January 11, 2011
There really hasn't been anything like it, since LeBron James'(notes) first year in the NBA back in 2003, or Tim Duncan's(notes) initial trot through the league way back in 1997-98. And even those weren't met with the sort of breathless reactions that just 2 1/2 months worth of Griff have given us. I don't credit flash-based video or 7,200 bookmark-worthy NBA blogs for that, either. I don't credit Twitter. LeBron James' rookie year was just two years before YouTube hit hard, but he had a lot of cameras on him as well.
This is different. The mix of showmanship and out-and-out game? James, though I love that game of his, can still be a plodder that occasionally explodes. Able to rack up that brilliant 32-9-8 game by getting to the line a lot or hitting guys in the corner for threes, bettering Magic or even MJ on some nights in terms of stats, but not in terms of entertainment. I don't need to tell you that Tim Duncan, while one of the better big men of all time, doesn't exactly set the world on fire with his derring-do.
The only thing that comes close, to me, is Jason Williams(notes). In that rookie year of his, the nasty truncated lockout season, when he just seemed to have the league on a string. The problem with that comparison is that Williams, while fun, had quite a few holes. A two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. A 37.4 mark from the field, and a 31 percent mark from long range (though he still chucked 6 1/2 treys a game). And league-worst defense at his position.
Griffin? He's all good, all over. And he's even taking to trying to top J-Will in the one area that Williams had it best. Passing.
In fact, Griffin has registered seven or more assists on five occasions this season, a mark surpassed by only one forward or center (LeBron James) in the league. He has reached that mark more often than the starting point guards Aaron Brooks(notes) and Darren Collison(notes), and is just one seven-assist game short of matching Kobe Bryant(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Manu Ginobili's(notes) totals for the year. The same court awareness that guides Griffin to the hoop for a put-back dunk apparently informs his sense of space on the pass, leading to an impressive overall floor game that doesn't quite get the credit it deserves. Most big men don't move or dunk the way Griffin does, and most don't pass the way he does, either.
Griffin is adept at executing simple kick-outs from the post, but his patience down low is particularly impressive. Rarely does he seem rushed. He moves quickly, but only because doing so often coincides with his own sense of pace. Yet when his options are limited, he isn't reluctant at all to reset the ball up top, or wait for defenders to swarm him before finding a wide-open teammate.
It's as if the Connie Hawkins comparisons weren't enough, as Griffin grabbed change from the top of the backboard, that he had to turn into this league's best one-handed passing big man as well.
Again, we're 2 1/2 half months in. This guy still struggles to get the ball in Los Angeles' pell-mell offense, and he's still racking up assist after assist while usually on the fly. He's not working out of the triangle offense. And he's not running a Vlade Divac-styled, "back it down for 15 seconds before the double team eventually comes and kick it out for a three" set. As Rob points out, he's patient, when everyone else is acting like a patient.
He's just passing. Because he's an all-around beast.
As Griffin dunked his way through the preseason and first month of the regular season, a buddy of mine implored me to go re-read this column on Griffin's practice habits, put together by Andy Katz even before the Clippers selected first overall in 2009.
It details a grueling workout regime that has Blake working under an anonymous trainer to the stars, the stars that can put up with it at least, as he runs up sandy dunes with all manner of weights and mitigating influences strapped to him. You're out of breath and parched just reading about it, and yet Blake endured. And impressed. Starting with a quote from his brother:
"There are plenty of guys who could be in his position who would be like, 'I'm set,' and just chill until the draft," Taylor Griffin(notes) said. "But Blake's thing is he wants to be an impact player his rookie year."
Blake Griffin's mantra is from a Henry Ford quote that he has tweaked for himself: "The competitor to be feared the most is the one who never worries about others at all and goes on making himself better all the time."
"I told him, you know there are guys in the NBA who are at the top," [trainer Frank] Matrisciano said. "But I tell them there is a storm coming from Oklahoma, and they don't know it yet."
Yeah, we know it now.