The Extra Pass: Busting myths surrounding Blake Griffin, and Thursday’s recaps

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In his first season playing in the league, Blake Griffin crushed any and all expectations. Now, just a few years later, he can’t seem to get out from under the weight of them.

Without diving in too deep as to why that is, it’s probably fair to say that Griffin isn’t treated as even-handedly as some of his contemporaries. Maybe it’s the athleticism or the commercials or the persona or the rapid ascension, but Griffin can never really seem to satisfy his critics.

As a result, this has led to a few common complaints being repeated ad nauseum, even though they aren’t necessarily rooted in truth.

Blake Griffin needs to develop a post game

You hear this a lot, but rarely is actual data brought in to the conversation.

According to My Synergy Sports, a service that breaks down and tracks every play type, Griffin scored .88 points per play out of the post last year. Post-up opportunities comprised 35 percent of his offense. How does that compare to some of the league’s best post scorers?

Blake Griffin: .88 PPP, 35% post-ups
Kevin Love: .85 PPP, 24.9% post-ups
LaMarcus Aldridge: .94 PPP, 33.7% post-ups
DeMarcus Cousins: .81 PPP, 24.9% post-ups

Very rarely do you hear anyone harp on Love, Aldridge or Cousins about needing to develop their post skills, but Griffin was a more prolific and more efficient scorer than everyone except for Aldridge last season.

Does he always make it look pretty down there? Certainly not, but saying that Griffin isn’t a good post scorer flies directly in the face of the facts.

When Griffin can’t dunk and play in transition, he can’t be effective

Griffin’s mid-range game is a work in progress, for sure. Still, here’s a list of players with at least 25 made field goals that Griffin is shooting a better percentage than from 10-22 feet:

Marc Gasol, Kevin Martin, Carmelo Anthony, Bradley Beal, Gordon Hayward.

It’s a small sample size, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Griffin be right around league-average from mid-range this year.

It also seems silly that Griffin’s production in the pick-and-roll (1.2 PPP in that setting this year) can be so easily ignored. Pick-and-rolls make up the strong majority of every half-court offense in the league, and Griffin has routinely been one of the best finishers in the league as a roll man.

Let’s not discount Griffin’s passing ability, either. With the exception of Kevin Love, Josh McRoberts and the Gasol brothers, no other power forward or center ranks above Griffin in assist opportunities per game, which is tracked by SportVU and is defined as “passes by a player to a teammate in which the teammate attempts a shot, and if made, would be an assist.”

That confirms what most people who watch Griffin every night already know. Griffin is drawing the attention of multiple defenders whenever he gets the ball, and he’s routinely finding teammates open shots.

Truth be told, Griffin is already the player a lot of people want him to become. The narrative being stuck in neutral is funny, really, because there are other much more legitimate critiques of Griffin readily available. He’s a poor free throw shooter. He’s an inconsistent defender that lacks focus. He doesn’t help protect the rim or defend the pick-and-roll well.

Those are the areas of improvement that could help Griffin take his game, and maybe the Clippers, to the next level. All this other stuff is just noise.

Statistics from NBA.com and My Synergy Sports were used in this post.

—DJ Foster

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We’ve got two for the price of one. First is an Instagram of the final seconds of the Thunder win, when rookie Steven Adams tries to shake the hand of former Thunder player Byron Mullens, gets left to dry, so he shakes his own hand (hat tip to Royce Young at Daily Thunder).

Next, watch Shaq take a fall during “Inside the NBA” on TNT:

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Thunder 105, Clippers 91: Oklahoma City raced out to a 13-3 lead and never felt really threatened again (the Clippers never made it a one possession game the rest of the way). Kevin Durant had 12 of his 28 in the first quarter to spark that early run, but it was really a strong game from Serge Ibaka (17 points on 8-of-10 shooting) that was the difference, he played well against Blake Griffin. The Thunder bench also completely outplayed the Clippers bench. Blake Griffin had 27 points and 10 rebounds but he couldn’t pull the Clippers out of their early hole.

Nuggets 97, Bulls 87: The real difference in this game was the benches — Chicago’s starting five was -1 in 15 minutes on the court, but the Denver bench outscored the Bulls bench 48-19. That was what decided it, like when the Denver bench went on a 13-0 run to open the fourth quarter and blew the game open. Nate Robinson had a couple of threes in that stretch but the real star off the bench was Jordan Hamilton who had 17 and was one of six Nuggets in double figures. Derrick Rose had 19 points for Chicago but needed 20 shots to get there.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.