Blake Griffin's Passing Has Reached Another Level for Los Angeles Clippers

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2015

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) passes the ball as Miami Heat forward Danny Granger, left, and center Chris Bosh (1) defend in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Associated Press

"All you do is pass in that game," could be the slogan for the most boring video game in history, but Blake Griffin would probably love it.

The man who was once simultaneously lauded and criticized for his dunking emphasis has become one of the most skilled big men in the NBA, especially as a facilitator. Griffin could always pass. But now, there's no one who does it quite like him.

This transformation already began last season, though there were a few other bigs who passed as well as him in certain facets of the game: Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Kevin Love, etc. Marc and Noah are fantastic high-post finders of the back-door cut, whereas Pau has always been a mid-post distribution savant. Love's outlet passes are legendary already, but Blake is the rare big who can do all those things and more with his superior athleticism and prowess in transition.

This year, though, it's been different. Griffin's dribbled by all of them.

It's not just because the seasonal assist totals are up, either. Griffin may be averaging a career-high 5.0 dimes per game on the year (no other big is averaging more than Noah's 3.7), but more impressively, he's getting those assists in such a variety of ways.

He'll lead fast breaks, grabbing rebounds and immediately pushing the pace up court like a point guard so he can dish to shooters on the other end. His vision after receiving passes in the pick-and-roll is unmatched. He tosses cross-court slings and lobs out of the high post. 

Heck, he even ran a pick-and-roll with DeAndre Jordan just the other day. How often are we seeing 4-5 screen-and-rolls? He's as complete a passing big as there is, and he's doing things no other power forward or center in the NBA can do. 

Want some visual proof? Rest your brain for a minute, kick back, and enjoy Griffin's expansive passing depot. 

Transition Passing


Facilitating as a Roll Man


Cross-Court Passing


Pure Fanciness



Big men don't do all that. It's just not something we see.

Griffin is averaging 6.5 assists per game over his past 16 matches. For perspective, the only big to average that many assists for a full season is none other than Wilt Chamberlain.

Of course, Griffin's not doing this over a full season. It's been 16 games. But that's still a sample size legitimate enough to make you wonder: What kind of player is Griffin turning into? Maybe he shouldn't be hanging around mid-range and chucking up jumpers like he's been doing for much of this season, but he's certainly not a strictly low-post performer, either.

“It’s very valuable,” Chris Paul said of Griffin's passing, via Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press Telegram. “When teams try to send two people at me in the pick-and-roll and different things like that, there are some guys in our league who have to try to pull it and drag it and keep it themselves. But it makes us that much more dangerous that I can just hit Blake, and he knows how to make great decisions.”

Blake has complemented those passing numbers with 21.9-point and 8.1-rebound per-game averages in the past 16. It's basically—in the least intellectual way—low-scoring LeBron James production without three-point shooting. And that leads us to another question, one the Clippers should be asking themselves right about now.

Would it really be that crazy for the Clippers to try Griffin at point forward? 

Wait, don't answer that yet. Let's just go through the logic first.

Point Blake

Brandon Dill/Associated Press

Isn't there a chance Griffin could run point when Paul is out of the game? And I'm not talking facilitating out of the high post and running the offense like he did when CP3 was injured last February. No, we're talking more than that.

This would be a step beyond, the LeBronification of Blake's game—for short stints, of course. It wouldn't hurt to experiment with Blake running point for a short stretch.

I mean, Steve McPherson already has the movie posters mapped:

Steve McPherson @steventurous

But I am also saying, Point Blake. http://t.co/4bcftg15Jr

Doesn't Griffin have the ball-handling skills to bring the rock up the court? And to create from the top of the key? And if it doesn't work, what's the harm?

There's no reason for Doc Rivers to commit to Point Blake. Just try it out for a meaningless four-minute stretch at the end of the third quarter in a 17-point February game against the Utah Jazz.

If it doesn't work, if there's nothing Doc likes, then it's over. You just go back to normal. But if there's something Rivers parses out which could help his team or Griffin's further development down the line, wouldn't it be beneficial?

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 3:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks to pass against Tobias Harris #12 of the Orlando Magic on December 3, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Whatever the odds are that Griffin could play point forward—even if it's just a five percent chance—it has to be worth a few minutes without Paul on the floor, especially with all the trouble the Clippers have had with Jordan Farmar at backup point guard.

Think of the matchup nightmares Point Blake could cause if Griffin is actually successful.

This isn't necessarily a set you run with the starting unit. You go to it when you have a bench majority on the floor. It also doesn't hurt Farmar, considering his only real value this year has been as a shooter. Placing him in more catch-and-shoot situations could aid everyone.

Of course, even if Griffin is physically capable of playing point for a few minutes each night—which is all this would have to be for—there are reasons to argue against it.

It would probably be difficult to implement without proper practice time, something hard to find in the middle of the season.

Bringing the ball up court after a made shot would put Blake in a new offensive position. You can't just dribble into a post-up from there, and he'd essentially be operating on the perimeter, left to drive by guys if he wanted to get to the rim. That's not necessarily something we've seen Griffin do on a consistent basis, especially from far out on the three-point line. You could argue he'd be better off running the offense out of the high post, a la Marc Gasol.

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 28:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks to pass against Donatas Motiejunas #20 and Tarik Black #10 of the Houston Rockets during their gameat the Toyota Center on November 28, 2014 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER:
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Griffin's decision-making would also have to make a leap. About once or twice a game, he'll try to get too fancy with something like a behind-the-back dribble move or a no-look pass and end up turning the ball over. You don't necessarily want the guy running your offense making those unnecessary mistakes.

Still, letting Griffin run with the reserves is an experiment worth trying.

Rivers' substitution rotations have looked a little Scott Brooksy this season, mostly playing and sitting Griffin and Paul together. He's started to switch that up every once in a while of late, playing Jordan and sometimes Griffin with the second unit, but we're nonetheless seeing all-starters lineups juxtaposed with units which have at least four bench players.

Actually, the Clippers' starting lineup has played 694 minutes this season. No other five-man unit has played more than 475 minutes together.

That's both a good trait and a bad trait. Health and consistency are wonderful attributes, but Rivers is hesitant to go away from the starters because of the ever-aching bench struggles. And if the Clips aren't playing like a championship contender at the moment, maybe slight adjustments can help.

Stagger minutes, play Griffin with the bench, let him run the offense and see what amounts. It's not that hard.

C'mon, Doc. Point Blake. Try it. What do you have to lose?

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 on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Jan. 12 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.