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The Extra Pass: Blake Griffin’s Undeserved Reputation

Jan 14, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT

Blake Griffin AP

The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we examine some of the criticism surrounding Blake Griffin.

As fans, we take on the role of production line workers when new players enter the league. We inspect them quickly, stamp our label on them, and then move them down the line so we can evaluate the next group of players. There’s no time for reassessment — we make up our minds and move on. It’s why we give out draft grades the day of the draft and never revisit them again; it’s why we call guys “busts” after two months in the league. It’s a quick process.

Blake Griffin’s story goes a little bit differently. When we saw him, we were floored. Everyone had to see this guy. We took to all the social media outlets to show him off. Sports programs set up alerts on their shows to let you know when he did something crazy.

But that extra attention? It brought about closer analysis. It is, after all, what we do. And upon closer inspection, we saw a few warts we didn’t see before — or maybe weren’t looking for. And so the overrated label got slapped right over the underrated label, and Griffin was sent back down the line.

Now it’s Griffin’s third season, and we’ve reached a strange place. After he was built up and tore back down, he gained a reputation that doesn’t seem to quite fit. Let’s examine.

“All he does is dunk.”

First off, this isn’t true. Secondly, if it were true, would this really be a bad thing? Until someone can show me that dunking is an inefficient way of scoring, I reject the premise of this argument.

“You know what I mean. He can’t shoot, he has no jumper at all. He has to develop a jumper to reach the next level.”

Ah, right. Here are a few names I want you to look at:

Paul Pierce, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay and Dwyane Wade.

All pretty good players, yes? Well, from 16-feet to the 3-point line, guess who had more made field goals and converted at a higher percentage than all of them did last season?

That’s right — Blake Griffin.

Griffin’s need to develop a jumper became a talking point last year that was generally accepted as truth, but while all that was being said, Griffin shot 37% from mid-range, which put his totals close to more established “shooting” power forwards like Kevin Love.

Even though Griffin’s jumper is up to 38% this year (the league average from 16-23 ft is 38% as well), the confirmation bias rages on with any misses, even if they come less frequently than others who are highly regarded as mid-range shooters.

Look at how many of his shots are wide open, though.”

Yes. But should we reward others who make shots with a higher degree of difficulty and penalize Griffin because his athleticism creates open looks?

It’s a game Griffin can’t win. If he takes too many jumpers or tries to extend his range further, he’s Vince Carter in his last days in Toronto or he’s evil Josh Smith. Basically, the more he shoots from distance, the more he’ll be regarded as a player who doesn’t leverage his athletic ability to the fullest. But if he only uses his athletic ability, he’ll be called unskilled and unrefined. Where’s the balance? What’s the percentage of jumpers Griffin needs to hit to shake his reputation of being a bad shooter? Or is this already a LeBron James situation where the label is permanent and winning a championship is the only thing that could possibly alter the way he’s viewed?

Here’s my point: Griffin’s jumper is a weapon. Just because it’s arguably the weakest in his repertoire (excluding free throw shooting) doesn’t mean that it’s non-existent or inadequate.

If anything, it’s a testament to Griffin’s ability to score in the paint, to see the floor impeccably (only David Lee and Pau Gasol have better assist rates among starting power forwards), and to crash the offensive glass. It’s because he does those things so well — and because he makes the impossible possible with those dunks — that Griffin’s perfectly average jumper seems like a huge missing part of his game when it actually isn’t.

  1. laughsatyou - Jan 14, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    I think the article is missing the point of the criticism . People want to cut him down because of the way he acts not plays . Nobody likes someone who whines and complains every single call . It really makes him look like a big child . Blake is a ridiculous athlete and getting better at other parts of his game . If he stopped whining and flopping maybe more people would like him . Hes got the body to be a great defender and he shouldn’t just fall on the floor at contact . Also saying he is a better shooter than paul pierce is just stupid i don’t care what the stats of half of this year may say.

    • abchome - Jan 14, 2013 at 10:33 AM

      Blake Griffin barely complains calls this year. Certainly he’s not a better shooter than Paul Pierce, he just happens to shoot mid range jumpers at a connection rate no worse than the league average, and higher than some known shooters.

      Yet I don’t think he cares others’ perception at all. He’s already a super star, financially secured, and playing for one of the best teams.

    • lmoneyfresh - Jan 14, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      I have to agree here. I loved watching Griffin when he came into the leauge, he played an exciting brand of ball. But when a guy plays as physical as Griffin does and then complains constantly for calls, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So much talent, but such an obnoxious attitude.

      I give him credit for working on his outside game, but with his talent he should be dominant and he’s just not quite there. Now, he’s still relatively new to the league, so who knows, he might end up great. In my eyes though, he’s still falling short of his potential and it just seems he needs to learn that playing good basketball is more about just flash.

      • lmoneyfresh - Jan 14, 2013 at 11:14 AM

        And abchome, he may very well be whining less this year, I admit I haven’t seen many clippers games this season. Truth is though, it’ll probably take a few years before that gets noticed and people can get that out of their head when it comes to their perception of Griffin.

      • Distinguished Male - Jan 14, 2013 at 12:32 PM

        Isn’t that perception and confirmation bias what this article was about though? That Griffin has just been labeled as “one of those guys” that people enjoy disliking?

        You say it will take a couple of years for the label of “whiner/flopper” to go away. Well, how long did it take for that to stick, 6 months? Why is there such a difference there?

        Can definitely see this going the Lebron route. Where a player is so athletically gifted, that short of triple doubles or 5×5 every single night, people find mud to sling their direction.

