Blake Griffin Is Changing His Game, Again

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 6, 2015

November 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) controls the ball against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It's generally been a safe bet to say whichever version of Blake Griffin currently exists is the best one yet.

And that's certainly true in the early stages of the 2015-16 NBA season, as the 26-year-old Los Angeles Clippers forward is playing the best ball of his life.

Through his first five games, Griffin's averages of 28.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists on 58.9 percent shooting have contributed to a career-best player efficiency rating of 31.9.

If not for Stephen Curry's fever dream of a season, Griffin would top the league in that statistic.

As usual, the Clips superstar has made some tweaks to his game this year—some of which are familiar and expected, along with others that few could have seen coming. The end result is the most complete edition of Griffin we've ever seen.

A Natural Progression

November 4, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Clippers 112-108. Manda
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

You know about the improved jumperthat's been a thing for the past couple of years. Still, his growth in this area this season has been significant enough to warrant some coverage.

Griffin is drilling a career-best 54.1 percent of his shots from 16 to 23 feet out in 2015-16, taking his mid-ranger from "work in progress" to "lethal weapon."

Here's what J.J. Redick, who knows a thing or two about marksmanship, told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

He’s more confident, but that confidence comes from work. I always say it’s form, repetition and confidence are the three things to shooting. But you can’t have confidence unless you have something representing good form. 

And if you’ve put in the work, and Blake’s put in the work to have great form, he (ends up) shooting the ball with great confidence.

OK, so Griffin's shot is smoother, less hitchy and generally much more accurate from the mid-range area. Those long twos teams used to willingly concedeand which analytics still suggest are the kinds of shots good defenses inviteare going in at a frightening rate for Griffin.

But we sort of saw this coming.

Griffin's mid-range volume has increased in every year of his career, and his efficiency has been on a steady upward trend as well.

Jumper accuracy like this is a huge reason why Griffin is playing better than ever.

Where Did That Come From?

His jumper's story is one of progression, but Griffin's little in-between game—the flips, floaters and turnarounds from three to 10 feet out—has come seemingly out of nowhere.

Though his rookie season featured lots of attempts from this range, Griffin's shot profile had been trending in the opposite direction over the past three seasons. And last year, he attempted a career-low 20.6 percent of his field goals from three to 10 feet out.

Flash-forward to now, and 30.5 percent of his shots come from that range.

Viewed alongside the decline in field-goal attempts from zero to three feet out, it's clear that Griffin is taking shots without getting all the way to the rim more often than he has at any point since his rookie year.

Perhaps the change stems from the decline in Griffin's vertical athleticism. The jams he's had this season have been rim-grazersnot arena-crumblers.

There's likely also an element of self-preservation at work. Griffin's at a point in his career where he's proved himself plenty, and now he knows staying healthy and getting deep into the playoffs are what matter for him and his team.

Exposing himself to midair takedowns by playing like the poster factory he was three years ago isn't worth it anymore. He's given us the highlights. Now he's giving us the subtler, total game.

That means more runners and half-hooks, finishes more deft than deafening.

And hey! His dunks are up anyway, even if the kind we got used to over the past few seasons—you know, those gravity-is-really-more-of-a-suggestion-than-a-law ones—aren't part of the bargain anymore.

While Griffin's bounce has diminished, he's mostly replaced it with slicker lateral moves, smart sidesteps and tricky ball fakes. He is an eminently skilled player with the ball, and it's a real testament to his work ethic that he's effectively become a complete offensive player instead of a limited rim-attacker.

Another Frontier?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers stands for the National Anthem before their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 4, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowled
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

So is there a future version of Griffin that fires away from three-point range four or five times per game? With the way the league has embraced forwards who can stretch the floor, it's actually somewhat surprising Griffin hasn't been pushed in that direction.

The changes Griffin has made to this point have mostly been about compensation.

He doesn't want defenses to ignore him as a pick-and-pop player, which would put undue stress on Chris Paul as a ball-handler in those sets, so he perfected a mid-range jumper.

He also doesn't want to get clubbed while being four feet off the ground on dunk attempts, so he got smarter and smoother about attacking.

He's made concessions in some areas but added enough in others to sustain or increase his overall production. Basically, he's evolving.

So if Griffin ever adds a long-range shot to his game in the future, it'll have to be because he's worried about the sustainability of something he's doing now.

And given how wildly effective he's been with his current game, it's difficult to imagine what he'd have to lose in order to justify adding a three-ball.

The other 29 teams in the league had better hope Griffin is satisfied with where he's at now. An even better version would border on unfair. Unfortunately, relying on Griffin not improving has been a sucker's bet for a half-decade.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Nov. 5.

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