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.

Backs against the wall, Celtics play dominant half to beat Heat, force Game 6

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For Boston, it was the worst of halves, it was the best of halves. It was a half of foolishness, it was a half of wisdom. It was a half of tight play, it was a half of free-flowing offense. It was a half of despair, it was a half of renewed hope.

With its season on the line down 3-1, Boston came out tight in the first half of Game 5, with guys trying to do everything themselves, showing no patience, no ball movement, players gunning from three, and nobody in green was defending well. Boston shot 5-of-20 in the first quarter, and while things settled down Boston was lucky to be only down seven at the half.

Then a different Boston team came out in the second half — a team that was defending with intent, pushing the pace, and watching their best player, Jayson Tatum, attack to the tune of 17 third quarter points. At the end of the third, Brad Stevens told his team, “with all sincerity, that’s the first time I’ve seen Celtics basketball in the past few games” (via the ESPN mic’d up segment of the broadcast).

The Celtics pulled away in the fourth to win 121-108. The Heat still lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 coming on Sunday.

“We did not compete hard enough defensively and we paid the price for that,” Erik Spoelstra said of his Heat team.

“I thought we played with great tenacity defensively, and I think our offense followed suit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of the second-half turnaround.

That defense included much more ball pressure out high on Miami and it worked. The Heat shot 19.4% from three, that’s the third straight game under 30% from three for the Heat, but Tyler Herro wasn’t able to bail them out this time around.

For Boston, Tatum finished with 31 points and 10 rebounds, and his third quarter helped save the Boston season.

Boston needs that Tatum from the opening tip on Sunday, not after 24 minutes (as we have seen the last couple of games). Boston is a good team but it needs Tatum to play at an All-NBA level to look like a contender.

Jaylen Brown added 28 points for the Celtics, while Daniel Theis proved an important role with 15 points and 13 rebounds plus some critical defensive plays down the stretch.

Miami may have led at the half, but when Boston started playing better out of desperation the Heat had no answers.

“No one was playing the way we’re supposed to play, the way we have to play for us to win,” Butler said.

Miami got 23 points from Goran Dragic and 20 from Duncan Robinson, who was a big part of Miami’s strong first half.

Miami was up 3-1, and they have seen how little that lead has meant in the bubble.

“I don’t think those series have anything to do with this. Our guys are well aware,” Spoelstra said. “We have great respect for Boston. We’re not expecting it to be easy. You have to earn it.”

Kings keeping Luke Walton, plan to play faster next season

Kings coach Luke Walton
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Kings coach Luke Walton works for a general manager who didn’t hire him and an owner who has shown frustration with him.

But Walton will keep his job.

New Sacramento general Monte McNair, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“Luke is going to be our coach next year, I’m really excited to work with him and I think we’re aligned in our vision and we’re going to start implementing it,” McNair said.

“This team showed some flashes last year,” McNair said. “I think De’Aaron is certainly a great young talent and I think his speed ability offensively to create really is going to be a huge catalyst for how coach Walton and I envision this team being up-tempo, creating the space to shoot threes and attack the rim.”

Walton has had four losing seasons in four years as a head coach between the Lakers and Kings. But this is how it works out for him.

A distressing aspect of Walton’s first season in Sacramento: The Kings played far slower than they did the previous season under Dave Joerger, who successfully implemented a fastbreak-heavy attack that particularly suited De'Aaron Fox.

Walton can coach that way. His Lakers teams typically played quickly. But Sacramento too often stagnated last season.

The Kings are still building around Fox. It’s on Walton to figure out how to maximize the point guard. For now.

Anthony Davis listed as questionable for Game 5 with sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
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When Anthony Davis has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

Why that stat matters: Anthony Davis is officially questionable for Game 5 after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4.

“[My] Ankle feels fine. Got tonight, tomorrow before the game to get it back to, I don’t want to say back to where it was, but good enough to play,” Davis said postgame Thursday. “Rolled it pretty bad but not too bad. I’ll be fine.”

Players also are the worst judges of their returns from injuries. This is the playoffs, the Lakers need him on the court, and Davis wants to play. However, ankles are very easy to re-injure once the ligament is stretched, and the issue can become chronic. If Davis missing one game helps the ankle heal to the point it doesn’t linger into the NBA Finals the Lakers have to consider that option.

That said, expect Davis to play.

Davis has been the best Laker throughout the Western Conference Finals. He is averaging 32.3 points a game while shooting 55.3% from the floor, and as noted above the Lakers are dramatically better with him on the court.

The Los Angeles Lakers are up 3-1 on the Denver Nuggets and can advance to the NBA Finals with a win Saturday night in Game 5.

Klay Thompson back on practice court with Warriors Friday

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The last time Klay Thompson was on an NBA court, it was Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals when an ACL tear both ended those playoffs for him and caused him to miss all of this season.

Friday, Thompson was back on the court.

The three-time champion and five-time All-Star cleared quarantine and was in the “Dubble” where the Warriors are conducting a two-week minicamp at their facility to help prepare for next season (whenever that starts).

It’s a good sign. When next season starts, the Warriors hope he, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green are all healthy and running at 100%.

Another good sign for the Warriors, Kevon Looney has been working out and reportedly looking good at the Warriors minicamp (take all the “he looks great” reports with a grain of salt, but the fact he is on the court is a good sign).

Looney played through injuries in those 2019 Finals, and has missed parts of four of his five NBA seasons due to injuries — he played just 20 games last season and had surgery on his core in May. It led to whispers around the league he may never again find his form as a quality role player. If Looney can stay healthy — coach Steve Kerr said he went “full bore” at the team’s first practice — he becomes a solid, athletic interior presence the Warriors need to balance their elite perimeter players.