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.

Report: Rockets tried to give away Chris Paul, but teams – including Knicks – said no

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey not only denied a report that Chris Paul demanded a trade, Morey said Paul would remain in Houston next season.

We might never know how tense the situation has gotten between Paul and James Harden. We might never know whether Paul requested a trade.

But we will know whether Paul begins next season in Houston.

Morey’s credibility is on the line with that. Will he really refuse to trade Paul? That’s not Morey’s style.

More likely, Morey made that declaration only after exhausting the market for Paul and the three years, $124,076,442 remaining on his contract.

Shams Charania of The Athletic, via CBS:

There’s not a team in the league right now that is like, “I’m going to go trade for Chris Paul.” Even some teams that they’ve called, I’m told, as just a dump, like, “We’ll give you Chris Paul for free,” those teams are like “We’re good.” So, the value just is not there right now.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The Rockets recently explored trading Chris Paul into New York’s cap space, but the Knicks refused, according to league sources.

Good for the Knicks resisting. With Kyrie Irving apparently (maybe?) headed to the Nets and Kevin Durant‘s future up in the air, that’s the type of desperate move New York is known to make.

Paul, 34, is overpaid and declining. No team should absorb his contract into cap space.

But he’s still pretty good. Not nearly as good as he once was, but good enough to help the Rockets. Their championship window hasn’t necessarily snapped completely shut yet. There’s value in keeping Paul and trying to repair his and Harden’s relationship.

There also might be better opportunities later in the summer to trade Paul. Teams want to preserve their cap space now for free agents. But some teams will strike out and might view Paul as a good fallback option.

Of course, if Morey thought a deal later in the offseason were a possibility, he probably wouldn’t have so explicitly insisted Paul will remain in Houston.

Report: Minnesota “aggressive” in trying to trade up in draft, talked to Pelicans about fourth pick

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are slotted to pick 11th in the NBA Draft Thursday night. There they could land players along the lines of Brandon Clarke or Rui Hachimura, both of Gonzaga.

The Timberwolves have their sights set higher and they are looking to move up in the draft — maybe all the way to No. 4, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic fleshed out some details.

Among the options being considered, as first reported by ESPN, is moving all the way up to No. 4, presumably for a shot at Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. He missed most of his lone season in college due to a knee injury, but prior to that was widely scouted as the top point guard in the draft class. Interest in such a move is indicative of Rosas’s mindset of star-chasing, an approach honed in Houston.

That sounds great in theory, but what is the deal to be made for the fourth pick? David Griffin of the Pelicans has made it clear the No. 4 pick is available, but they want a veteran — and one not too old — in return. The Timberwolves don’t have that guy on their roster. (Technically they do in Andrew Wiggins, but that’s not a contract — four years, $122.3 million remaining — that the Pelicans would take on.)

Minnesota’s head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas told The Athletic how hard this kind of trade can be.

“The reality is, and history will tell you, it’s hard to trade up into the top three of the draft, even top five in the lottery,” Rosas said. “It’s very difficult. We know, because we’re tried, and will continue to try. But that price, the premium that teams charge for that is at a high level in any draft in any year.”

Minnesota seems a long shot, but don’t be surprised if the Pelicans trade the No. 4 pick. New Orleans has worked hard to find someone to take that pick off their hands, so long as they get a fair price back.

Report: Nets debating whether or not to sign Kyrie Irving without Kevin Durant

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The Nets want to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Brooklyn appears set to get Irving. Durant a much bigger unknown.

Brian Lewis of the New York Post:

The question is if they can’t land Durant, do they still want Irving?

It also has become an internal debate the Nets are having right now.

The Post has confirmed Brooklyn might have qualms about signing the enigmatic Irving if he isn’t bringing the injured Durant with him.

Irving brings chemistry concerns, to be sure. He’s mercurial, and his season with the Celtics raises legitimate questions about him leading a team.

But Irving is a major talent upgrade. To win at the highest levels, teams must assemble a lot of talent and hope for the best.

I’d also caution Brooklyn against assuming re-signing D'Angelo Russell would mean the team maintains its current culture. The Nets can’t freeze time. Situations change. People change. There’s no guarantee Russell on a lucrative contract and his teammates jell as well as contract-year Russell and his teammates did.

Keeping Russell might look like the safe route, but nothing is assured.

The other huge issue: Durant might not know where he’ll sign when Irving is ready to commit. The Nets could have to decide on Irving before knowing whether Durant will accompany him. At that point, would Brooklyn really spurn Irving and a chance at getting both stars? I can’t see that.

Really, with so much talk of Irving joining the Nets, I thought we’d already crossed that threshold.

Report: Bucks trading Tony Snell, No. 30 pick to Pistons

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For a team only lukewarm on paying the luxury tax, the Bucks are in a payroll crunch. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic will be free agents this summer.

That’s why Milwaukee was trying to unload Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova.

But if they re-sign their key free agents to multi-year deals, the Bucks could face more payroll/tax concerns in 2020-21.

That’s why Milwaukee is willing to deal Snell and its first-round pick for Jon Leuer‘s burdensome contract – which carries a slightly lower salary than Snell’s next season ($9,508,043 vs. $11,592,857) and, more importantly, ends one year before Snell’s ($12,378,571 player option for 2020-21),

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This trade lowers Milwaukee’s team salary by about $4 million next season and $14 million the following season.

The Bucks could stretch Leuer and reduce team salary by an extra $6,338,695 next season. But that’d also lock in a cap hit of $3,169,348 each of the next three years.

Milwaukee can make that decision later in the summer. It’ll depend what other free agents – especially Lopez, who has only Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights – command. Clearing extra money this offseason could be useful in multiple scenarios.

If Lopez signs for the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to start at about $9 million), the Bucks could maintain Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic then exceed the cap to re-sign those three. But Milwaukee would be hard-capped at a projected $138 million. Stretching Leuer could help the Bucks stay under that line.

If re-signing Lopez requires more than the mid-level exception, Milwaukee could open about $14 million in cap space by waiving George Hill and renouncing all its free agents besides Middleton and Brogdon. Stretching Leuer would open even more cap room to spend on Lopez.

If Lopez leaves, the same math applies to an outside free agent who could get the mid-level exception or cap room.

This extra maneuverability comes at a cost, though a reasonable one.

Snell, who fell from the Bucks’ rotation, could be the Pistons’ starting small forward next season. Detroit was desperate for wing depth. Though Snell isn’t the biggest wing, he adds size to a group comprised of Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Langston Galloway.

The No. 30 pick is a helpful piece to the Pistons, who also have the No. 15 pick in tomorrow’s draft. But this is a weak-looking draft that thins considerably before the end of the first round.

Milwaukee also had to take Leuer, who has been ineffective for years.

Detroit gets helps now with Snell and potentially later with the No. 30 pick. In between, that extra year of Snell’s contract looks burdensome.

The Bucks are just happy to have it not be theirs.