Typically, the NBA’s annual Most Improved Player award goes to a younger player that sees a random surge in production, like Boris Diaw in 2006 or Aaron Brooks in 2010. Perhaps the player’s role has been expanded from what it was the year prior, or maybe something just clicked. Last year, Indiana’s Paul George took home the prize, and honestly, he wouldn’t even be a terrible choice to win it again this season, given his leap into superstardom.
Players five years out of college aren’t your standard winners of this award. Blake Griffin has played three full seasons in the league after missing his actual rookie year after injuring his knee during a preseason game. He’s been an All-Star four times already, and won Rookie of the Year back in 2011. Needless to say, he’s pretty established as one of the league’s top, young big men.
However, following a rookie year during which he averaged 22.5 points and over 12 rebounds a game, his numbers actually declined in each of the subsequent two seasons. Last year, he was down to just 18 points and 8 boards a night, and he began to look like a player that may have already peaked. His game had developed very little since he was a rookie. Griffin was still offering up highlight-reel dunks on a nightly basis, but he still struggled to shoot from any distance, and his defense was mediocre, for the most part.
It’s become fairly evident now that the previous coaching staff, led by Vinny Del Negro, that coached Griffin in each of his first three seasons, hadn’t made much of an effort to help him get any better. Griffin was a fine player, but his lack of development was puzzling and fairly disappointing. Fortunately, the Clippers had already advanced as far as they possibly could’ve under that staff, and it was canned after the Grizzlies knocked them out fairly easily in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Enter Doc Rivers and friends, and Griffin’s evolution as a player has been amazing. I’ve written previously about how his quicker decision-making with the ball has helped him use his speed much more effectively against slower defenders, and that may be the most important difference between New Blake and Old Blake. Old Blake would get the ball in the post, turn, move the ball around a bit in his hands, and you could see the wheels turning inside his head as he decided where to go next. Now? He just gets it and goes. Before the defender has time to react, Griffin has already sped past him and gotten into position for an easy attempt near the rim.
Another development in Griffin’s game has been the monster improvement in his jump-shooting. He’s still not exactly David West when it comes to reliably knocking down jumpers, but he’s consistent enough now to where it’s a viable weapon in the arsenal. Take a look at Griffin’s shot chart from last season. So. Much. Blood. He’s always been better from the left wing than the right wing, but even the shooting on that more-favorable left wing was subpar.
Now, look at the chart from this season. He still clearly struggles in several areas, but on the whole, it’s substantially better. Lately, he’s been hitting a little bank shot from that left wing that seems like it’s going in more often than not. Duncan-esque. In his first three seasons combined, on shots between 10-16 feet, Griffin connected on just 30 percent. This season, it’s up to 39 percent, which, obviously, is a monstrous improvement. Still not great by any means, but improvement is improvement.
He had zero semblance of a three-point shot in the past, but he’s actually been lethal on his corner attempts, though obviously the sample size there is miniscule. Still, it’s a start, and with the way the league has changed into more of a perimeter-oriented game, eventually adding a serviceable three-point shot is certainly in Griffin’s best interests, long-term. It’s helped players like Chris Bosh and Paul Millsap immensely.
Griffin has always had the “all he can do is dunk” myth following him, and while that has never been the case, he’s dispelling it nowadays for good, hopefully. The transformation fully blossomed during the stretch this season the team had to play without Chris Paul, who missed several games with a shoulder injury. Griffin had to shoulder the majority of the offensive load during that time, and the team kept rolling just fine anyway. He’s also improved vastly from the charity stripe, connecting on nearly 71 percent of his tries this season. For his career, he’s just a 63 percent foul shooter.
He’s developed a very versatile post game that features spins and pivots and hook shots with either hand that simply weren’t in his game previously. He can spin one way, find nothing, and spin back toward the other shoulder before the defender knows where he’s gone. His quickness has helped make up for the fact that he’s got shorter arms than most players at his position, with the athleticism advantage also helping out quite a bit.
Will Blake Griffin win the league’s Most Improved Player award this season? Highly doubtful. He’s always been an All-Star, and it sounds kinda silly on the surface to give that award to a player that was already established as one of the top at his position. But, realistically, there may be no more improved player than Griffin in the league this year.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.