TEAM USA MAKES IT ANOTHER BUSY OFFSEASON FOR GRIFFIN
Eric Patten, Clippers.com
The court at the Clippers training center was practically vacant.
A draft workout had just ended and team personnel were clearing a few items off the court furthest from the locker room area. On the court next to it, Blake Griffin and Ryan Hollins were getting shots up. Behind them on the opposite court was Chris Paul, dribbling into pull-up jumper after pull-up jumper near the left elbow.
The offseason rarely exists for the Clippers’ two biggest stars. Paul has played in the Olympics twice and spent much of 2013 in Los Angeles playing pickup games and working out. Griffin, who has made obsessive offseason preparation something of a trademark, has been similarly obsessive throughout his previous four NBA offseasons.
For the first time, though, he is 100-percent healthy from day one.
“Last summer was as close as I’ve had, but [because of] the ankle thing I had to sit out for a little bit,” Griffin said during the team’s exit interviews three weeks ago. “Going into the offseason I’ve never felt like this, especially after going through Playoff basketball. So, hopefully, I can use that to my advantage and really take the time to get my body exactly where I want it to be and put in all the work I want to on the court.”
Griffin was rehabbing in 2010, dealt with the lockout in 2011, had knee surgery in 2012, and spent the first few weeks of the 2013 summer nursing a severely sprained right ankle that he sustained between Games 4 and 5 of the Clippers’ series with the Grizzlies. This time around, after playing 13 postseason games including scoring 30 points or more three times and averaging 23.5 points per game, Griffin is already preparing for October and ultimately next June.
“I’m excited to get back in and work on things,” Griffin said. “Obviously, [I’m] still working on my shot, working with Bob Thate, a lot of face-up stuff and continuing the work that we started last summer.”
That was when Griffin hardly knew Head Coach Doc Rivers, when the idea that Griffin’s speed and athleticism could be as much of a problem for defenses in the halfcourt as they have always been transition was just an idea. A year later, Griffin has experienced an entire season of possibilities of working as a playmaker from the elbow, facing the hoop.
He had what was often referred to as a “breakout” season, averaging a career-high 24.1 points, earning Player of the Month for February, tallying 43 double-doubles and improving his free-throw percentage to 71.5 percent. But in many ways, Griffin’s 2013-14 season was simply the progression, or gradual evolution, of his game through four seasons.
He turned 25 in March. And the horizon is seemingly limitless, particularly after finishing third in MVP balloting and expecting to improve even more after spending half of the summer with Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.
“I’m looking forward to the experience of playing with those guys, you know, top-level talent across the NBA,” Griffin said. “It’s great. I think you can learn from players in that situation and playing under Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski). I look to use that as a learning experience and also be able to grow my game as we go through that whole process.”
The process will lead Griffin back to Los Angeles in September, when the parking lot outside the training center might have slightly more cars in it and the gym might be a little more packed.