I know that sounds like an insane statement to make about a player who is averaging nearly 22/12 right now as a
second third year player. After consuming far too many Clippers games this year though, it’s exactly how I feel. Hear me out on this one.
Before December 12, 2011 the Los Angeles Clippers were still one of the NBA’s “up and coming” teams. They boasted one of the best young cores in the league and we were all curious to see what the young bunch could achieve in just their second full year together. There was no way they could compete for a title, but sneaking into the playoffs as a seven or eight seed would have been a gigantic success. There were literally no expectations except that Blake Griffin stay healthy and somehow outdo himself with more alley-oop dunks, if only to let us know that the NBA was indeed back. But then on that fateful afternoon, s—- got real.
The Clippers traded for Chris Paul, only the best point guard in the game, and went from media darlings to title contenders overnight. Maybe they didn’t know it at the time, but the team was like a child who was forced to grow up way too soon. They went from having their only requirement be occasional entertainment to a national demand for instant success.
Perhaps it was indicative of his immaturity that Blake Griffin remarked to DeAndre Jordan that it was going to be “Lob City” after learning of the trade, rather than say something to the effect of how legitimate their status as a contender would soon be. I know that’s a reach of epic proportions, but Blake’s play on the court this year doesn’t indicate otherwise.
The reason Blake Griffin is a disappointment is 100% related to my basketball snobbery, so let me make that clear before we move on for the rest of this short post. There are higher expectations for him as a player now that are directly correlated to his playing with Chris Paul. And he has failed in every regard.
An apt comparison is easily made to Dwight Howard only a few seasons ago. They’re actually remarkably similar basketball players, if you think about it. Both are freakishly athletic big men who rely more on their ability to jump out of the building and out-athlete people rather than develop a more comprehensive offensive game that could produce more consistent results. The mean way of saying it is that neither can score unless it was a wide open dunk or an alley-oop. While Dwight has made slow progress in this regard, it is clear that Blake didn’t get better at anything else this past summer. He doesn’t have a go-to post move yet. However his biggest failure is his inability to hit jump shots.
I don’t want to go too in depth about this, so go read about his failure on pick-and-rolls with Chris Paul in this fantastic piece. The gist of the post is that Blake too often rolls to hit a jumper (a la David West with Chris Paul back in the day), rather than roll to the basket where he is a more effective finisher (a la Tyson Chandler back in the day). Whether this is a result of defensive measures by opposing teams or because Blake tried to work on a mid-range game is unknown at this time. What is known is that Blake is a horribly inefficient shooter from that range and it’s killing the Clippers. It’s frustrating to watch such an athletic big man settle for those long shots rather than work to humiliate opponents from down low.
It’s for this reason that an SB Nation writer actually floated the possibility of a Blake Griffin for Dwight Howard trade yesterday. And he makes a damn solid point. Blake is not consistent enough to be a reliable postseason presence at this point of his career. Many of his points come on junk points such as fast breaks and putbacks where the defense is lazy. Those points disappear once the games start to matter in the playoffs. He’s also not a consistent enough defender and relies way too heavily on DeAndre Jordan to bail him out during games. On the other hand, Dwight Howard is the best defensive presence in the game and a much more reliable post scorer.
It’s sad that we’d even consider it, and it’s through no fault of Griffin’s, but the Clippers actually have a real shot at a championship now with Dwight instead of Griffin. Can they afford to wait around for Blake’s game to mature? Or should they make the smart basketball move and make the trade to contend for titles the next five years until Chris Paul’s knees give out?
As much as I love watching Blake Griffin dunk a basketball, I say the Clippers have to make that trade before the Lakers finally give up on Bynum on Gasol and do it themselves.