Griffin flushes pain of last season

NBA scouts have raved about Blake Griffin's athleticism and aggressiveness

If Blake Griffin's(notes) absence last season made anyone doubt his potential impact in the NBA … well, he needed all of two minutes to show the world otherwise.

Griffin announced his official arrival into the league with a vicious one-handed alley-oop dunk in the Los Angeles Clippers' season opener. Not 90 seconds later, he flushed a stunning one-handed put-back dunk.

"I hear people say, 'I forgot you could jump like that,' " Griffin said. "But I haven't played in a year so I understand why. It was like I was lost for two years and I'm finally back."

The only question now: Can he help the Clippers win?

Griffin has averaged 16.6 points and 11 rebounds through his first three games, highlighted by a 20-point, 14-board performance in the opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Clippers, however, lost all three games, a familiar story for a franchise that has reached the playoffs just once in the past 13 seasons.

Still, even during the rocky start, the 21-year-old forward's potential has given the Clippers some hope the skies will eventually clear.

"He is just scratching the surface right now," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He has a high ceiling. And I think that's the most exciting part as we see the process evolve."

Taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, Griffin missed all of last season after he broke his left kneecap in the final game of the preseason. The year off may have caused even some NBA general managers to wonder about his future. In the league's annual poll of GMs this fall, Griffin was projected to finish a distant second to Washington Wizards guard John Wall(notes) in the Rookie of the Year race. Wall received 67.9 percent of the vote to Griffin's 28.6 percent.

But after just three games, Griffin's explosive athleticism has already brought comparisons to a young Kenyon Martin(notes), who Griffin idolized as a kid. Griffin runs the floor well, is a strong rebounder – even on the offensive end – and a shot-blocking threat.

One long-time NBA scout who recently saw Griffin play likened him to "a more athletic Karl Malone." The only thing that can keep Griffin from winning Rookie of the Year, the scout said, is possibly his health.

"He's quick off his feet, explosive, aggressive and has great hands," the scout said. "He needs work on his post moves, but in our league he will get a lot of offensive rebounds for baskets. He runs really well. He will defend big small forwards like Paul Pierce(notes) and Carmelo Anthony(notes). He has a huge upside because he is so active."

In addition to Griffin's post game, which is still evolving, he also needs to develop a consistent midrange shot – evidenced when he missed 11 of 15 shots in a recent loss to the Dallas Mavericks – and improve his ball-handling skills. No one, however, doubts his work ethic.

"I'm still working on slowing down," Griffin said. "Every day, every practice I've taken away something little, something small here and there. Hopefully, I will be able to keep adding things to my game."

Another NBA scout who has seen Griffin play recently said one attribute stood out above all else with the forward: his toughness. During his freshman season at Oklahoma, Griffin underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a cartilage tear in his right knee and returned in just one week. His relentless play also has some worried he's exposing himself to more injuries.

"He doesn't take any rebounds for granted," the scout said. "In other words, not only does he not go after it hard, he doesn't think the other player is going to get it.

"He has to be careful about how much time he spends high in the air. It's a long season, and landing awkward can shorten his career."

Del Negro played with several stars during his career, including David Robinson, Tim Duncan(notes) and Jason Kidd(notes). Griffin, he says, also has the potential to be special, but it's going to take time.

"He's a great athlete who plays basketball," Del Negro said. "We have to make him a great basketball player who is incredibly athletic. That's not going to happen overnight, but he's such a great kid with the right demeanor and work ethic. He wants it and will put in the work."

Because of their long history of losing, the Clippers usually make only the rare national TV appearance. That's changed this season. Eleven of L.A.'s games will be televised nationally, and more potentially could be added.

For that to happen, Griffin will have to take on his toughest challenge yet: He has to help the Clippers win.