The Extra Pass: Blake Griffin’s Undeserved Reputation

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we examine some of the criticism surrounding Blake Griffin.

As fans, we take on the role of production line workers when new players enter the league. We inspect them quickly, stamp our label on them, and then move them down the line so we can evaluate the next group of players. There’s no time for reassessment — we make up our minds and move on. It’s why we give out draft grades the day of the draft and never revisit them again; it’s why we call guys “busts” after two months in the league. It’s a quick process.

Blake Griffin’s story goes a little bit differently. When we saw him, we were floored. Everyone had to see this guy. We took to all the social media outlets to show him off. Sports programs set up alerts on their shows to let you know when he did something crazy.

But that extra attention? It brought about closer analysis. It is, after all, what we do. And upon closer inspection, we saw a few warts we didn’t see before — or maybe weren’t looking for. And so the overrated label got slapped right over the underrated label, and Griffin was sent back down the line.

Now it’s Griffin’s third season, and we’ve reached a strange place. After he was built up and tore back down, he gained a reputation that doesn’t seem to quite fit. Let’s examine.

“All he does is dunk.”

First off, this isn’t true. Secondly, if it were true, would this really be a bad thing? Until someone can show me that dunking is an inefficient way of scoring, I reject the premise of this argument.

“You know what I mean. He can’t shoot, he has no jumper at all. He has to develop a jumper to reach the next level.”

Ah, right. Here are a few names I want you to look at:

Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay and Dwyane Wade.

All pretty good players, yes? Well, from 16-feet to the 3-point line, guess who had more made field goals and converted at a higher percentage than all of them did last season?

That’s right — Blake Griffin.

Griffin’s need to develop a jumper became a talking point last year that was generally accepted as truth, but while all that was being said, Griffin shot 37% from mid-range, which put his totals close to more established “shooting” power forwards like Kevin Love.

Even though Griffin’s jumper is up to 38% this year (the league average from 16-23 ft is 38% as well), the confirmation bias rages on with any misses, even if they come less frequently than others who are highly regarded as mid-range shooters.

Look at how many of his shots are wide open, though.”

Yes. But should we reward others who make shots with a higher degree of difficulty and penalize Griffin because his athleticism creates open looks?

It’s a game Griffin can’t win. If he takes too many jumpers or tries to extend his range further, he’s Vince Carter in his last days in Toronto or he’s evil Josh Smith. Basically, the more he shoots from distance, the more he’ll be regarded as a player who doesn’t leverage his athletic ability to the fullest. But if he only uses his athletic ability, he’ll be called unskilled and unrefined. Where’s the balance? What’s the percentage of jumpers Griffin needs to hit to shake his reputation of being a bad shooter? Or is this already a LeBron James situation where the label is permanent and winning a championship is the only thing that could possibly alter the way he’s viewed?

Here’s my point: Griffin’s jumper is a weapon. Just because it’s arguably the weakest in his repertoire (excluding free throw shooting) doesn’t mean that it’s non-existent or inadequate.

If anything, it’s a testament to Griffin’s ability to score in the paint, to see the floor impeccably (only David Lee and Pau Gasol have better assist rates among starting power forwards), and to crash the offensive glass. It’s because he does those things so well — and because he makes the impossible possible with those dunks — that Griffin’s perfectly average jumper seems like a huge missing part of his game when it actually isn’t.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.