GRIFFIN HAS ASCENDED THROUGH WORK, HUMILITY
NEW ORLEANS – Blake Griffin walked through a cordoned off area from a makeshift locker room to All-Star practice Saturday and had LaMarcus Aldridge hunched over laughing.
The Clippers’ superstar was smiling, too; chatting with Aldridge and Kevin Durant and the rest of Western Conference teammates before the start of what would likely be the shortest and least intense practice they would ever take part.
Griffin, the 24-year-old whose combination of charisma and talent are tailor made for All-Star Weekend, was having fun. It’s not to say that’s unusual for a guy who has starred in comedic commercials for three-plus years, expertly uses a combination of sarcasm and deadpan in interviews and says his love for the genre has helped him get to now “a lot of great people in the comedy world.”
But it’s part of the dichotomy and complexity of Griffin.
There’s arguably no harder worker, no one that takes his craft so seriously. But Griffin, playing in his fourth consecutive All-Star Game Sunday, a Clippers record, is also fun loving. He’s as playful and charming as he is sometimes reserved and protective.
Griffin’s last 30 games before this week’s interruption of the regular season has been statistically the finest stretch of his pro career. It’s as though a confluence of what Griffin could be and is are crashing before us with the impact of a meteor, at least that’s how it’s being perceived nationally.
His 27.6 points per game, 55.5 percent field goal percentage and 9.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game during that stretch have him earning a small segment of the MVP conversation not reserved for the league’s leading scorer, Durant, and the league’s reigning most valuable player, LeBron James.
But Griffin’s response to the supposed MVP talk tells you all you need to know about him. Asked whether or not the way he helped lead the Clippers to a 12-6 record without fellow All-Star Chris Paul should prompt discussion of perhaps MVP worthiness, Griffin said, “It wasn’t anything I did. It was our whole team. To me, the MVP race comes down to two guys.”
Griffin usually defers to the team. He’s a perfectionist, and almost shies away from praise.
“I’ve really just tried to expand my game every year and tried to add things and improve upon things that I need to improve on and even improve upon the things that I do well,” Griffin said.
Because of that approach criticism rarely bothers him. He shrugs it off in the way he brushes aside hard fouls that everyone from Karl Malone to Charles Barkley have suggested he should react violently towards. Tell Griffin, who is shooting a career-high 39.6 percent (108-for-273) from 16 feet and beyond, that he’s only a dunker and he’s not going to lecture anyone or pull up a shooting chart or stat line to disprove it.
“People are going to say whatever they want to say,” Griffin said. “People are going to say that probably for the rest of my career. I’m not really concerned.”
The dunks are what fuel the jumpers, but Griffin’s all-around game is what has been the flashpoint for the increased double-teams from opposing defenses. And he’s becoming more of a leader, something he was forced into when Paul went down for 18 games with a separated shoulder. It’s not a coincidence that Griffin’s numbers increased then, but they were already nearly at that level.
After his 36 points and 10 rebounds against Portland on Wednesday, Griffin has tallied nine games with at least 30 points and 10 boards this year, eight in the last two months. He’s getting to the foul line more often and causing havoc as a decision-maker in transition, even since Paul returned on Feb. 9. He’s not just a dunker, but he never really has been.
“A lot of people have said that he’s a one-dimensional player, but if you look at what he does now, you can’t say that,” Kevin Love said. “He’s been great. He’s been a guy that’s elevated his game to the next level.”
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, who will coach Griffin in the All-Star game for the second time, talked about Griffin during open media availability on Friday.
“His athleticism is hard to contain,” Brooks said. “The guy can jump 15 feet in the air and jump 20 feet from the basket and get to the rim. He’s just an amazing athlete. He’s driven. He’s a competitor. They have a very good basketball team. He’s definitely a tough guy to guard because he can score from different areas on the floor and his jump shot has improved over the years.
“I give him a lot of credit. I’m sure he’s worked hard to be in this position.”
The work, which is well documented, borders on obsessive. Jamal Crawford called it “contagious” when you see someone like Griffin, with all of the accolades at such a young stage of his career, in the training center first each day or working out in the evening after an afternoon game.
Crawford spread the word to other players in the league as well, in a way putting them on notice.
“You know, everybody that knows him or that’s around him says he works hard,” Aldridge said. “I’m real close with Jamal Crawford, best friends; and he says Blake works hard.”
And the work has paid off immensely. For Aldridge, or Love, or the rest of the West’s premier players at Griffin’s position, it is already no laughing matter.