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As soon as the Los Angeles Clippers acquired Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets, folks were salivating at the potential that a duo of Paul and Blake Griffin had. The combination of Paul’s brilliance as a student of the game and a player and Blake Griffin’s elite athleticism alone had folks thinking Stockton and Malone and Nash and Amare all over again, only Paul is a more gifted scorer than both Nash and Stockton.
Obviously, the thing that made those two duos so great was their incredible execution in the pick and roll. Paul has been one of the best operators of the pick and roll in the game since he came into the league and Griffin was so incredibly good last season when he was put in pick and roll situations that it seemed like we’d be seeing these two guys combine to form the most efficient and feared play in the entire league right away.
In theory, I’m not sure there was anybody who thought that Paul and Griffin wouldn’t be have their pick and roll highlights playing on an endless loop on SportCenter’s top 10 plays no later than the first week of the season. But thus far that has not been the case. Though the Clippers have only played 11 games so far this season, the problems that the Clippers’ offense has had requires a bit of tweaking from Griffin’s side of things.
If you’ve watched the Clippers this season and you’ve seen Paul and Griffin run the pick and roll, you haven’t been treated to a highlight dunk. Instead, you’ve been forced to watch Griffin catch the ball in the absolute worst spots on the floor. In 11 games, Griffin has only rolled to the basket after a pick seven times this season, which is crazy, and he’s only done that four times with Chris Paul as the ball handler (results: two makes, one miss, one foul). And even on those plays, Griffin isn’t rolling to the basket right off of the pick like Amare used to do.
That was a bit of a problem for Griffin last season, too, but it was mitigated by the fact that he was getting to the rim at an even better rate. This season, Griffin has been floating around on the perimeter way too often. Obviously, any time Griffin doesn’t approach the paint is a win for the defense, which was the case with Amare during his days in Phoenix. That said, when Amare would shoot the 16-23 footer, he could still burn a defense, as he was an effective 44-48% shooter from that range. Griffin doesn’t have the weapon in his arsenal yet, and he’s actually shooting slightly worse than he did last season from 16-23 feet (33% to 31%) on two more attempts per game (3.1 to 5.1). That’s right, athletic monster Blake Griffin is shooting five mid-range jumpers a night, which is is the same amount as Dirk Nowitzki is shooting, but Dirk is making 56% of his.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s analysis of Blake Griffin’s play this season…
Griffin has been involved in an average of 2.2 pick and pop plays per game this season, which is up from his pace from last year. But his results have not been any better than average.
|Season||# of Pick and Pops||PPP||# Per Game||Rating|
Until Griffin’s shot is more reliable than it is right now, there is no need for pick and rolls to be sabotaged by Griffin popping out rather than running at the rim. It would be a tiny bit more defensible if Griffin was continuing to attack the rim while doing so but unfortunately, he isn’t.
|Season||# of P-n-Rs||PPP||# Per Game||Rating|
It’s almost like Blake Griffin made a vow to play like David West to help welcome Chris Paul to Los Angeles. Of course, Griffin is a totally different physical specimen than West and this is something you should never see.
Griffin catching the ball above the free throw line is a no-no. Though he is very good when he catches and makes his move with his dribble – he’s got the best handle in the league for a big man – defenses are going to sag off of him in that situation every time and unless he plans on driving into two big men and jumping over them (which he’s tried in the past), he’s going to shoot the 19-footer. Sometimes he shoots it on the catch but more often he hesitates, pausing for a moment while he realizes there is a reason he’s wide open. But as another second passes and the defense doesn’t bother getting out to him, he’s almost forced to hoist it. Chris Paul’s last pick and pop partner David West was the best player in the league at hitting that shot (he shot an incredible 56% on pick and pops last year) but Griffin is simply not effective from those spots on the floor.
Instead, Griffin should be mimicking another former Hornet, Tyson Chandler, who was the first big man that Paul played with that would constantly go at the rim after setting hard picks. In Chandler’s last season with Paul, which was in the 2008-09 season, Chandler was almost literally the perfect pick and roll partner. He topped the league in points per possession in pick and rolls with a mark of 1.682 and shot 86% in those situations. Chandler didn’t get the ball on a ton of pick and rolls with Paul, but on the 66 possessions on which did receive the ball, 63 came on rolls to the rim. Paul and Chandler was truly Lob City (established 2007).
I don’t want to discredit Chandler here by saying Griffin should be able to do this easily. I think it is a skill for Chandler to be able to find his way to the rim on all of these plays. The line to the basket isn’t always direct, but even so, he doesn’t float out to the perimeter and wait for secondary action to take place or a new play to be called. He works his way into the paint and gets himself in position to score. Chandler has a great feel for the game and with Paul running the show it was almost a guaranteed bucket anytime Chandler got himself free.
The difference between this season and last season is simple: the dribble. Last year, Griffin’s pick and roll partners were getting Griffin the ball as soon as he had rolled off of the pick. There were rarely times when Eric Gordon or Eric Bledsoe were taking more than one dribble after the pick was set. Take a look.
As you can see, the ball is delivered immediately on those plays and once he gets it on the roll, Griffin is a train headed straight for the rim. Those are the plays that remind of us of Amare Stoudemire, pre-New York. When Griffin creates momentum off of the pick, he’s an unstoppable force.
The problem, so far, in his pairing with Paul is that CP3 loves to keep his dribble alive. Steve Nash has the same quality, but he’s a little bit better than Paul at getting the ball to the roll man right away after the pick. Paul keeping his dribble alive is not a bad thing by any means, it just makes for a bad combo with Griffin because of Blake’s instincts. As you saw in the above video, when Griffin gets the ball right away, he’s fantastic. But Paul isn’t delivering the ball right away. Instead, like he did with Tyson Chandler, Paul is dribbling more to probe the defense even further. But unlike Tyson Chandler, Griffin is not finding his way to the rim so that Paul can lob it to him once he creates an opening. His instinct is to float out to the perimeter like David West did.
Here are the four pick and rolls that Griffin and Paul have run this season and as you can see, they don’t look as fluid as those Nash/Amare combos.
You may be asking yourself why Griffin keeps floating around the top of the key rather than finding his way to the rim. Here are my two theories:
1) Last season, when a pick and roll wouldn’t create an opening for Griffin, Clipper guards would reset and run another pick and roll with Griffin. So when Griffin doesn’t get a good roll to the rim off of pick and rolls with Paul, he’s expecting for Paul to comeback to the top of the key and run another one. But Paul is so much better at making plays than last season’s Clipper guards. He can make a play out of almost any pick and roll, so he doesn’t need to go run another one with Blake.
2) Griffin has probably spent a lot of time working on his shot over the summer and perhaps he’s just trying to find his rhythm in game. Even if it hurts the offense right now, it may pay dividends in the future if he can knock those shots down consistently.
The beneficiary of all of this has been DeAndre Jordan. With Griffin staying on the outside, the paint has been opened up for Jordan to cut in off the weakside. Jordan has done so 21 times this season and he is scoring 81% of the time.
It may sound odd to say that someone who is averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds per game and has a 22.65 PER is off to a rough start but that is a testament to Griffin’s incredible athletic ability, which has allowed him to thrive in transition and on the cut this season. That said, there is still a ton of potential for growth for Griffin. If he were to stop hanging out on the perimeter and instead starts finding his way to the rim more often I think he will start to look more like the MVP candidate I had him pegged as before the season began.