HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Blake Griffin put up one of his most complete statistical lines of the season in Wednesday night’s 112-90 dunking of the Dallas Mavericks.
He finished with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. He dunked, of course, multiple times and with both hands. He also drained a pair of long jumpers that he’s constantly working on and that his teammates are constantly encouraging him to take. And he dropped in a 5-foot jump hook.
As a bonus, he went 3-for-4 at the free-throw line. He grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out five assists, had a couple steals and a block, and was a plus-16 in 28 minutes.
Griffin notched his eighth double-double in 18 games and second in a row. The league’s most popular dunker is surely on his way to a third consecutive All-Star nod — and likely a second in a row as the fans’ choice to start — just as he continues to take on criticism for the perceived slow development of a go-to post game beyond those highlight-show power dunks.
So in just his third season, has Griffin, 23, elevated his game enough to leap into the next stratosphere as a superstar?
“I don’t think he’s quite a superstar yet. I think he’s definitely capable of being that,” Mavs center and former Griffin teammate Chris Kaman said. “I think if he makes his free throws, gets his free throw percentage up to 75, 70, I think if he can work on that jumper, which he has been…”
Kaman stopped himself to take another tact, to defend Griffin in an area his critics might not see.
“Let me tell you something, that guy works harder than anybody I’ve ever met — I’m talking about anybody I’ve ever met. He works harder than any of them,” Kaman said. “He comes back to the gym two and three times a day, he works the weights, he runs, the guy’s a freak. I don’t know how he can endure all that on his body, but he’s able to and he still comes out and he plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen for the 35 to 40 minutes he’s in the game.”
Griffin’s stats are down slightly this season. He’s averaging 17.6 points and 9.1 rebounds compared to career averages of 21.3 and 11.3. But his minutes are also down, nearly four a game thanks to the deepest Clippers team he’s been on, and that can only aid the mammoth, 6-foot-10, 251-pound frame he chucks around with abandon on a nightly basis.
The dip in his per-36 numbers are barely noticeable and his defensive rating is significantly improved over last season.
Meanwhile, the Clippers are 12-6, in fourth place in the hotly contested West, and 3 1/2 games in front of their more famous Staples Center co-tenant.
Kaman said he’s convinced that Blake isn’t content to live off his otherworldly athleticism, that he will continue to develop the kind of all-around game his critics have seemingly demanded from the moment he returned from a devastating knee injury that wiped out his original rookie season.
During last season’s playoffs, Griffin, playing through the discomfort of another knee injury, told the Los Angeles Times, “Is there no patience when it comes to a young guy playing in only his 156th game? Nobody is giving me time to develop.”
Another setback came in July when he suffered a medial meniscus tear in his left knee during a Team USA practice. He had surgery and missed the London Olympics.
With 38 dunks, including Wednesday’s left-handed monster job, Griffin’s athleticism certainly appears unaffected. And just maybe the development of his game is moving in a direction to match.
“He’s one of those few guys that have both sides of it: He really wants it and he works hard and he also can jump,” Kaman said. “So if he gets by the rim, it’s going to be a finish or a foul, and if you’re smart you’re going to foul him right now. But he’s going to get that free throw percentage up, I know he is, he works so hard at it.”