Blake Griffin's Monster Summer League Debut Has Clippers Salivating
He's not the biggest name to hit Vegas—not even close—but as far as the 2009 NBA Summer League is concerned, Blake Griffin is Elvis Presley, Wayne Newton, and Frank Sinatra all wrapped into one.
The Thomas & Mack Center at UNLV was buzzing the way it did back when Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, and Stacey Augmon roamed the court for the Runnin' Rebels.
Even NBA Commissioner David Stern made an appearance.
At first sight, Griffin is impressive. He had one of the most rigorous pre-draft training routines I have ever seen an NBA prospect go through, and it's paid off.
Griffin looks bigger, more defined, and harder than he did months ago in the NCAA Tournament—he is ready for the NBA.
I don't know how often we will see it during the season, but in Griffin’s summer league debut he started at center, and he proceeded to win the tip.
Off the tip, Griffin raced down the court and found a gap along the left baseline. After a late pass got to him, Griffin kept the ball high, ripped through, and finished with contact.
On the next possession, he showed off a crafty behind the back dribble facing up in the mid-post. It wasn't the wrap-around behind the back of the WNBA; Griffin squatted at a 90-degree angle and unleashed a super-quick move going to his left, which he finished with a fadeaway bank shot.
For the Clippers' third possession, the ball was rotated back to the top of the key, where Griffin was waiting to dial up a three.
In one minute and 30 seconds, Blake Griffin was 3-of-3 with seven points, or 4.6 points per minute. On the night, Griffin finished 11-of-15 from the field for 27 points and 12 rebounds in 29 minutes and 34 seconds.
Along with being the most explosive player on the court, Griffin is an offensive machine. In his first game, he showed he can play anywhere from the five to the three, and play each one well.
The Lakers didn't have a real NBA center on the court, and I question how he would have done in the post against an Andrew Bynum type, but his turn-and-face moves were very impressive.
Griffin was comfortable facing the hoop from the low post all the way out to the three-point line. Off his pivot foot, he can shoot the J, rip high, rip low, or beat his man with pure explosion.
He can even make some beautiful entry passes too.
The former Sooner was equally if not more impressive off the dribble. He stays low when dribbling, is strong with both hands, and can go through his legs and behind his back in traffic.
Griffin has what I call a violent spin move, reminiscent of another Oklahoma great, running back Adrian Peterson on the gridiron.
Griffin gets out and not only runs on the break, but can also lead the break. At times, his willingness to press the ball got the Clippers in trouble, but it also led to some great transition buckets, like his through the legs spin move combo at full speed.
It looks like Griffin already has a go-to move. On the left side of the court, Griffin looks for the bank while fading to his left. He didn't shoot it from Tim Duncan range, but he does elevate nicely on the shot, making it almost unguardable.
When posting up, Griffin fights to get position. He backs his low base into the defender and uses his arms to keep his man from interrupting the pass. If his defender is out of position upon the catch, Griffin quickly makes him pay with a dunk.
Under the hoop, he does a good but not great job of drawing contact. He is still learning what NBA officials will and won't call, getting to the line eight times.
The cons pick up where the pros left off.
As I said, Griffin does a good job of getting to the line, but he only converted on four of his eight attempts. His shot looks good, but Griffin only made 59 percent of his free throws last year and must improve this aspect of his game.
I was also dissatisfied with Griffin's rebounding mentality. Oftentimes he was tracking the ball, relying on his leaping ability and not putting a body on his man.
This lack of defensive rebounding intensity left Griffin standing under the hoop on many possessions while offensive rebounders went for easy putbacks, even dunks.
It was surprising to see because Griffin was great at using his body on offense, especially when setting screens.
There were also mental lapses, strikes against his defensive intensity. It's a little hard to judge because this is summer league, but Griffin didn't display any defensive stopper qualities—he does have a good eye for steals though.
One thing Griffin may really struggle with as a rookie is turnovers, as he committed five in 29 minutes.
At times he looked like a puppy that was just let out of the kennel. His game wasn't out of control, but just overly excited.
He's Not Alone
With all of the hype surrounding Blake Griffin, it seemed like Eric Gordon felt a little left out—with good reason too. After all, Gordon averaged 18.4 points per game in 65 starts as a rookie.
Gordon looked fantastic against the Lakers too. He finished with 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting and converted 11-of-12 free throws.
Before he entered the NBA, people thought Gordon would be too small to play the true shooting guard position. But he is an above the rim player, which he's displayed with a couple of dunks that rivaled Griffin's.
In order for Griffin to start, it meant that second-year center DeAndre Jordan had to come off the bench.
At 6'11", Jordan has all-star potential, but he was a second round pick in 2008 because teams and scouts seriously questioned his dedication to the game and if he would ever approach his high ceiling.
Jordan and Griffin shared many minutes on the court, and the duo worked well together. With Griffin's ability to play the perimeter, Jordan can roam the post, where he scored 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
For this young Clippers team, the sky's the limit.
In the Las Vegas Summer League, the Clips still have to face New Orleans, Memphis and No. 2 pick Hasheem Thabeet, and Washington. Finally, Blake will get to face his brother Taylor when LA plays Phoenix.
I anticipate the Clippers continuing their summer league success behind the trio of Griffin, Gordon, and Jordan. The only real test should be Memphis and their Big East All-Star team.
After that, the young Clippers will join the old.
Owner Donald Sterling has a very talented team rostered for 2009-10.
But they like to run and they like to gun, especially with Baron Davis, Al Thornton, Griffin, and Gordon in the starting lineup.
Will head coach Mike Dunleavy take the handcuffs off his playbook, ditch the system, and play to his strengths?
David Stern and his beloved NBA fans all across the country sure hope so.
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