GRIFFIN AIMS HIGH IN 2013-14
Just days before the Clippers’ first official practice of the new season, 72 hours from his fifth Media Day, Blake Griffin had reason to be excited.
The summer, which included hours on end of workouts and pickup games and more workouts, was turning to fall. Griffin, replete with a re-signed Chris Paul, championship-winning coach, newly re-energized front-court mate, and bevy of weapons around him, seemingly is as anxious as ever to get things started.
Like his new coach, Doc Rivers, Griffin has excessively grand expectations for a Clippers team that has won 96 of their last 138 regular-season games. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I do always have high expectations for myself and I always do for our team,” Griffin said. “For that to be a kind of an across the board thing, I think it’s great. You can’t really achieve anything unless your expectations are high.”
Discovering the bar for Griffin, 24, is something not easily discernible. He is arguably one of the most scrutinized and celebrated young players of his generation. For every one of his league-high 609 dunks since 2010-11, he is reminded that his perimeter game must improve. For all of his 436 fouls drawn, relentless work outs, and thousands of times crashing to the floor, words like “soft” are used to describe him.
His statistical production in three NBA seasons has rivaled the greatest big men of all-time. He’s averaged 20.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists, while shooting 52.9 percent from the field. Six others have done that and only Tim Duncan is not yet a Hall of Famer. But it is not about numbers or accolades or even framing his career against others for Griffin. It never has been.
It is about getting better.
“What stood out to me was his work ethic,” said Rivers. “He’s a worker and he’s a professional at it.”
Rivers barely knew Griffin when he took the Clippers job in June, but he does now. He wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when it came to his superstar power forward. From afar it was easy to assume Griffin was too busy with “stuff,” as Rivers referred to it, that would pull him away from the court. There were the quirky commercials, photo shoots, sponsorship trips and everything else that could seem a distraction.
“I think a lot of young guys, and we have a young team,” Rivers said. “Blake’s young and so is Chris [Paul] and so is DJ (DeAndre Jordan). They are rising. They have all this stuff, is what I call it, to pull them off of basketball.”
But Rivers admits he was wrong.
“He understands he’s a basketball player,” Rivers said. “I think a lot of young guys, I’ve had it, [will say], ‘Coach, I can’t come today. I’ve got to do a commercial.’ And Blake won’t do that. He’ll say we’re going to move this commercial back. I’m doing my work out first. I think he completely understands who he is and what he does.
“From afar, I would think he never practices. He does all these commercials, he probably doesn’t have time. But he’s been the exact opposite.”
Rivers envisions Griffin as a devastating face-up player offensively and a potentially elite defender. That message was made clear from the onset.
“I sat in his office and we talked about how he thought I could be much, much better defensively, especially defensively in transition,” Griffin said. “And I completely agree. That’s going to be kind of a focus for me, putting in that time and that effort to relearning our defensive schemes, language, and really putting in the effort every day, every single day at practice where in games it carries over.”
Griffin’s offseason workouts have included plenty of time working on defense on the court, playing pickup games and studying. He’s also taken hundreds of shots a day from spots on the floor Rivers expects him to operate.
“I like the idea [of facing the basket more],” Griffin said. “I also like the offense to be moving or open with a little bit more room to operate. I’m really looking forward to it because that’s what I’ve been working on all summer. I feel like this summer’s really been big for me because I’ve really known exactly what to work on and why I’m working on it.”
Last season, according to Synergy Sports, Griffin attempted 80 field goals in face-up situations, shooting 45 percent (well above league average). His increased chances at the elbow or on the wing will be aided by the additions of Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick and the return of Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes.
“Blake is someone where, he rolls, you have to be there to help. You’re afraid of getting dunked on,” Dudley said. “That opens 3-point shots. A lot of people in this league say, ‘Hey, make them beat you from the outside.’ Where for someone like me, that is my layup, it’s an open three.
“We’ve got to make it easier for him. That’s what me and JJ, where if they do double, we have to make them pay, and if not he’ll have one-on-one.”
For the moment, Dudley is only offering hypotheticals, shades of what could be, only reserved for late-morning open-gym runs. But it is still part of why Griffin must be excited, the floor spaced with room to rule it.
He’ll get to experience it in a real game soon enough.