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Breaking Down Blake Griffin's Recent Upswing in Production for LA Clippers

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2014

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin misses a dunk during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 120-100. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Blake Griffin's fortunes are changing.

Griffin has started slowly by his standards, averaging 22.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 34.7 minutes a night while shooting a career-low 49.6 percent from the field. Lately, though, he's on a bit of a rolleven if his previous three games have been statistically underwhelming.

Since the Clippers got off to a rocky 5-4 start, Griffin has helped the team to a 12-3 record and dominated during much of that stretch.

The numbers are getting better after Griffin struggled early trying to implement his newly improved jumper.

It's not just about knocking in shots from distance. It's about the types of attempts. The Clippers are running Griffin off mini-curls. He's draining step-backs. He's spotting up with confidence.

Early, Blake may have relied on his new skill a bit too much.

Through nine games, NBA.com classified almost 47 percent of Griffin's attempts as coming from mid-range, the highest rate of his career by far. After finally fine-tuning his jumper to above-average capabilities, it's only human instinct to try to show it to the world.

"I think what happens to a lot of players, you work on something all summer, it's like a toy, you want to show everybody. You want to go play with it," explained Doc Rivers.

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Griffin knew he was off to an odd start, too, even talking about it to Clippers.com's Rowan Kavner back on Nov. 7.

“I need to do a better job of mixing up and attacking more, not settling for jump shots,” Griffin said. “That’s something I’ve got to work on, something I’ve got to kind of figure out. Hopefully that brings a different dynamic to our offense.”

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 13:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers prepares to shoot a free throw against the Milwaukee Bucks on December 13, 2014 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Gary Dineen/Getty Images

Griffin's been taking fewer shots from mid-range—the least efficient area from which to shoot because it both draws the fewest amount of fouls and yields the worst point return of any type of jumper—during these past 15 games.

More importantly though, he's been shooting more from inside the restricted area, where he dominates.

Ultimately, a skill isn't necessarily a toy. It's more like a weapon, something you have to learn how to deploy at appropriate times. Early on, Griffin was learning on the run.

Now, he is determining how to use his honed ammunition. And it's not about putting his career-high percentage from mid-range on display. It's merely about the threat.

Defenders, especially less-experienced ones, are forced to guard him closer. This isn't even about biting on pump fakes. It's about slower guys who guard Griffin not necessarily having the space to catch up with him on face-ups.

Just look at how Blake manhandled Alex Len during the Clippers' overtime win against the Phoenix Suns from Dec. 8, the one when he hit the game-winning three in overtime.

Len couldn't keep up with Griffin, which is part of why the Clippers' power forward went for 45 points on that night, two off his career high. Griffin abused Len with plays like these:

NBA.com

See how close Len face-guards Griffin? It sets up a face-up situation for the quicker offensive player. That's the balance his game needs: prioritizing the paint with the jump-shot game taking secondary preference. 

He's still learning that. We'll see him rely on the jumper too much in some games, and smart defenders will try to coax him into taking jumpers instead of heading to the post or the rim.

Take the way Nene, one of the world's best scouting-report defenders, guarded Griffin during the Washington Wizards' victory over the Clippers on Friday night. He sagged off him for the most part, cut off passing lanes when he tried to drive and still somehow prioritized help defense on Chris Paul penetration over all else.

It was one of the best defensive games played against the Clippers this year from one of the more underrated defensive players in the league.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 12: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers drives against Marcin Gortat #4 of the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on December 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

Everyone can't defend Griffin like that, but such a performance does show why his production has dipped over the past three games, playing the second of the trio on the following night in Milwaukee. Back-to-backs can't necessarily hold much meaning, especially when they come after a physically exhausting loss on the road against one of the league's peskier defenses. The third "struggle," meanwhile, was still a seven-assist performance which came in a 22-point victory over the Detroit Pistons.

We're still not seeing Griffin fully prioritize his inside game. His percentage of attempts taken inside three feet remains a career low by more than seven percentage points. It's no coincidence that his true shooting sits at a career low with his free-throw rate at an all-time valley as well.

Griffin isn't where he was at last year, when he finished third in MVP voting. His passing opportunities out of the pick-and-roll haven't even come as often as after the 2014 All-Star break and into May.

Griffin is a smart player. He'll eventually understand how to mesh all his skills together to become even better than he is already. 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless specified otherwise. Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Dec. 16 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

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