Top NBA Players: #14 Blake Griffin

May 17, 2012; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets fouled while shooting against San Antonio Spurs forward Tiago Splitter (22) during the first half in game two of the Western Conference semifinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the AT

Blake Griffin
Resume: 20.7 points (10th in league), 10.9 rebounds (6th in league), 3.2 assists, 36.2 minutes, 41 double-doubles (4th in league), 468 free throw attempts (4th in league), 55% FG (7th in league), and 52% FT… Team record in games played: 40-26… Playoffs: 19.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 50% FG, 4-7 record… All-Star, 2nd Team All-NBA

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Sorry, I just had to get the dunks out of the way. Believe it or not, Blake Griffin actually does more than jump over cars (totally overrated), put guys on posters (rated just right), and bring the Clippers crowd to their feet with those aforementioned poster creations (totally underrated and the only positive spin I will put on his dunks for the sake of getting you to realize that Griffin is a lot more than a high profile dunker). The truth about Blake Griffin is that through two years he is statistically on par with some of the most highly regarded big men of the last 30 years in their respective first two years in the league. Take a look.

Blake Griffin- 21.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 52% FG
Tim Duncan- 21.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 2.5 blocks, 53% FG
Karl Malone- 18.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 51% FG
Charles Barkley- 17.0 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 56% FG
Kevin Garnett- 13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.9 blocks, 50% FG
Dirk Nowitzki- 14.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 45% FG
Hakeem Olajuwon- 21.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 3.0 blocks, 53% FG
Shaquille O’Neal- 26.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 3.2 blocks, 58% FG
Patrick Ewing- 20.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.2 blocks, 49% FG
David Robinson-  25.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 3.9 blocks, 54% FG
Dwight Howard- 13.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.5 blocks, 53% FG
Kwame Brown– 6.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 43% FG

Obviously, by the statistics, Blake Griffin is on the same level as many of the greats that have come before him. I’m on record as saying I don’t like to always use statistics as a way to measure how great a player is. It can be very deceiving to those who don’t understand that the era a particular player played should be considered when looking at his career numbers. For example, Wilt Chamberlain’s 1961-62 season is jaw-dropping statistically. The 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds jump right off the screen. But consider:
A.) Wilt averaged 48.5 minutes per game. Yes, 48.5 minutes, meaning that Wilt logged every regulation minute and then some.
B.) He attempted 39.5 field goals and 17.0 free throws per game, making 51% of his field goals and 61% of his free throws.
C.) The 1961-62 Philadelphia Warriors averaged a staggering 129.7 possessions per game.
D.) The average height of the league in 1962 was 6’5.

Now, let’s take a look at the 1993-94 MVP season of Hakeem Olajuwon, my choice as greatest center in NBA history. Also included are some NBA wide statistics that will make sense in a quick minute
-27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 21.2 field goal attempts per game, 53% FG, 6.8 free throw attempts per game, 72% FT, 41.0 minutes per game.
-Houston averaged 95.0 possessions per game.
-Average height of the league was 6’7

Trust me, this is getting somewhere. I’m going to adjust Olajuwon’s stats so they are reflective of the pace played in Wilt’s iconic season. Let’s first assume that Olajuwon played every single minute just like Wilt did. That means that he is playing 95 possessions per game, which means each team is getting roughly 2 possessions per minute. Without adjusting the pace, Olajuwon would now be attempting roughly 24 shots per 48 minutes, and per 95 possessions. Next, I’m going to adjust the amount of possessions per game. I won’t even adjust it to as high as Philadelphia’s was. I’ll go with the league average in 1961-62 which was 125 per game. Assuming Olajuwon shot the ball at the same rate he did in 1993-94 (roughly one shot every four possessions), that means he would be taking approximately 31 field goal attempts per game. Bump up his free throw attempts to 13 per game to account for two possessions where he was fouled on the shot, and two more “and ones.” And let’s just add 3 more shots to make up for the blatant ball hogging of Wilt.

In 1961-62 there were 71 rebounds available per game, compared to 43 in 1993-94. Olajuwon grabbed roughly 1 of every 4 available rebounds in 1993-94, so that means if he were to play in the same era as Wilt he would’ve pulled down about 18 rebounds. So what would Hakeem’s stats look like playing at the same pace Wilt did?
Hakeem- 45.4 points, 18 rebounds, 34 field goal attempts, 53% shooting, 13 free throw attempts, 72% free throw shooting, 48 minutes
Wilt- 50.4 points, 25.7 rebounds, 39.5 field goal attempts, 51% shooting, 17 free throw attempts, 61% free throw shooting, 48.5 minutes

They are pretty damn close statistically, and I didn’t even account for the fact that Wilt was playing in an era where the average height was 6’5 and 65% of the league was white, compared to 1993-94 where the average height was 6’7 and Hakeem was battling Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, etc.

You may be asking what the point of this history lesson was, besides giving you a great look at two different eras of the NBA. I’m simply trying to illustrate that in the grand scheme of things, what Blake Griffin has done in his first two years is remarkable. Remember how I said that the numbers guys put up should be evaluated along with the era he was playing in? Well consider that right now Blake Griffin is a part of arguably the most athletic era in NBA history. There are more physical freaks playing in the NBA now than there ever have been. Ultimately, Blake Griffin is far from being a polished NBA player, yet he is excelling in the NBA because of all of the freak athletes in the NBA, he may be the freakiest of them all. Griffin has a very limited offensive game. He doesn’t have an array of post moves or a consistent jump shot. Still, he has averaged 20-10 in his first two seasons in the NBA, something that only Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson have done in the last thirty years.

On top of ridiculous athleticism and the aforementioned dunks, Blake stands out for putting his body on the line way too much (which in the present is something to admire, yet down the road might be destructive to him), being a solid passer and ball-handler for his size, and for seemingly being on the genuinely good guys playing in the league. If and when Blake Griffin becomes a completely polished player he could very well find himself in the Top 3 in the league.