With the first pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Clippers selected Blake Griffin out of Oklahoma. Coming off a sophomore season where he was the Naismith College Player of the Year, he was in most expert’s eyes the best player available.
The start to his NBA career was halted at first as he suffered a stress fracture in his left knee and sat out the entire 2009-10 season.
Since he did not play a single regular season game in the year before, he was still considered a rookie in the 2010-11 season. There were some people who questioned whether or not Griffin would come back with the same type of explosiveness and athleticism that he was known for. Those questions were quickly answered as Griffin exploded onto the scene with numerous highlight-reel plays.
He had a spectacular individual rookie season as he averaged 22.5 points per game, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He was named an All-Star in his first season, Rookie of the Year and won the Dunk Contest.
Still, this was the Clippers and they managed to win just 32 games.
In his second season, the Clippers brought in superstar point guard Chris Paul. Coupled with the supremely athletic DeAndre Jordan, the team garnered the nickname Lob City.
The Clippers turned in a 40-26 season in a lockout year and finished fifth in the Western Conference. After defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round.
Griffin’s numbers took a bit of a hit as he averaged 20.7 points per game, 10.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists. What mattered most, though, was that the Clippers had finally emerged from the NBA’s basement afters years of futility.
In the 2012-13 season, the Clippers won a franchise record 56 games. Then the playoffs came and this time the Clippers were defeated by the Grizzlies in the first round, putting an abrupt end to the team’s best season.
This time, Griffin’s numbers took an even bigger drop. He finished the season averaging 18.0 points per game and 8.3 boards.
After another All-Star appearance despite a drop in performance, the question this time was how overrated was Griffin. Was he someone who just had highlight reel plays and could only use his athleticism to beat opponents because he lacked other skills? Was he the type of player who you could build a franchise around?
Well, Griffin has answered all those questions resoundingly during the 2013-14 season. He’s improved his mid-range jumper, he can take defenders off the dribble, knows how to run the pick-and-roll to perfection and has developed a nice post game. When being double-teamed, he is a willing and very good passer. He’s also making a shade under 70 percent of his 8.4 free throw attempts per game this season, a career-best.
The Clippers currently own a 34-18 record, good for fourth place in the Western Conference.
Now to answer whether or not he is the type of player a team could build around.
The Clippers have been without Paul for the last 17 games as he suffered a separated shoulder. In that span, the team has gone 11-6. Griffin is averaging 27 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Even on Wednesday night as the Clippers lost to the defending champion Miami Heat, they made it a very close game as they only lost 116-112. Jamal Crawford and Jordan each had big games, but Griffin was the best player on the court for the Clippers. He finished with 43 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. Maybe the only bad part of his game was that he missed seven of his 17 free throw attempts. Otherwise, he was simply sensational. As Jeff Van Gundy put it during ESPN‘s telecast, he was “relentless” throughout the entire game.
Give credit to coach Doc Rivers, who has gotten Griffin to be much more assertive on offense and has put his star forward in positions to succeed.
Once Paul returns from his injury, expect the Clippers to keep rising in the Western Conference standings. With the continued improvement of Griffin, who knows how good this team could be.