Is Blake Griffin Already a Hall of Famer?

Nekias DuncanFeatured Columnist ISeptember 5, 2019

Detroit Pistons forward Blake Griffin (23) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Denver. The Nuggets won 95-92. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

We don't talk nearly enough about Blake Griffin.

From the beginning, Griffin has set the basketball world on fire with his high-flying nature. He jammed on overmatched opponents during his two-year career at Oklahoma then ushered in the Lob City Era as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. While the "just a dunker" criticisms were always a bit unjust, he was more comfortable Mozgov-ing people than getting buckets against set defenses.

Today's Griffin can still put you in the torture chamber, but he's an entirely different player. He isn't just a walking highlight reel; he's one of the most skilled players in the NBA. In fact, a strong case can be made that he's one of the best players the sport has ever seen and already worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.

A common misconception about today's NBA is that it's a game of specialists. It's easy to focus on the league's collective shift to three-point shooting and fall into that trap. Teams are taking (and making) more threes than ever. Players, especially big men who can't knock them down, are seemingly getting phased out.

Threes are crucial, but versatility reigns supreme. More specifically, having the counters needed to flummox defenses is what turns a good offensive player into a great one. In the case of LeBron James, his shift from slasher supreme to half-court virtuoso allowed him to become (more) transcendent instead of great. Even the best players in the sport have to evolve. 

Griffin has done just that.

His rare blend of size, power and skill has set him apart from most of his peers, both physically and statistically. He may not be LeBron, but he's on track to wind up in the same place: Springfield, Massachusetts, home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

        

Good Company

CHARLOTTE, NC - FEBRUARY 16: Kyrie Irving #11 of Team LeBron and Blake Griffin #23 of Team Giannis smile and laugh in the locker room before the 2019 NBA All-Star Practice and Media Availability on February 16, 2019 at Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte, Nor
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Griffin is coming off one of the most well-rounded seasons by a big man in NBA history.

He posted a career-high 24.5 points per game with a 46.2/36.2/75.3 shooting split while also adding 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per contest. He was one of four players to average at least 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists last season, joining LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George

Griffin, Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic and Ben Simmons were the only players 6'9" or taller to average at least five assists last season. Of that group, only Griffin and Durant shot 35 percent or better from three-point range.

Put those per-game numbers and three-point proficiency together—24/7/5 while shooting 35 percent or better from deep—and you're looking at nearly unprecedented production. Joining Griffin on that list are LeBron, Durant, Larry Bird, Tracy McGrady and DeMarcus Cousins.

In other words: two Hall of Famers (Bird and McGrady), two surefire future Hall of Famers (LeBron and Durant) and a four-time All-Star who could be on a similar trajectory if not for awful injury luck.

If you set some benchmarks around Griffin's season totals—let's say 1,800 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists and 150 threes—the only other player to meet that criteria last season was James Harden. All-time? It's Harden, Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton, and Antoine "Shimmy On 'Em" Walker.  

Those numbers may seem arbitrary, but they speak to just how much Griffin does on the court.

       

Creating From Everywhere

Griffin has made the rare shift from play-finisher to play-initiator at the 4.

Via Synergy, he led all bigs with 464 possessions as the pick-and-roll ball-handler (passes included). That mark was nearly double the amount posted by Giannis (253) and more than three times as many as Jokic's 137. 

Griffin's 1.004 points per possession (PPP) ranked 25th among the 72 players to log at least 400 such possessions. He edged out stars such as Mike Conley (1.003), Bradley Beal (1.00), George (0.997) and Westbrook (0.952).

The former Sooner has long possessed grab-and-go acumen after hauling in defensive rebounds. The flashes of advanced ball moves have been there, and his ability to showcase that talent in half-court situations has made him incredibly difficult to guard.

Opposing big men are more accustomed to dropping in pick-and-roll coverage than fighting over screens or defending in space. He's able to use that unfamiliarity to generate offense for himself and others:

B/R

Here, Griffin pushes after a miss but draws Draymond Green as an assignment.

He creates a slight crease after the first screen, but Green recovers rather quickly. The re-screen generates a favorable switch for Griffin, and he immediately takes advantage. He uses an escape dribble to create additional space then flows into a step-back triple. Andrew Bogut does his best to contest, but it doesn't matter.

The threat of Griffin getting downhill opens up so much.

Teams still go under screens to cut off driving lanes. Unfortunately for them, Griffin has become much more comfortable shooting off the dribble. Via Synergy, he ranked in the 91st percentile for off-the-bounce jumpers in the half court. Giving him space just isn't a feasible option anymore.

B/R

Similar to the clip against the Golden State Warriors, Griffin retreats after the initial pick-and-roll doesn't get him downhill. Phoenix Suns rookie center Deandre Ayton plays him with a cushion—too much of a cushion, in fact—and Griffin promptly makes him pay.

The 30-year-old has essentially shifted to an outside-in play style, but that doesn't mean he can't get busy down low. He shot 60 percent at the rim on non-post-up attempts and converted nearly 49 percent of his post-up looks, per Synergy. His herky-jerky style allows him to throw defenders off-balance, from where he's able to sprinkle in hooks over either shoulder.

B/R

And if he draws two, he has the vision to make teams pay with the pass. Griffin ranked in the 71st percentile when facing post doubles, thanks to awareness like this:

B/R

          

Griffin's Place in History

Though his numbers were only rivaled by MVP candidates, Griffin's season went a bit under the radar. You can attribute a solid chunk of that to the Detroit Pistons being an uninspiring team. They won just 41 games, and even that came on the back (and injured knee) of Griffin.

His season was good enough to earn an All-Star berth and an All-NBA third-team selection.

But that begs the question: How good is Griffin historically?

Through nine seasons, he has already compiled an impressive resume. He's made six All-Star appearances, earned five All-NBA selections and was the 2010-11 Rookie of the Year. He's one of 25 players averaging at least 20 points and nine rebounds for their careers. Twenty of those players are retired; 18 are in the Hall of Fame. The other two are Chris Webber, who probably should be in, and Alex Groza, who was banned from the NBA for point-shaving in 1951.

If you add Griffin's 4.5 assists per game, the list shrinks to him and Larry Bird. Even if you drop that number to 4.0, only four more players—Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Billy Cunningham and Webber—show up. 

He also matches up fairly well against the bigs among this year's Hall of Fame inductees.

His six All-Star appearances would rank second behind former Seattle SuperSonics star Jack Sikma (seven) and well ahead of Vlade Divac (one). Neither Sikma nor Divac made an All-NBA team in their careers, while Griffin has five selections and counting. Their career per-game numbers—15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists for Sikma; 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists for Divac—similarly fall short of Griffin's.

In short: Griffin isn't just one of the NBA's best talents right now. He would be a Hall of Famer if he retired today.

     

All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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