Posted Oct 9, 2012 5:30 PM
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Blake Griffin was talking about gaining confidence in his shot and feeling better about his entire offensive game that already bordered on pyrotechnic. Coach Vinny Del Negro was talking about how an improved jumper will open up the court for Griffin and they weren't fooling anyone.
Yes, deconstructing his release will be beneficial on the scoreboard and, sure, extending his arsenal to add what the Clippers hope will be a dependable mid-range game will be one more way to drive opposing coaches to insomnia. But please. This isn't solely about keeping Griffin in the game.
This is about keeping him out of traction.
The Clippers hired Bob Thate as shooting coach. Clippers big men Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are two prized pupils, and this could become more about adding time to Griffin's career than adding numbers to his scoring average.
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This is the All-Star power forward, after all, who last season led the league in baskets and attempts from inside the restricted area, making him a constant target for contact, even subtracting the times defenders couldn't get close as Griffin elevated to the ceiling. More than that, he embarrasses people with posterizing dunks, and opponents tend to like to avoid being on the wrong side of a highlight reel. He could go airborne, someone could decide the next Mozgovian moment won't happen on their watch, and Griffin is a wide receiver going over the middle as a DB sharpens a sword.
"You've got to expect that," said Lamar Odom, an opposing power forward before and a teammate now. "He dunks the ball. Guys that dunk the ball are going to go through that. That's the most embarrassing play in the NBA, someone that takes the ball and dunks it over you. That's the first thing you see when SportsCenter is on or YouTube or any highlight reel you can think of. A guy can have 25 points and 10 rebounds, but if he gets dunked on three times in a game, that's what they're going to show. They're going to show three dunks. Dunks and threes. Right? Blake has to expect that. That's why getting a nice floater or a nice jump hook, it'll help. He can make his power move and then finish with finesse. He'll get and-ones like that."
Of course adding a jumper connects to Griffin's health. He is coming off a second surgery on his left knee in about 2 ½ years and his signature move is to get aerodynamic, even if it means absorbing contact on a locomotive move to the basket that usually send defenders bouncing but still exposes Griffin to the potential of crash landings.
Expanding his offensive game was a logical next step anyway, but the injury history combined with the style of play increases the value of being more comfortable away from the basket. Enter Thate, a shooting coach who previously worked for the Nets and later several individual players from different teams, with Jason Kidd crediting Thate for helping extend his career.
Griffin began his tutoring in mid-June, only to have the sessions cut short when he began workouts with USA Basketball in preparation for the Olympics and then shelved completely because of the knee surgery. As Griffin got healthy, he got back to the shot, breaking down his mechanics and learning new methods so slowly that it could be frustrating.
"It was one of those things where you completely change what you've been doing," Griffin said after a practice at the Clippers' training facility. "It takes a while to get used to it."
He was feeling more comfortable by the start of camp and saying, "It's not one of those things where you're going to look at it and be like, 'Oh, wow, it's completely different.' But for me, the feel -- it's much more compact. I guess that's the better word. There's less chance for error. But, still, I've got a long way to go." Among the alterations is Griffin losing the tendency to unnecessarily fade away just before the release.
"His release point's better," Del Negro said. "His balance is better. I think his confidence is better. But it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take some time. Everyone wants it now, but there's a process involved. He's putting in all the time and effort he can. You're going to see some more consistency there and improvement."
You're going to see an important change in Griffin's game.
"It opens up everything," Del Negro said. "Not only for him, but for everyone. Just the spacing factor. And he doesn't have to take as much pounding. The physical factor. It's going to come. He's just got to get into his range, pick his spots. He works on it all the time. It's just a matter of time for him because he works so hard."
This is about all of that -- adding to Griffin's offense, forcing defenses to step out to defend him on the perimeter in a way that will help the other Clippers on the court, and, yes, the physical factor. This is about keeping him out of traction.
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