The Re-imagination of Blake Griffin

One of the most curious story-lines in the past decade of NBA basketball is the career of Blake Griffin. The 6’10, 250 pound-er has been nothing short of noteworthy every single year of his career, even in seasons cut short by injury.

With the highlight of his career being behind him as one of the key figures in the Lob City Los Angeles Clippers, Griffin was presented with a choice once Chris Paul left: adapt, or get left behind.

After Paul’s departure from Los Angeles, and as DeAndre Jordan’s best years appeared to be past him, the writing was on the wall that it was time for the Clippers to build anew. They got many, many pieces back in exchange for Paul, but nobody as integral to the system they had prior as CP3 had been. And while players like Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams continue to put in work for LAC, the ownership group seemed to believe that a team of an aging DJ, Blake, and a bunch of good rotation guys had a clear ceiling, and it wasn’t as high as they had probably hoped. As unexpected as the move was at the time, you could pretty easily understand their rationale. They got back a good return for him too, as they gained, among other things, Tobias Harris and the pick that became Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Harris would later be flipped in rookie Landry Shamet and 2 first rounders courtesy of Philadelphia. So, the rebuild turnover was quick and effective, as the Clippers now have 2 max cap spots, multiple quality role players, and plenty of picks to surround any high caliber free agents with young talent.

The metrics of the Clippers’ trade business aside, the reality for Blake Griffin seemed to settle in fast. It’s not that he wasn’t as good as he thought he was; although maybe that thought crossed his mind. It was moreso that he needed to embrace the way the league was changing, and utilize whatever skills he had in order to keep pace. One of the defining characteristics of “modern” basketball is the embrace of the 3-point shot across any and all positions. It’s not a necessity for every player, but when available, it is something that should be taken advantage of, with some bigs like Meyers Leonard, Brook Lopez, and Mike Muscala having the 3-pointer as integral parts of their value to a team. Blake Griffin, as a power forward, was not immune to this shift.

In the early years of his career, from around 2011-2014, Griffin shot percentages ranging from 12% to 29%, on less than .6 3PA per game through all of those seasons. After the 2015 season, Griffin’s 3-point shooting made a leap into the consistent mid-30s range, which is good for his position and even better considering it wasn’t a foundational piece of his game until that point in his career. However, the most notable thing about Griffin’s shooting isn’t his completion percentage jumping up-it’s his attempts. After Chris Paul left LA, Griffin’s 3PA jumped from 1.9 to 5.6 per game, and since the start of his first full season in Detroit, it’s been 6.8 attempts per game from 3. Compared to even his 4th year in the league, this is nearly a tenfold increase in 3-point shots taken, and with a completion percentage about as good as he’s ever had.

Some things improve naturally over the course of a player’s career. Griffin, for example, is shooting about 10% better on free throws than in the early years of his career. This is expected with the natural progression of a player’s skillset. What isn’t expected is taking 10 times as many 3-pointers, and making nearly twice the proportion of them. That’s not a natural progression, that is a player taking their game back to the drawing board and redefining their play.

The trade to Detroit was surely a hard one to swallow for Blake. One thing is for certain, though, is that the free roam he has on that talent and shooting deprived team, along with a new look coach in Dwane Casey, Blake Griffin has had the breathing room to make these kinds of sweeping changes to his play-style, and it’s seemingly all for the better.

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Anthony Davis Requested a Trade. What’s Next?

It didn’t take long for NBA Twitter to catch fire when news came that Anthony Davis was not intending to re-sign with the Pelicans, and was requesting a trade out of New Orleans. As the internet exploded with memes and speculation about his destination, one aspect of the story stood out to me. The Brow wants to win titles. This makes the trade speculation a lot more interesting, as it puts an unusual constraint on his potential landing spots.

This is not to say, of course, that this isn’t typical of stars that demand trades, but rather it’s abnormal in the sense that AD has made clear that winning championships is what matters, not money.

With that in mind, I began to wonder what other teams might be interested in taking a gamble on AD, specifically teams that haven’t already received a lot of attention as potential trade partners for New Orleans. For one thing, the Lakers could get outbid pretty easily, despite their more agressive interest in the trade. Another problem with the usual suspects is Boston, who can’t make a trade until Kyrie Irving is on a new contract (or is involved in the deal, which is also unlikely).

So unless the Lakers clear house, or the Celtics turn this into a waiting game, there are definitely other teams worth exploring as landing spots for AD. There are some important things to keep in mind when thinking this through, however. First, the path to a title, both now and in the immediate future, is easier in the East. Second, teams must be in need of AD’s services, both positionally and skill-wise, to really be interested in making a move here. Third and finally, do these teams have the resources to get this trade done? I can think of a few, but some are far more likely than others.

