create contact and get to the foul line, what used to be considered among his greatest weaknesses can now be an asset if he continues to trend upward. 

 

Not broken, just better

There are few holes in Griffin's game, even as he enters his age-25 season. Marginal improvement in some key areas will give him first-place votes in the MVP running this time around. He got zero last season, partly because Durant was so far ahead of the pack when it came to being the NBA's biggest impact player. 

But Griffin is on his way. Doing the little things that won't necessarily earn him more fanfare than he already has will pay dividends. The voters will notice, and he could be in line for the biggest personal accolade of his career.  

 

Advanced statistics via Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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