Culture of Hoops

Sonny’s Top 50 NBA Players: #8 Blake Griffin

Resume: 21.9 points (8th in league), 7.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists (career best), 35.2 minutes, 50% FG, 73% FT (career best) … Team Record in Games Played: 47-20 (9-6 without) … Playoffs: 25.5 points (career best), 12.7 rebounds (career best), 6.1 assists (career best), 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 39.8 minutes (career best), 51% FG (career best), 72% FT, 7-7 record … 9th in MVP Voting, 3rd Team All-NBA, All-Star

The best basketball team in Los Angeles is home to not one, but two of the most polarizing players in the NBA. Chris Paul will have his time on this countdown in a couple of days from now, so today all of the attention is on Clippers power forward Blake Griffin. It would be quite easy to say that Griffin is the most polarizing player in the NBA; we collectively over-rated him during his exciting rookie campaign, and since then he’s been criticized far too much, to the point that he’s somehow become a guy who all opponents and many otherwise neutral fans dislike.

Why everyone has turned on Blake Griffin is a bit of a mystery to me. I understand that it can be bothersome when guys complain to refs for calls or sneakily antagonize opponents until they snap on them, but the ire that Griffin has drawn over the last couple of years seems to have gone beyond not being the most popular guy in the NBA. The one time overrated “superstar” is now perhaps one of the most underrated superstars in the entire league.

It was just one year ago that Blake Griffin was coming off of the best regular season of his career. He finished third in the MVP voting behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James, and he kept the Los Angeles Clipper afloat when their All-NBA point guard was sidelined. We saw glimpses of Griffin doing things that most other true power forwards couldn’t do; he was grabbing rebounds and running the break like a true point guard. He was the hub of the Clippers half-court offense and a vital part of an improving defense. He posted career high marks in points, assists and free throw attempts per game and it felt like the numbers were backing up what we seemed to be seeing on the floor … this was what peak Blake Griffin would look like.

When Blake didn’t come out and take the league by storm last season it turned some people off and it gave the masses an opportunity to once again proclaim that he was overrated. When the Clippers season didn’t go in the tank when Blake missed a month it only added fuel to that fire. And even as an ardent Blake Griffin supporter, it was worrisome that a once fearless and borderline reckless force of nature had toned it down quite a bit, arguably too much, spending too much time trying to show that he could space the floor and knock down mid-range jumpers and spending not enough time attacking the rim like a maniac, the way he had the first four seasons of his career.

As it turns out, this was just part of the maturation and continued development of Blake Griffin. Griffin found the perfect balance of reckless and reserved during the regular season, picking his spots to dive for loose balls and try to dunk on entire opposing rosters. He did indeed take a lot of mid-range jump shots, but to his credit he hit them at a career best rate. Even though he didn’t have the dial at a ten during the regular season, Griffin displayed enough all-around brilliance on the floor that he finished 9th in MVP voting and made 3rd Team All-NBA.

The dial hit ten in the Playoffs though when Blake Griffin emerged as one of the most well-rounded basketball players in recent memory. It was the delicious cocktail of freaky athleticism, a disregard for his well-being and awe-inspiring all-around basketball skill that we always wondered if Blake would be able to concoct. He did and it was effing fantastic. For 14 games Blake Griffin was arguably the best player in the NBA Playoffs, putting up 25-13-6 and 51 percent shooting, running the break, banging bodies in the paint, dunking on fools and putting the inside-outside game he had been trying to master all season long on display on a big stage.

No player is perfect, and that means Griffin will still have his detractors. The Clippers gakked away a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Semi’s against the Rockets and when the Clips needed Griffin to seal the deal against the Rockets in Game 6, Griffin turned into a ghost when the Rockets made their improbable 2nd half run. In the final 15 minutes of that game Blake was 0-4 shooting and he had one assists, one rebound, two turnovers and three fouls. Not exactly a shining moment for a guy who needs a few of those. Then again, an all-around virtuoso performance from Blake was forgotten about after Chris Paul clinched Game 7 against San Antonio with a dagger floater over Tim Duncan. He casually tossed up a 24-13-10 stat line in the biggest game he had ever played in up to that point.

Griffin is only 26 years old and that means he hopefully has a lot of time left where prime athlete Blake and prime basketball-player Blake can coincide and create one hell of a legacy together. For a month Blake Griffin was the best part of the 2015 NBA Playoffs, and that isn’t even hyperbole. It was a treat to watch him play basketball, and to be honest, I’d rather see that in April, May and June than in November, December and January.

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