      • lmoneyfresh - Jan 14, 2013 at 2:54 PM

        You’re definitely right Male, that perception tends to outweigh reality in these cases, but it’s nothing new. It’s a catch-22 with many of these athletes who shoot to stardom so quickly. Increased stardom = increased scrutiny, many times unfairly. If he just keeps playing and acting like he has, he’ll be fine in the long run though. To his credit, he doesn’t really put his foot in his mouth like Lebron was for a while, so that’s a plus. And hell, his Kia commercials are pretty damn funny. The football one is great.

  2. probert1025 - Jan 14, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    Why is it that he is falling short of his potential? Lets remember when he was coming into the league he was raw offensively
    He was known as an amazing rebounder and a player who worked hard. We can’t say that he has fallen short when he averaged 20 & 10 his first two seasons joining Kareem which is historic. Not many players at his position come in and dominate within three years. He has a lot of work to do but he is improving and he works his butt off he will be great because he won’t allow anything else

  3. paleihe - Jan 14, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    It’s his third year playing professional basketball. His shot will get better, as it already has, and his free throwing shooting is becoming more consistent.

    All in all, it’s too early in his career to say he’s not yet reached his potential.

  4. surfoside4life - Jan 14, 2013 at 11:35 AM

    lob city!! F haters

  5. brokenyellowlines - Jan 14, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    “It’s a game Griffin can’t win.”

    Very true. We as fans often will just look for evidence that confirms our biases.

    Great measured analysis of Griffin’s game. As far as Griffin’s demeanor goes, speaking anecdotally, I’d say he has significantly curbed the whining, flopping, and stare-downs.

    As far as his overall persona, it’s nice to see a star show some self-awareness (“Practice your free-throws… a lot.”) and be able to address some of the criticism directly and winsomely. Kevin Draper over at The Diss wrote a nice piece on the evolution of his image: http://thedissnba.com/2012/12/24/monday-media-the-evolution-of-blake-griffins-image/

    • dannymac17 - Jan 14, 2013 at 9:24 PM

      thanks for the link, that was rather informative.

  6. chilomane - Jan 14, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    He flops and being as strong as he is its hard to watch.

  7. mat9844 - Jan 14, 2013 at 1:58 PM

    Thanks for the great article. You said it better than I ever could. I’ve been a fan of BG since Oklahoma days. His best years are ahead of him.

  8. spthegr8 - Jan 14, 2013 at 4:34 PM

    That stat about his mid-range being converted @ a higher % then Wade, Pierce, Gay & Deng is QUITE amusing??? If he want’s too shoot that 16 ft jumper ALL NIGHT LONG………..Be my guest. If he make’s it, I’ll shake his hand. It’s called “playing the odd’s”!!!!! I don’t care WHAT % he shoot’s from there!!! JUST SAYING!!!!!

  9. dannymac17 - Jan 14, 2013 at 7:55 PM

    Dude do you live in the LA area? I do, lets go grab some coffee and then maybe head into an alley way so I can rearrange your damn teeth. All you do is cry in Lakers threads about the haters, but here you are showing your ugly troll face yet again.

    You are a clown, an insignificant little girl.

    Go somewhere else.

  10. dannymac17 - Jan 14, 2013 at 8:24 PM

    Im actually white. You are a vagina.

  11. dannymac17 - Jan 14, 2013 at 9:25 PM

    you were dropped on your head. its clear as day.

  12. savvybynature - Jan 14, 2013 at 9:28 PM

    First, it’s not uncommon for players to have too much praise heaped on them too early, a la Bryce Harper this past season in MLB. Fans and the media are understandably enthralled with athleticism and potential, and have little patience to wait for guys to develop. If the result is a few undeserved all-star nods, slam dunk competition awards and millions in endorsements, then a little extra scrutiny down the line isn’t a bad trade off.
    Second, Griffin has undoubtedly made serious strides in his game so far this season and by all accounts works hard at his craft. I am pretty confident that in two or three seasons, if he keeps working at it and stays healthy, he will grow into the “superstar” status that was hoisted on him prematurely. But, don’t expect surprise when the pendulum swings back the other way and people finally notice that he is an incomplete player. I’m still not even sure he gets that much scrutiny, especially when he gets all-star votes well ahead of more deserving players like Tim Duncan.
    Last, this article didn’t address his defense, which is still lacking imo. This isn’t me ripping him, or being a hater, it’s just an observation. He is still very young and has plenty of room to improve.
    Bottom line is, if you get the perks from being labeled a superstar, I don’t see why you shouldn’t get the extra scrutiny that comes with it as well. Yeah maybe some of those criticisms are behind the times in terms of the evolution of his game, but perception always lags behind reality right? After all, there is something to be said for sample size so it wouldn’t be prudent to alter perceptions too quickly.
    Great article btw, you are my favorite pbt writer by far so keep ‘em coming!

  13. justaride88 - Jan 17, 2013 at 2:02 AM

    Dunking IS an inefficient way of scoring. You just don’t see guys who’s game is built around mostly their athlethicism, to produce in play offs when the game is on the line. Blake can’t score alley-up dunks whith 3 minutes to go in 4th quater, because defence is set.

    I think the problem with Blake is that he WAS overrated when he just entered the pro’s, many peaople really expected him to become one of the greatest PF’s of all time. And I did to, I was amazed of he’s athlethic ability, but an eye opener for me was Charles Barkley who said that Griffin is overrated. And when you remember how Barkley him self played in he’s day, than it becomes obvious of how many assets Blakes game is still missing to reach that mark.

    I think we might have here another Vince Carter.

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