SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The ball bounced high off the rim and disappeared into Blake Griffin's(notes) hands. In an instant, the Los Angeles Clippers forward was slamming home the rebound for a thundering dunk that brought even the opposing fans to their feet at Arco Arena. Griffin stared at the Clippers' bench as the roar fell over him.
Yes, this was Griffin's way of announcing his return – or his delayed arrival.
After missing all of his first NBA season with a broken left kneecap, Griffin has wasted little time this preseason in showing off the talent and potential that made him the No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft.
"I've been seeing that for like the last three weeks in practice," Clippers guard Baron Davis(notes) of Griffin's highlight dunk against the Sacramento Kings. "For him to come back the way he did after this injury really says something."
It says that not only does Griffin look healthy, he also now looks ready to fulfill all that promise. It was nearly a year ago that Griffin injured his knee on a dunk in a preseason game. The Clippers initially hoped he would miss only a few months until it was determined in January he should undergo season-ending surgery.
"I probably could have played," Griffin said. "But it's probably one of those things for the longevity of my career and for the betterment of my career, it was best to get it done and taken care of. Now I have a fresh start and a new knee."
While Griffin is trying to shake off some rust, he hasn't felt any pain in the knee. Nor has he looked tentative. His yearlong absence also provided a lesson in patience.
"Coming in you feel invincible," he said. "You don't expect that to happen to you. So for it to happen, it just puts everything in perspective. One play, one whatever, it can be taken away from you.
"You learn who is really on your side when things are going bad or downhill. You got to realize that the same people talking about me now are the same people talking about me last year being a bust. … Someone sent me a link to a web site that said, 'Blake Griffin has been forgotten.' I like stuff like that. It just gives me more motivation. It just puts wood in that fire."
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Griffin doesn't have a specific minutes limit in the preseason, but he also doesn't want to overuse him. The biggest indicator of Griffin's health came when he recently played three games in four days. His production improved with each game, culminating with the 23 points and nine rebounds he totaled against the Golden State Warriors while outplaying All-Star forward David Lee(notes).
"You always hear guys talking about playing three games in four nights, four games in five nights," Griffin said. "It's a little daunting. I'm a little tired right now, but that's expected."
Griffin has averaged 16.7 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 74.1 percent in his first three exhibition games. The Clippers want him to improve his defense and the release point on his jump shot – typical issues for a young player. His free-throw shooting (10 of 24) also needs a lot of work.
The rest of Griffin's game has drawn only praise.
"I don't know how you could help but be super impressed with Blake Griffin," Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "I think he's a multiyear All-Star right there."
Because he didn't play a single game last season, Griffin will be eligible for the 2010 Rookie of the Year award. He should face stiff competition from the No. 1 pick of the most recent draft, Washington Wizards guard John Wall(notes), but Griffin isn't worried. He's just glad to be back on the court.
"Everybody is talking about it," Griffin said. "But I'd much rather give up that trophy to make the playoffs and be healthy all year."