Jazz Jam sessions? Remember those? Yes? No? Okay, well, Steve (the boss of the great SB Nation Clips Nation, check him out on twitter @ClipperSteve ) came to me with some awesome questions which I answered over here. We're going to see a lot of the Clippers soon, so I had a few questions of my own. Check it out:
1. Blake Griffin: beyond the dunks, media overexposure, and commercials . . . the most overlooked part of who he is, somehow, is that he's really becoming an amazing NBA player. I spent a long part of my off-season looking at the career arcs of Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Chris Webber, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett. And . . . for his age, experience level, and current ability . . . Blake is a lot better than I'd want to admit right now as a non-LAC fan. I'm going to release the data in a post next off-season. But I want to hear from you what your expectations of him are this season: statistically, and in terms of on court ability.
Wow. A question for me about Blake Griffin that doesn't take as it's premise that he is overrated. How refreshing -- and thank you for noticing. I marvel at the "he's just a dunker" criticisms constantly leveled at Griffin -- a criticism that I find bizarre, as if dunking were bad. More to the point, Griffin had 192 dunks last season, while scoring 1368 points in 66 games. The dunks still count of course, but somehow this guy who is "just a dunker" managed to average about 15 points per game that weren't on dunks.
You did exactly what I have done also; when you look at big men early in their careers, the ONLY names that come up as having comparable numbers to Griffin in their first two seasons are either in the Hall of Fame, or well on their way. Productivity is productivity, and while some people like to focus on Griffin's flaws, his productivity has been undeniable.
Having said that, he does have flaws -- and if he can address them, it's really astounding to think about how good he might be. I'm not going to say that I expect a huge leap in Griffin this season -- just more steady improvement. There are those who would point to decreases in points per game and rebounds per game from his first season to his second season and claim that he regressed as a sophomore. But while his points and rebounds per 36 minutes did both decrease slightly, his field goal percentage increased dramatically, from .506 to .549. In fact, the entirety of his scoring dip can be attributed to a drop in his free throw percentage, something that clearly has to get better and will eventually (though I'm not sure this is the year). Many players suffer a sophomore slump as defenses figure them out and begin to key on them -- Griffin did not, becoming a more efficient scorer in his second season (everywhere except for the free throw line that is).
Griffin's also a better midrange shooter than he's usually given credit for (if you want details, you can look here) and I expect that part of his game to continue to improve. He's worked extensively with the Clippers new shooting coach, Bob Thate, this summer to improve the mechanics of his shot. Actually, with both his jumper and his free throws, Griffin's biggest issues are in his head not in his body -- he's much better when he shoots with confidence without overthinking the situation.
So I expect continued improvement from Griffin. At some point in his career, he will shoot 75% or better from the line -- like I said, I'm not sure that's this season, but eventually he'll get out of his head and make his free throws. He'll also continue to add counter moves to his low post repertoire. Griffin's low post game has lots of room for improvement -- he continues to rely on his quickness and athleticism to just 'athlete' the ball into the basket -- but with drilling and practice, he'll get better and better at certain go to moves.I don't see Griffin ever reinventing himself as a deadly midrange player the way that Karl Malone did, but he'll continue to do more and more to keep defenses honest. I'd expect about 22 points and 11 rebounds per game this season, with a significant improvement in efficiency, hopefully driven largely by better free throw shooting. There are lots of flaws -- but watch out if he gets them worked out.
2. The playoffs have a way of magnifying flaws. The Clippers have made it out of the first round in two of their last five trips to the playoffs. And while those five trips have been separated by 21 years, the franchise has momentum right now. What over-exposed flaw was fixed this off-season, and how far can the Clippers go in the playoffs this year? I think the Clippers are much deeper at the SF and PF spots, and with the right draw, win at least 7 playoff games. AT LEAST.
The flaw that got exposed in last year's playoffs was that San Antonio was better than the Clippers, and I think that this year's edition should be better than last year's -- particularly on defense. You mention the SF and PF -- the big problem with last year's roster was that it was assembled so hastily that it never made a lot of sense. Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups were added within a couple of days of each other AFTER training camp had started and just weeks before the first game. That moved Mo Williams to the bench, but problematically also overloaded the roster with small guards (Paul, Billups, Williams, Eric Bledsoe and Randy Foye -- all 6'3" or smaller). Likewise in the front court, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin were the best bigs available and the Clippers were lucky to have them, but with a rotation of DeAndre Jordan, Griffin, Evans and Martin, the Clippers had no shooting (and universally terrible foul shooting) and very little playmaking from their bigs.
So while Williams and Evans and Martin and Foye and Nick Young were all good players who played their hearts out in the playoffs, the reworked bench this season has much better balance. Flipping Williams for Lamar Odom in that four team trade helped relieve the logjam of small guards, while bringing in a highly skilled playmaking big. Grant Hill and Matt Barnes are experienced wings that shore up a perimeter defense that really didn't have a stopper last season. Jamal Crawford fills the bench scorer role vacated by Williams, but does so in the frame of a 6'6" guard that gives coach Vinny Del Negro more options. I also expect significant improvement from Jordan (who's been a revelation in preseason so far) and Bledsoe (who appears ready to continue the coming out party he started in the playoffs last year).
The problem with predicting better playoff success is that the Thunder and the Lakers are in the West also. Even if we all hope and pray that the Spurs will FINALLY experience the drop off that old age will eventually force upon them, it's still hard to pick against either OKC or LAL right now. And while I like your "seven games" improvement, losing in the second round is still losing in the second round. I'd clearly be disappointed if the Clippers didn't earn home court and win their first round series this year; but I fear I may have to wait another year or two to see them in the Conference Finals.
3. Would you swap coaches with the Utah Jazz for a game, a week, a month, or not at all? I'm sure this would have been easier to answer if the Jazz still had Jerry Sloan. But what do you think of Tyrone Corbin?
You may not know this about me, but I was a HUGE fan of the late 80s Suns teams of Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers and, yes, Ty Corbin. Corbin came to the Suns in the same franchise-altering trade that brought Johnson, and I'm very fond of saying that it's the only trade in NBA history in which a team added four starters (Johnson, Corbin, Mark West and the pick that become Dan Majerle). I don't actually know if it's true, but I'm fond of saying it.
So I have a general affinity for Corbin from the get-go. I don't know that I've watched enough of the Jazz under Corbin to make an informed decision, but it's hard to argue with his results last season, taking a team that was universally picked near the bottom of the conference to a 36-30 record and an playoff appearance. I'm not really giving up a whole lot with Vinny Del Negro, so let's make this happen. Where do I sign?
Thanks again ClippersSteve! And be sure to hop on by to read my answers to his questions over here!