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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