Blake Griffin and Paul George: Two Historical Starts
Everyone and their brother is talking about Stephen Curry -- and why wouldn't they be? The reigning NBA champion and MVP is off to a scorching hot start in his quest to repeat as the best player on the Association's best team.
Not only is he leading the league in nERD with a score of 41.2 -- over 18 points more than the next closest player, Kevin Durant -- and not only is he leading the league in scoring, but also he has his Warriors squad sitting undefeated and atop our NBA power rankings.
There's no denying Curry has had one of the best starts to a season we have ever seen, but he's really overshadowed a couple of players who have also had amazing starts to the season in their own rights -- Blake Griffin and Paul George.
To start off the season, Griffin was the least remote thing to Steph Curry's outstanding nightly performances. He started off the year against Sacramento with 33 points (on 14 of 20 from the floor), 8 rebounds and 4 assists for an Offensive Rating of 136 coupled with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 70%.
Griffin followed up his opening act by posting averages of 31.5 points (on 61.5% shooting), 9.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his next two games. In doing so, he established himself as the Clippers' number-one man with a Usage Rate of 37.0% in those two contests. It was then clear as it's ever been that we're in for quite a year from Mr. Griffin.
Why the, "Hey, I'm really good!" start? Well, Griffin took some notes from Chef Curry and improved his shot and his handles. See for yourself.
With such drastic improvements, Griffin continued his elite play throughout his next three games against the Suns, Warriors and Rockets after which he now sits at an impressive 29.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. But he's not the only one producing those kinds of numbers for his squad.
Coming off a gruesome leg injury and a season away from basketball, Paul George is doing a lot of the same for his Indiana Pacers. Now George hasn't been nearly impressive as Griffin but he's been the heart and soul of his Pacers in the same way Griffin has for his Clippers squad.
George started out his comeback year by damn near posting a triple-double -- with 17 points, 12 boards and 8 dimes -- against the Toronto Raptors. But it seems as though George was still shaking off some rust against one of the better defensive teams in the league, going just 4 of 17 from floor and 0 of 4 from deep.
Sure enough though, George slowly but surely picked up the efficiency of his game. In the six games since his season debut the two-time all-star has shot nearly 45% from the field and over 35% from three, bringing his Effective Field Goal Percentage to 47.6% and his True Shooting Percentage to 54.7%. That difference can be seen in PG's stellar free throw game.
Through seven games, George is shooting 85.4% from the charity stripe and is sixth in free throws made and free throws attempted so far this year. He is shooting just over one more free throw and making nearly one more than his current career highs while posting a career high Free Throw Rate of 38.1%.
By this you would think that George has been attacking more than ever, but it's been quite the opposite. Take a look at these percentages in comparison to his career averages, per Basketball-Reference.com.
|% of FGA by Distance||2P||0-3||3-10||10-16||16 <3|
|FG% by Distance||2P||0-3||3-10||10-16||16 <3||2-Pt FG %Ast'd|
George's average shot distance this year is 16 feet, compared to 15.3 feet for his career.
This shows that George has been floating to the perimeter a lot more, maybe in part due to his primary position change from small to power forward, naturally facing defenders less familiar with perimeter defense. And having 46.2% of his two-point field goals being assisted on that's saying that Paul George is as big of an offensive focal point as he's ever been.
Whatever the reason may be, George is finding some success in the long midrange game, shooting many more two-pointers from beyond 16 feet but within the three-point line and making even more of them.
That is one -- but not the only -- thing he and Griffin have in common. In his own right, Griffin is taking 36.8% of his shots from that same range while converting at a 53.5% clip, but in addition to being midrange killers, both of them are acting as point forwards for their respective teams.
Griffin, who has become known for his playmaking and passing skills in the past few seasons, is maintaining that reputation by assisting on 23.5% of his team's field goals. George, on the other hand -- despite averaging over four helpers per game in 2012-13 -- hasn't been regarded as a passer or playmaker in recent years. This year, it seems as though he's turned the corner in that regard, averaging 4.6 assists and assisting on 24.8% of his team's field goals.
Another skill the two now share is rebounding. Griffin is averaging 9.7 rebounds per game on his career and has been a heavy rebounder in earlier stages of his career. George hasn't been much of a rebounding machine (6.1 career average) until now; with 9.3 per game, he's leading the Pacers in boards.
From their forward positions, both players are scoring, assisting and rebounding at a very high level. How high? Well, I looked to see how many seasons there have been where a player has averaged at least 23 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game, and what did I come up with? 59.
I looked to narrow down those by seasons in which two players have accomplished the same feat -- and that resulted in 12 such seasons. The last season that happened was the 1993-94 season when Karl Malone and David Robinson were in their prime.
But Griffin and George have one more very important thing in common that, if they can sustain their early season starts, would lead to a truly historical season -- and that's Usage. Both players have a Usage Percentage north of 30%.
There are only four other players (six total seasons) ever to have a season with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game with a Usage Rate of at least 30%. That short list includes Malone (twice), Robinson, Chris Webber (twice) and Larry Bird.
Sure, those are some great names they would join, but if the two did it together in the same season it would be the first time ever. It will be interesting to see if they can continue their awesome play and together make history that has never been made before.