Posts Tagged ‘Blake Griffin’

Essay: More All-Star Reinforcements!

January 28, 2011 1 comment

If you saw last night’s special on TNT, you witnessed an all-time intense All-Star debate between Kenny Smith and Chris Webber.  The subject, more or less, was this:  Much like the annual MVP debate—what specific criteria makes one player more valuable than another—it seems people are having a difficult time describing what constitutes an All-Star.  Smith is on the side of rewarding good players who contribute on winning teams, while Webber and Charles Barkley believe All-Star games are made to showcase the best players, and the best way to gauge that is by looking at individual statistics. Neither side is right nor wrong. All-Star invitations should be made on a case by case, player by player basis; when you surround an argument with hypothetical points you’re going to run in circles more times than not.  ”Does Lamar Odom deserve to make the team because he’s the third best player on a championship contender?” is a debatable question. “Would Odom lead the league in double doubles if he played for a losing team like Minnesota?” is not.  Yes, it’s true that players on poor teams have more opportunities to dabble with impressive statistics than those who compete within the framework of teamwork and sacrifice, but as goes the case by case, player by player motto, just look at Kevin Love’s numbers! You’d have to be crazy not to vote for him. I’m talking John Malkovich “In the Line of Fire” crazy.  It just seems incomprehensible how someone who dominates one of the most important aspects of his sport can’t be an All-Star. Now without further ado, here’s who I believe are the Western Conference All-Star reserves.

First Guard: Manu Ginobili. At 39-7, the Spurs have not only paced the entire league through their first 46 games, but their rejuvenated, up tempo offensive philosophy (up to third in offensive rating from last season’s ninth) has been the biggest surprise. And the number one reason for it is a healthy Manu Ginobili.  He leads the team in points (18.7), three pointers (just over two a game—he also leads the league in attempts with 280), free throw attempts (just under six), and steals (just under two). If there were a section in the Hall of Fame devoted to the craftiest players in league history, Ginobili’s bust would greet visitors at the door.  The way he maneuvers into the lane with such ease is almost cheating, like a caged mouse who somehow got his hands on the maze’s blueprint.  Ginobili is a perfect example of a player whose stats could be borderline astronomical if he were a dim light on a crummy team, but instead he understands the importance of the extra pass. After all this time, and all the mileage on his thought to be busted ankles, Manu Ginobili is averaging more minutes per game than he ever has in his career. That’s why he’s worthy.

Second Guard: Deron Williams. Utah is falling apart. It’s clear, it’s obvious, it’s sad.  A recent article by John Hollinger cites their point guard as being far from why. Williams is slowly becoming one of those players who fans take for granted, yet right now he’s on pace to average career highs in points, minutes played, and shots taken. Thanks to Al Jefferson’s fitting into Utah’s offense like Keith Olbermann at a Tea Party rally, Williams has had more responsibility placed on his shoulders than ever before. (He’s led his team in scoring just once in his career, two years ago when Carlos Boozer only played in 37 games due to injury; this year will be the second.)  Or, to make an open and shut case, you can just say Williams is averaging 22 points and nine assists per game.

First Forward: Dirk Nowitzki. Before he had that awkward leg injury, Dirk was the hands down leading MVP candidate—the team is 28-8 in games he’s played in.  Nowitzki is a high volume jump shooter who is shooting a ridiculous 51 percent from the field, which happens to be a career best. I’ve never been a huge Nowitzki fan, but I will admit his career has either been transcendental or one in a billion.  Those are both meant as compliments. I don’t know what else to say except he’s been an All-Star every season since 2002, and right now he’s shooting as well as ever.

