The Los Angeles Clippers will really miss Blake Griffin's passing
By EVAN BUDROVICH
College Contributor Network
For all the high-flying dunks, fast-break finishes and variety of new shots in his arsenal, Blake Griffin actually makes the Clippers run smoothly because of his ability to pass the rock.
The Los Angeles Clippers are slated with the second-toughest 15-game stretch in the entire NBA over the next month, and the vaunted Western Conference will breath a sigh of relief that the 25-year-old will be sidelined after receiving surgery for a dangerous staph infection in his right elbow.
Before the injury, Griffin was ranked second on the team in assists (5.1) only trailing his All-Star teammate Chris Paul, who tends to supply many of Griffin's looks on the offensive end. Griffin actually ranked 26th in the league in assists heading into the week; which was second among all forwards.
The Clippers currently have the second-most efficient offense in the league (110.3), and that stems from 6-foot-10 power forward's ability to get others involved when attention comes his way. It's also worth noting that it drops to 100.3 when he's off the court. While the Clippers are known for flashy finishes at the rim, ranking third overall in Assisted Dunk/Layup PPG (via NBAMiner.com), Blake Griffin is just as valuable, if not more so, than his All-Star point guard in facilitating those easy looks.
"It's a part of my game, I think, but it's not something I just started doing," Griffin told Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram back in January.
Interestingly enough, the correlation stems from Griffin doing more dishing than dunking this season. As his scoring numbers have dipped ever so slightly to 22 points per game, his vision on the block and especially with the basketball at the elbow, has drastically increased. Griffin gets everyone involved, and his presence to pass instead of dash to the bucket gave the Clippers a dynamic look on offense.
Before suffering the staph infection in his elbow, Griffin was in the midst of an all-time great season passing the basketball. Griffin has developed into an excellent passer against the double team, giving his running mate DeAndre Jordan (the top FG% shooter in the NBA) an assortment of easy finishes. Another area of his game on the rise comes from the pick-and-roll with Paul, as the versatile big man is looking to pass more than ever before, fueling one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league.
Remember, when Paul went down due to injury mid-way through last season, Griffin played like a bonafide MVP candidate over that two-month stretch. Griffin followed up that performance with a blazing start to the end of 2014 and beginning of the 2015 calendar year, averaging 6.0 assists per game in the month of December and 5.2 dimes over all of January. He's notched three games with double-digit assists, and eight games with eight or more assists, resulting in a 5-3 overall record.
Keep in mind that Griffin has almost as many assists to the free-flying Jordan (51) as does Chris Paul (58). The man knows how to get his teammates involved, and the growing improvement in his passing has directly translated to the level of comfort he exudes in the traditional offensive set.
It's not like we haven't seen this before. But what's most intriguing about this particular growth process was that opposing teams were starting to shift how they crafted their defenses around him, knowing that a fancy dime could be coming at any point in the possession from his favorite spot at the elbow.
When the 25-year-old returns from injury, the Los Angeles Clippers might be hanging on for dear life to reach the Western Conference Playoffs. One thing we know for sure, however, is that coach Doc Rivers will implore his superstar to be just as generous with the basketball once he returns.
Evan Budrovich is a senior at the University of Southern California. He has a passion for the 49ers, Dodgers baseball and all things USC athletics. Follow him on Twitter: @evanbud