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Scott Howard-Cooper

Blake Griffin, a second-year rookie, is going hard in preseason as if he never missed a beat.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

Griffin taking advantage of second-chance rookie season

Posted Oct 11 2010 7:15PM

So where were we?

Oh, that's right.

Blake Griffin is preparing to embark on a highly anticipated NBA career that will package elite athleticism with a 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame with a passionate work ethic in a sign of the latest fresh start for the beleaguered Clippers.

Just like before.

This was Griffin a year ago at this time as an actual rookie, months removed from going No. 1 in the draft, and this is Griffin right now, technically a rookie but still every bit the potential star in the making after missing all 2009-10 with a knee injury. Nothing has changed except the calendar.

The Clippers are emphasizing, in words, the positives of the forced rest -- he is a smarter player after only watching and dissecting games, the tendinitis that plagued his knees since college has faded, etc. That's understandable. Teams typically hand out such cheer in the face of hits to the lineup and the emotions.

It's what Griffin is emphasizing, in actions, that matter.

In the earliest moments of the exhibition schedule, he is already back to playing above the rim. He is moving very well out on the perimeter. Handed the perfect opportunity to take it slow and ramp up to the regular season in what would have been a very reasonable strategy, Griffin instead went right to bursting out awesome moments of flight.

"Physically," coach Vinny Del Negro said, "he's perfect."

There will be no restrictions on minutes once the Clippers open Oct. 27 against the Trail Blazers, a franchise that knows a little something about big men trying to come back from injury. There will be no limits on what moves he can and cannot pull off. There will only be Griffin in some weird collision of rewind and fast forward, the way he needs to go back to grab the debut moment left behind a year ago and then get on with the success already.

It's not just the highlight reel, either. To Griffin, one of the dramatic signs that he had made it back came in July, when he had the ball near the basket during a workout at the practice facility with the summer league team before it headed to Las Vegas for games. The double team came, he split the trap with agility, then quickly shifted into power mode to finish with a dunk.

It was a telling instant far from the lights that will follow a former college All-American and No. 1 pick in a major market. Griffin realized it even if no one outside the walls in Playa Vista, Calif., was aware of the return on months of hard rehab work. Out-quicking the defense and exploding to the rim in blended movement was the major confidence boost that told Griffin he would still be an athletic marvel for his size.

"No doubts at all," he said of the certainty of remaining every bit the player before the injury. "You'll see as the season goes on, with every game. Honestly, I don't think I've lost a step or explosiveness and all that. Obviously there was a year-long period when I wasn't playing, so I have to catch up in that aspect."

There will be those timing issues that would arise anyway, and, plus, he is a rookie playing with a lot of expectations. Being a first-year pro means mistakes unrelated to the injury. This will not be a seamless 2010-11, for more reasons than most major prospects.

But if Griffin is physically able in the aftermath of such a serious injury, that's a thunderous dunk of a development. And a preseason in which he hasn't even missed a practice has shown he is absolutely physically able.

"It's not about the power and explosion you see on television," said Neil Olshey, the Clippers vice president of basketball operations. "It's the quickness factor. That's what really separates him. There are great north-south vertical athletes that jump out of the gym, great bodies, run the floor. With him it's how quick he moves laterally. His ability to play out on the perimeter. You're going to see a unique guy that has the body and the athleticism to play above the rim and then defend guys in the low post. But his ability to go out on the perimeter and guard is really unique."

And he still has that.

"Oh, God yeah," Olshey said.

Griffin moves so well on the wings that his coach for the start of the scheduled rookie season, Mike Dunleavy, was prepared to deploy him at small forward. It would have been a way to generate more minutes on a team that already had the established Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman at power forward and center, but Dunleavy felt Griffin could handle defending the quicker players.

That's not in the Del Negro plans. With Camby in Portland, Griffin is the power forward and Kaman is the center, and that's that. It's time to get on with the success already.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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