Second Forward: Kevin Love. We covered him a little bit at the top. For whatever reason he’s one of the most controversial All-Star choices in recent memory.  No offense to NBA fans across the country, but how on earth did Luis Scola get more votes than this guy? He leads the NBA in offensive, defensive, and total rebounds (15.7 per game!).  He’s averaging 45 percent from beyond the arc while making exactly three a game. He’s had eight games with 20 or more rebounds and 29 of his 45 starts have resulted in at least 15.  He already has 40 double doubles and is a 20 point per game scorer.  Yes, his team has 10 wins but no, Love isn’t to blame—he’s fourth in the entire league in win shares, which estimates the number of wins contributed by a player.  I’ve been a little back and forth on this over the past several weeks, but as of now my opinion is etched in cement: If Love isn’t an All-Star, nobody is.

Center: Pau Gasol. He’s placed here despite being listed as a forward on the ballot because every other option at center (besides maybe Nene) is a complete and utter joke. At the age of 30 and in his prime, Gasol is having a typical season for him: 19 points, 11 boards, two blocks.  And with a 33-13 record and league leading offensive rating, so are the Lakers. Gasol is second in the league in win shares; he leads L.A. in blocks per game, minutes (37), and rebounds.  With the incredible options we have at the forward position out west this year, Gasol fitting in at center will help assuage a few of the arguments.

First Wild Card: Blake Griffin. If you had to say, as a casual basketball fan, who the most exciting player in the NBA was, a highlight reel of Blake Griffin elevating over the New York Knicks in an earth shattering 44 point performance would pop into your head. Hands down, man down. Griffin is averaging 23 points (on 52 percent shooting) and 13 rebounds a night, while registering a jaw dropping 392 free throw attempts through the first 45 games of his career. That’s more than LeBron and Wade. The league didn’t have time to put Griffin on their radar; from day one they were in his bomb shelter. As long as he stays healthy, the guaranteed Rookie of the Year will see the All-Star game his entire career.

Second Wild Card: Monta Ellis. Without a doubt the most vexing choice I’ve made so far, but hear it out.  Monta Ellis has played over 40 minutes 29 times this season (he leads the league in minutes), and in his 45 starts—with more bumps and bruises than the average prolific scorer—he’s posted at least 20 points 35 times.  If being an All-Star is all about individual success, how can a case be made against Ellis? He’s tied with LeBron James at 25.8 points per game for third in the league (more than Dwyane Wade), he’s made 32 more shots than Kobe Bryant, and he’s third in steals while defending a bigger two guard each and every night.  On top of all these numbers, the 6’3″ Ellis is one of the most effortless scorers in the league. He gets into the lane with an uncanny ease—he attempts five shots at the rim per game, tied for second among shooting guards—and to top it all off, Ellis is really fun to watch. Doesn’t that count for something?

Essay: The Griffin/Love Debate

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Along with exclusive soirees, memorable pre-game introductions, and no defense, each year the all-star weekend coincides with a serious snub (or two). It happens in every sport, but in the NBA, where only 12 players on each side can make it, a misplaced coaches vote is all the more glaring. Sometimes it seems like an individual player is having an anomaly of a statistical season yet he’s left off the squad due to poor team performance.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good of a first half you had, as the game’s participants usually shift in traditional cycles, like some sort of premier fraternity—if your name wasn’t Kevin or Tim right around the turn of the century and you were a forward playing in the West, chances are you had an annual three day vacation.

This year, in the Western Conference, a terrible snub is brewing at the forward position. Five forwards should make the team. Four are as good as in: Carmelo Anthony (unless he’s dealt to the East), Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, and Pau Gasol.  The fifth spot will come down to three double double machines and a supremely athletic swingman: Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love.  Randolph and Gay are two shiny spots on a stuck-in-mud Memphis franchise, but the two more intriguing players are Griffin and Love.

They’re both young (a combined age of 43 with just three seasons between the two), extremely gifted, clear cut franchise players, but their styles are contrasting to the point of philosophical difference.  And so the question is presented: If you were a general manager and had to pick either Blake Griffin or Kevin Love to be on your roster for the foreseeable future, who would it be? Who is the easier player to construct around, the rarer building block, the key to victory?

