When Blake Griffin decided to declare for the 2009 NBA draft after his sophomore year at Oklahoma University, the National Basketball Association was going to receive a 6-foot-10, 250 pound player who has a freakish vertical leap. The question many asked about Griffin was if he’s merely a one dimensional player and could he develop into a star in the league or would he just fade onto the bench and eventually out of the NBA? He was selected as the first overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers that year.
Griffin played for the Clippers’ Summer League team and was named Summer League MVP, but we would have to wait another year to see the beginning of the Griffin project. In the final preseason game he injured his left kneecap after landing from a dunk. The injury resulted in a broken left kneecap which required surgery, as a result Griffin missed the entire 2009–10 season.
When Griffin came back the following season, he was still considered a rookie, and he was making a name for himself in the NBA by breaking a rookie record with consecutive double-double games (23) including two 40+ point games, the first since Allen Iverson rookie season in 1996. He made the All-Star team as a reserve and won the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest during the All-Star break. During that same rookie season, he captured all six of the Western Conference T-Mobile Rookie of the Month accolades, the first time a rookie had swept an entire season of Rookie of the Month awards since Chris Paul (now Blake’s teammate).
During the first three seasons with Blake Griffin on the Clippers, the team has progressed through the postseason. Last season, Griffin with the addition of All-Star point guard Chris Paul, lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a 56-26 record. Not only did the Clippers make the playoffs, the team won their first ever Pacific Division title in franchise history. Some may say this is when the “little brother” Clippers began to overshadow the “big brother” Los Angeles Lakers when it comes to the city of L.A. and the Staples Center where both teams play. The Clippers improved by leaps and bounds with Griffin in the lineup, but he and the team still required room for improvement.
On May 21, 2013 the Clippers declined to renew Vinny Del Negro‘s contract as head coach. On June 24, 2013, the NBA approved a trade of Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics to the Los Angeles Clippers for an unprotected 2015 NBA first round draft pick. Rivers met with Griffin and asked him what more do you have to offer team? Can you be the leader I know you can be? This is when Blake Griffin changed from being an athletically-gifted player who could rebound and throw down countless awe-dropping dunks, to a more well rounded big man with above average skills in ball handling and passing.
Griffin’s goal coming into this season was to answer coach River’s questions, and he has answered them with a career season that has him being talked about as an MVP candidate. He is currently averaging a career-high 24.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists while shooting 69.9 percent from the free throw line. He earned his first player of the month award last month after being one of only two players to average at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in February.
“I wanted to improve across the board to be honest,” Griffin said. “I concentrated on my shot and really put a lot of work in there. Every year I try to make improvements, not just in one area but do it across the board, and one thing is leadership. Every year I want to take another step because with every year, you obviously get more experience and younger guys are coming in and you look to take on that role.”
There’s no real blueprint to being a leader. You just have to do it, and Griffin was forced into that role when Paul was injured and sidelined for 20 games this season. Griffin led the team to a 14-6 record and in the process catapulted himself into the MVP race by showing that he was capable of being the team’s leader and go-to guy. Not only did Chris Paul’s absence allow Griffin to mature, but it also changed the way he and head coach Doc Rivers viewed Griffin and the direction of the team.
“I think clearly he’s running the floor better and he’s handling the ball more,” Rivers said. “I just think the overall confidence in his game has grown and his shot and his ability to face the basket instead of always trying to play physical with the bigs. I think that’s where he’s improved the most and he’s still going to keep getting better. I don’t think he’s where he wants to be yet at all.”
Paul knew Griffin was athletic and gifted around the basket, he also realized Griffin was becoming a skilled playmaker with the ball in the open court. His ability to run the offense and find the open man on fast breaks added a new scoring dimension for the team. Paul and Rivers realized they had to utilize Griffin’s abilities even when Paul returned to the lineup.
The 2014 NBA Playoffs are 13 games away and the Los Angeles Clippers are holding on to the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference with a 49-21 record. We will see if Griffin’s maturation, improved skill set, and leadership qualities will take the team further into the playoffs and change Griffin’s status in the NBA from an All-Star to superstardom.