From Dunker to Jump Shooter: The Evolution of Blake Griffin's Game
Since the Los Angeles Clippers drafted Blake Griffin with the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, Griffin has flooded YouTube, ESPN, and all social media platforms with his posterizing dunks.
During his first few seasons, if Griffin was not exhibiting this ability of his and creating the next ESPN Sportscenter top play of the night, he was likely enduring a defensive foul on his way to the rim. Griffin not only displayed his dunking ability during games, but he also participated in the All-Star weekend Dunk Contest, where he would eventually catch a lob from a KIA sunroof as he was in the air for a two-handed slam in 2011.
As Griffin has grown into a consistent NBA All-Star, his perception of his own game is heading in the opposite direction of what it once was. According to a Washington Post article from October 2014, Griffin was documented as stating that his days of being known as only a player who dunks are over, and they will now just be a small piece of his “well-balanced” offensive game. Griffin also mentioned in that same interview the he is working with Clippers shooting coach, Bill Thate, to correct flaws found in his jump shot and become a well-rounded, offensive weapon.
The Old Game
During Griffin's first three seasons in the NBA, he was a powerful player who drove hard to the basket, hustled to score, and filled the role of a physical power forward. According to Basketball-Reference.com, that style of play had Griffin averaging over 2.6 dunks per game (638 total dunks), accounting for an average of 19% of his attempted field goals per game and the most dunks among all NBA players from 2010 through 2012.
Griffin was also attempting an average of 70% of his shots within 10 feet of the rim and recording 10.4 rebounds per game, including 2.9 on the offensive end. He also was averaging 69 "and-ones" per season. These numbers likely reflect his primary location near the basket. During this period of time, Griffin was selected to the Western Conference All-Star team and helped the Clippers to the playoffs in two of the three seasons.
The New Game
Since making the decision to improve his game elsewhere on the court, which has been evident since last season, Griffin’s new play style is reflected in his stat box. In the 2013-2014 season, Griffin averaged 2.4 dunks per game, accounting for only 14% of his total field goals attempted, down from the previous three seasons.
Not only did his dunks go down, but his shot selection began to reflect a different player, displaying about an 8% decrease from his average shots attempted within 10 feet of the rim and an 8% increase in average shots attempted from outside 10 feet. Additionally, his and-ones and rebounds have also declined, likely due to less frequent attempts to attack the basket.
This season, Griffin is keeping his word on improving his jump shot and limiting his dunks. Through 38 games Griffin is averaging 1.3 dunks per game, accounting for just 7.0% of his total field goals attempted. Like 2013-14, Griffin's positioning on the floor is evident by only having recorded 74 offensive rebounds to date, on track to end the season with about 54 fewer than his normal average since joining the league.
Why the Change?
All signs point to Griffin's changing his game due to the beating he received during those early years of playing around the basket.
In April 2012, Griffin stated, that he was “sick of taking hard hits” and that he was “getting frustrated and getting [himself] in trouble with officials.”
During his first three seasons, Griffin drew 700 fouls, many of which were likely in an attempt by an opposing player to avoid a posterizing dunk. In addition to the rough play he underwent, another reason could be due to the improved play by DeAndre Jordan, a physically dominant center who is currently leading the league in rebounds per game, is third in blocks per game, and has the best overall two-point field goal percentage in the NBA.
Is This Good for the Clippers?
The answer to this question depends on the strategic plan of the Clippers' front office.
In the short term, there is no clear evidence that Griffin has made any type of positive impact. Griffin's win shares per 48 minutes (.160) is his lowest since his rookie year (.152) and well below his mark last year (.205). Similarly, Griffin's individual nERD of 6.3 -- which means that he adds 6.3 wins over .500 for the Clips as a starter -- ranks 24th in the league. Last year, his nERD was 12.6, eighth-best in the NBA. His overall impact is down, but that's something the Clippers have been dealing with well.Griffin is still averaging 22.6 points per game (not too far from his career high from last year of 24.1) but what does all this really mean for the Clippers?
The Clippers have the same record as they did through 38 games last season at 25-13, putting them at sixth place in the West, a record that includes a 14-6 record against conference opponents. According to our power rankings, the Clippers currently have a 97.3% chance at making the playoffs and an 8.6% chance of winning the Championship, probabilities that sound eerily similar to the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Clippers, suggesting the Clippers are managing while Griffin adapts to his new style of play.
In time, it is likely that Griffin, who is known throughout the Clippers locker room as a “worker,” will be able to solidify a jump shot that will have defenders stepping out on him, allowing for easier drives to the hoop.
Griffin is still facing a learning curve, one that includes moving and scoring on quicker defenders. Griffin also has a coach in Doc Rivers who supports his transition to a jump shooter, having stated that he expects Griffin to shoot when he is open, and so do others on the team.
If the Clippers organization can bring in the right role players, retain their core players, and be patient with the likely positive long term effects, Blake Griffin has an opportunity to grow into a threat from all over the court.