What these two players symbolize, on a larger scale, is a clash between the unanswerable, see-saw, which-would-you-rather basketball question: Do you prefer fundamentals or athleticism?  Do you enjoy having your jaw hit the floor after witnessing a thunderous throw down from the hand of one behemoth on the head of another, or are you simply content with doling out polite golf claps in response to a solid box out? Thank Dr. Naismith, for a left handed lay-up and a 360 degree, between the legs slam are both of the same value.

Here, we as basketball fans are lucky enough to have two living breathing vessels to serve each side of the debate. In the corner of brute athletic ability: Blake Griffin. For undeniable rudimentary dominance: Kevin Love.

First up is Blake Griffin. (21.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists per game.) The name alone rips through T-shirts like a bulging muscle. When his team has possession, he virtually owns the paint, which is something that hasn’t been said about a non-center rookie since Charles Barkley. Not even at his first all-star break, the current that is Blake Griffin is already sloshing waves onto the league’s shore and more than a few opponents aren’t happy about it. There have been several instances, most recently with Lamar Odom and Mario Chalmers, where opposing players simply have no answer for his brute style. And how can you blame them? He plays the game with the recklessness of a sky diving adonis and through 39 games already wears the crown of “Most Exciting Player” on his skull. The hype surrounding his participation in the Dunk Contest is so unprecedented, it currently stands as front runner for most-talked-about-event of the weekend—something that hasn’t been said since Vince Carter. If you were to pick the top 10 plays of the 2011 season, at least five of them would involve Blake Griffin.

The former Sooner averages 4.3 made baskets at the rim per game, which is more than Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, and the rest of the NBA, and is at the front of the line on his own team when it comes to shot attempts (despite shooting a poor 33 percent when he’s 10-23 feet from the basket). But he’s working on that, and once he crafts his jumper into something more accurate than a wearisome 15 foot bank shot, things will officially get horrific. He’s recorded something like 768 consecutive double doubles, is a dominant, respected, possibly feared presence, and happens to be 21-years-old.  Check and mate.

Now, moving onto Kevin Love. (21.2 points, 15.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game.) Meet the 22-year-old greatest rebounder of his generation. At a generous listing of 6’10”, Love leads the NBA in offensive and defensive rebounds, both overall and per game.  Much like Griffin, he plays the game with a ferocious, almost animalistic method, but what he excels in won’t be a consistent find on Sportscenter’s top 10; the half court chest pass to spark a fast break or the one handed offensive rebound.  Where he puts his body when a shot goes up is more often than not the right spot, which is an integral ability all great rebounders must possess.

Basically, Kevin Love is the new Mr. Fundamental.  There’s no flash to his game, but he plods through night after night with a double double to his credit and a sheepish looking opposing front line wondering what storm just flew through the gym. The word “dominance” is frequently used when talking about the league’s best players—Dwight Howard’s protection of his rim, Rajon Rondo’s wizardry on a fast break, Kevin Durant’s ability to make contested jump shots look easier than depositing quarters in a meter—but nobody is more dominant at their craft than Love when a basketball clunks off a rim.  With his rear end on an opposing big man and his mind adjusting to the shooter’s tendencies (through study, Love knows the different ball flights a certain player has on his shot), Kevin grabs balls like they’re falling to him in a phone booth. He also, as a power forward, shoots 44 percent from behind the arc, attempting three three-pointers per game. Add it all up and you’ve got the definition of “one of a kind”.

To debate who is the better player is extremely difficult.  So is debating who has the brighter future (both are limitless).  Both players currently compete for losing teams that are built for the future, evening the score in the all-star debate, but for my money I’d select Love for this year’s all-star game and Griffin if I were playing general manager.  At the end of the day, Love will likely never be a crunch time scorer.  In order for his teams to find success, he’ll have to be a second, or even third, scoring option.  Blake Griffin is that go-to player today.  Imagining how insanely commanding he’ll be in two or three years makes my head hurt.


Categories: Essays Tags: ,

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