The Toronto Case

The first team that came to mind as a dark-horse trade destination for AD was the Toronto Raptors. First of all, the team has depth at center, but no absolute killer out there. Unlike Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and some others that fit the bill, Toronto could certainly benefit from having Anthony Davis both short and long-term. Would Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, OG Anunoby, and a pick get the deal done? Would Toronto be comfortable with that? Serge Ibaka is an interesting candidate, but his salary makes him harder to move and/or balance with New Orleans, and as a home-grown guy, I’d rather keep JV if I could.

If I were New Orleans, I would certainly be trying to get Pascal Siakam in the deal, but he has proven so valuable as a role player this year that I doubt Toronto would be super interested in moving him. With that said, a starting 5 of Lowry, Green, Leonard, Siakam, and AD would be one hell of a team on both ends of the court. Not to mention having such strong presences off the bench like Fred Van Vleet, Ibaka or Valanciunas assuming one doesn’t end up in the trade, and other competent role players to back them up, this sounds like a title team to me.

Not only would they be instantly a defensive bastion, but the on-court fit is better than you would probably expect as well. Kawhi and Danny Green are both efficient floor-spacers, Kyle Lowry is an assist machine, and Pascal Siakam can do more or less whatever you need at the 4. If I were AD, I’d be thrilled at this. No player on this team has an ego, it would be very easy to come in and be instantly embraced by the city and team, and that team could win a title this year and down the line as well.

The one downside to this for the Raptors is potentially disrupting the home-grown talent and culture guys that they have. But with a player like AD, I think that’s a chance you take.

The Portland Case

Another team that interested me in this thought process was Portland. They’ve been overdue to shake things up for a while, and they are a team that really is just one player away from being a contender, even in the West. The Trailblazers could try to move CJ McCollum, who for all of his struggles this year is definitely a player of value. He’s not enough to get the deal done straight up though, despite their near identical salaries.

Nurkic is also an interesting asset, and trading a center for a center would make the position fit easier, as well. It would be tough for Portland to get this deal done without digging into their depth a bit, but their depth isn’t going to push them above the 4th seed at best this year.

It’s been time for this team to try and push their ceiling up, and this would certainly be a good way to do it. AD is a top 5 player on both ends of the court, and with floor spacing that Damian Lillard and the other powerhouse shooters like Seth Curry and Meyers Leonard provide, AD would have all the room in the world to work down low. A starting 5 involving Dame, Aminu, AD, and players to fill in the gaps off the bench like Curry, Turner, Leonard, and Collins, I could see this rotation of guys making a strong run this post-season. The problem would be filling in the gaps at SG and SF, depending on who is involved in the trade, and what Portland gets back. Regardless, this team is well-suited to take in AD and instantly become a contender.

The Clippers Case

This final one is easily one of the least likely, as the Clippers have made clear their interest in Kawhi Leonard this off-season. However, they are easily capable of making moves that would open up two max slots in their cap room, and part of that could be made possible through an AD trade. Although Davis has stated money isn’t important, I can’t imagine playing in LA isn’t at least slightly alluring. Plus, he gets to do it without all of the drama and sacrifice that involves playing with LeBron and for the Lakers in general.

That is all an aside, though. The real question is, how much depth does LA have to cough up in order to get this deal done? The easy part is matching salary. They have plenty of players of varying skill levels on various size deals, all or most of whom are perfectly fair value. Would NOP be interested in Montrezl Harrell, Danilo Gallinari, and some picks? As cruel as it would be to make Tobias Harris move again, he is also an undoubtedly valuable piece on a very solid contract. Getting Gallinari off the books makes more sense, however, as it alleviates more cap room as well as providing a very convenient opening at small forward for one, say, Kawhi Leonard.

As young players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continue to improve, this starting 5 would only increase their ceiling even after adding two top 5 players in their prime. SGA, Lou Williams, Kawhi, Harris, and AD would be one heck of a lineup with plenty of upside and room for improvement. The best part of the Clippers is they have so many functional and valuable players, but none that are irreplaceable. This is a well-coached, consistent, and professional team that would be a prime landing spot for any marquis talent, but it would specifically would be a great spot for AD given LAC’s future plans and current situation.

The Conclusion

While I think it’s fun to imagine AD in green or yellow (actually now that I think about it, that’s the least fun thing I could do) there are certainly other interesting options that not only fit the bill for AD to go there, but also have interesting options as a return for New Orleans. If I were the Pelicans, there are certainly players I’d value on the teams I mentioned above more than I’d value any combination of Kuzma, Ball, Hart, and Ingram. So cheers, we’ve begun the next great NBA trade saga, so now all we have to do is wait.