Blake Griffin‘s health through the NBA preseason has been nothing but exhilarating for the LA Clippers and their fans. He’s moved around the court with the bounce, speed, and quick twitch agility he’s always had but was unable to display in an injury-hindered return for the playoffs last season. He was never truly healthy and we saw that when he was eliminated from the playoffs as his quadricep injury flared up again, leading to surgery this summer.
In his return, though, Griffin isn’t just healthy — he’s aggressive. He’s forcefully aggressive in a way we couldn’t see at the end of last season due to his injury, and it’s allowed him to showcase just how easily he can take over for the Clippers’ offense already.
Whether he’s facing up opponents from the elbows using the triple threat of being able to shoot, facilitate or drive, or simply bruising through opponents in the post with a level of skill and strength miles ahead of anyone else on the team, Griffin brings back a dynamic that changes so much for the team.
Possibly more important than anything else is how he alleviates pressure from Chris Paul, especially if we see Doc Rivers stagger their minutes more often this season to let Griffin anchor the second unit.
When you add Griffin’s new three-point range into the mix, defenders have to respect him from more areas of the floor now, too. And when that’s the case, he has even more opportunities to blow past defenders contesting too closely to drive or simply pass inside to cutters when additional space opens up while he’s around the perimeter.
For now, let’s focus on the interior game, though, the element of Griffin’s scoring arsenal that really helps the Clippers’ offense.
His aggression in the preseason so far can not only be seen through his drive to score himself, but by the shots he’s looking to get. We know he isn’t going to fall in love with the three and drift away from the basket, and he’s done nothing but enforce that so far.
In the Clippers’ game against the Utah Jazz, Griffin constantly positioned himself close to the basket, looking for easy finishes as close to the rim as possible or backing down opponents to create easier opportunities.
This first clip shows Griffin slip past Trey Lyles when forcing him down the lane, calmly spinning for the finish as he receives the perfect pass from Paul.
In the following play, Griffin wasn’t quite as far down the lane, but asserted himself by catching the pass and instantly using a power dribble to push back Lyles and go up for the finish before Rudy Gobert flew in to help.
Doc Rivers has said that he wants the Clippers to move the ball up the court and initiate the offense faster. If Griffin frequently creates this kind of positioning, there’s no reason the team’s guards need to hold back with quick passes inside like those above and look for a fast score.
Next, there’s the more important element of Griffin’s aggressive play: his post-up and face-up game.
Blake’s post-ups and face-ups
Unlike anything we saw at the end of the 2015-16 season, Griffin has been elevating and looking for contact with complete comfort. Whether he enters bulldozing-dunker mode in the post or attacks off the dribble with face-ups, Griffin has looked terrific this preseason.
Terrific, in part, because he’s been aggressive.
His ranking in the 92nd percentile in isolation baskets last season (per NBA.com) is also another indication of just how deadly he is when attacking opponents off the dribble.
This move against Boris Diaw, when Griffin blew past on a baseline spin move and threw the ball down before Diaw even had a chance to react, is far more reminiscent of what he did to Aron Baynes in the 2015 playoffs. In other words, when Griffin was playing some of the absolute best basketball of his career.
Then again, when facing the Portland Trail Blazers in Thursday’s 109-108 win, Griffin went right at his defenders inside on the way to scoring 26 points (8-of-15 shooting) in just 24 minutes.
Baskets like the following, when Griffin has the threat of his jumper to keep defenders drawn in, truly show how he can utilize his devastating first step to tear past for a layup when they guard him too closely, in this case with an and-one.
Last season, the Clippers had no one who could replicate anything close to this type of creation. Instead, they had to heavily rely on Paul as much as ever, which is indicated by the fact their offensive rating plummeted by 14.2 points per 100 possessions when he was off the floor.
They had no one to consistently get them a basket if Paul couldn’t find someone a good shot, score himself, or Jamal Crawford (as he often did) went on cold streaks with all his tough drives and shots off the dribble.
Now, they can give the ball to Griffin and let him go to work, also cutting down some lower efficiency guard play in the process.
Furthermore, when Griffin is scoring in this fashion and controlling the ball, the return of his passing ability does so much the LA Clippers’ offense, as we’ve seen already this preseason.
Here’s what he can do for everyone else:
The return of point-forward Blake
If Griffin starts drawing any double teams or perimeter defenders overcommit to helping inside — especially once he establishes himself by scoring the post — that’s when more spaces opens up for the Clippers’ shooters or cutters and Griffin can distribute to the best of his abilities.
The following assist against the Jazz is a perfect example of that. Griffin gets the mismatch against Rodney Hood at the top of the key, encouraging Joe Johnson to leave his man, Luc Mbah a Moute (obviously a weak perimeter threat, which is extra incentive to double Blake).
With Gobert having to keep DeAndre Jordan away from the lane to prevent the opening for a lob, Luc is left wide open, attacks the easy lane to the basket, and Griffin easily drops a pass between Hood and Johnson for a Luc layup.
Even in the next play, this time against Toronto, when Griffin doesn’t have the same kind of space to pass into, he’s still so adept at finding his target in rhythm. Austin Rivers darts between a gap in the lane and Griffin doesn’t hesitate to fire the pass over his head before the defense gives up an and-one to Rivers.
Of course, Griffin’s passing and ability to draw double teams from the post (unlike anyone else on the team) creates chances outside for shooters, too.
To accompany such skill, Blake has the IQ to maximize it. He knows when to drive past opponents guarding him too closely, he knows how to toy with a defender using pump fakes and his ball handling, and he knows how to survey the floor and deliver passes at just the right time.
Whenever Griffin finds himself in these face-up or post-up situations and draws extra defensive attention, it opens up so much for the Clippers’ offense for others to captalize in the extra space.
By simply watching his passing ability, looking at his career-high assist percentage of 27.2 from last season, and his ranking of 5th among all forwards in points created by assists per game (11.9), we don’t have to look far to see just how dominant Blake Griffin can be when he’s healthy.
It seems to be something many NBA fans have forgotten. Yet, the foolishness in doing so, whether it’s from a hate for the Clippers or piling on jokes about Griffin punching a team staff member, comes at the expense in seeing what he’ll do to your team in 2016-17.
“Any time something is taken away and you’re not really able to play at the level you want to or not even play at all, I definitely feel like that hunger changes a little bit,” Griffin said to Bleacher Report’s Josh Martin at training camp. “It definitely changed for me.”
From refusing to take breaks in practice to working harder than ever on his jump shot and three-point range, Griffin is immensely driven to succeed.
He’s hungry, and he’s proven that already with this level of focus in training and aggression on the court.
You can expect it all to continue as he looks to prove himself in a major comeback (and contract) year, elevating the Clippers’ offense in the process. Blake will be at his best this season.
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