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.

Pacers’ Myles Turner fined $15,000 for flipping bird at Sixers fans

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Myles Turner had to know this was coming.

Frustrated after fouling Joel Embiid under the basket and being taken out of the game, the Pacers’ big man flipped off some Sixers fans as he walked to the bench.

Saturday the league announced Turner was fined $15,000 for “making an inappropriate gesture toward the spectator stands.” The league, understandably, is not a fan of its players flipping off fans.

That fine is pretty much the going rate for these kinds of incidences.

Embiid went on to score 40 Friday night in a dominant performance, but the Pacers won the game 113-101.

Why are Lakers saving their young core? Reportedly to chase Anthony Davis.

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Anthony Davis is the target at the top of the Lakers’ wish list.

He’s also at the top of the wish list for the Boston Celtics and about 27 other teams, too. But if Davis is put on the trade block — something that is not likely until this summer, New Orleans is working to keep him — the Lakers and Celtics will be at the front of the line.

Which is why, when reports that the Lakers would not include any of their young core in a trade for Trevor Ariza came out, it fit with the Lakers’ long-term thinking. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed this on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“Here’s the line [the Lakers] have to walk: they’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they have to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer either pre or post free agency…

“The absolute dream scenario, people talk about (how) they can trade for Anthony Davis or sign a free agent. The dream scenario is they do both.”

The dream is to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and get Davis, and while that dream may be a long shot the only chance they have is if they still have their core players to throw in a package.

The larger point also is valid — the Lakers are not going to beat the Warriors come the playoffs this season (assuming the Warriors are healthy) and L.A. should keep its powder dry for bigger battles. And Davis will be the biggest of battles.

New Orleans wants to keep Davis, they are actively trying to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. Sources have told me the Pelicans’ plan is to win as much as possible this season and show Davis they are serious, then come July 1 offer Davis a designated veteran contract extension worth $230 million (or a little more, depending upon the cap). It’s roughly $40 million more than any other team can offer guaranteed. If Davis and his agent Rich Paul — the same agent as LeBron James — turn down that contract then the Pelicans will be forced to consider a trade.

If we get to that point, then all bets are off and the Lakers are all in. Until then, the Lakers are wise just to be patient.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.