No team in the NBA has a more athletic front-court than the L.A. Clippers, and Doc Rivers sure has taken advantage of that. While Blake Griffin continues to expand his game and propel himself into the MVP conversation, DeAndre Jordan sticks to his guns by being the backbone of the teams defense and letting everyone else do the hard work for him on the offensive end. They’re fast, they have pogo sticks for legs and they’re big – a combination Rivers has used to run opposing teams into the ground.
Stopping the Clippers in general has been no easy task this season because of the variety of ways in which they score. Go over screens and Chris Paul will rise up for an easy mid-range jumper. Trap the ball handler and Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan will be on the receiving end of a crisp alley-oop. Pack the paint and a myriad of shooters will be left on the wings, salivating at the opportunity to launch an open three. Then there’s the fast-break, where the Clippers score 16.6 percent of their points, per Synergy Sports. And that’s where Griffin and his freakish athleticism comes back into the picture.
With an average of 24.4 points per game, Griffin finds himself as the sixth leading scorer in the Association. He has a much improved mid-range jumper, as well as a variety of simple, yet effective, post-moves, which have all helped him elevate his game to the next level. But what’s just as impressive as his pick-and-pops and jump-hooks is the work he does in the open-court, because he is virtually unstoppable when he gets a full head of steam.
Take this play from the Clippers matchup against the Denver Nuggets on February 3rd as an example. Wilson Chandler misses a three from the left wing and after tussling for a rebound with Kenneth Faried, Griffin tips the ball into the hands of Matt Barnes. Barnes then gives the ball to Darren Collison, who proceeds to lob it cross-court to Jamal Crawford. But before all that takes place, Griffin and Faried are in identical positions, merely inches away from one another underneath the rim.
As soon as the rebound has been secured, Griffin takes off like a shot down the court, while Faried trots back on defense. J.J. Hickson, the center for the Nuggets in this lineup, went for an offensive rebound, leaving him with no chance of stopping Griffin on the other end. The Nuggets are therefore left with Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler and Ty Lawson to try and stop Griffin, which goes about as well as you’d expect.
Crawford lobs the ball over the defense, Griffin catches it in stride and flushes down an easy two-hand dunk.
While it looks like a routine play, that just speaks volumes of how we are numb to what Griffin does on a basketball court now. It’s not often that you see a 6-foot-10, 251-pound power forward get a rebound, beat everyone down the court and score a basket within five seconds of a new shot-clock, which is why it’s so effective – defenses aren’t used to stopping that play. When someone like Griffin does that, it creates an instant mismatch. Guards are usually the first to get back on the defensive end, and having to pick up a power forward or center is never going to end well for them. He also does it several times a game, which is just a headache to keep up with.
Griffin has been doing this ever since he came into the league. Getting out in transition has always made up a good percentage of his total offensive sets; that number has just increased over the last two seasons, as has his overall attempts.
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Leaking out on the fast-break isn’t the only way he scores in the open-court. While he can easily beat opposing bigs down the court and use his athleticism and soft touch to pull down passes like a wide receiver, Griffin can also operate with the ball in his hands, majestically weaving his way between defenders, only to rise up above the rim and capitalise with ease. Try and take a charge and YouTube will have the last laugh. Try and block his shot and you’ll find yourself sending him to the charity stripe, where he’s knocking down 69.5 percent of his freebies. Try and beat him to his spot and he’ll euro-step his way around you for an easy look at the hoop.
A lot of talk has been about Griffin’s improvement in his jump-shot this season and rightly so. After losing handily to the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the playoffs last season, floor spacing became a big issue for the Clippers, and Griffin’s name was at the forefront of that problem. With a vastly improved 15-foot jumper, his game has expanded tremendously, which has helped the Clippers be mentioned in the same sentence as the Spurs, Heat and Pacers this season. However, what tends to go overlooked is how he’s improved in other areas, too. Only the Phoenix Suns have scored more fast-break points than the Clippers this season, and a lot of their success has to do with Griffin making a conservative effort to push the ball at every opportunity. He’s got impressive handles, he’s very nimble for someone of his size and strength, and he’s a huge target. All of that makes him a one man wrecking crew in transition.