Clippers: Blake Griffin’s passing can make biggest difference

Apr 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) waits to be introduced for the game against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) waits to be introduced for the game against the Washington Wizards at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

Blake Griffin won’t be at full strength in terms of conditioning or scoring yet, but he can make an instant impact for the Los Angeles Clippers with his passing and floor general ability inside the arc.

The Los Angeles Clippers fought to go 30-15 in Blake Griffin‘s absence, tightening up their defense, receiving more input from the bench, and resorting to small-ball with Chris Paul orchestrating the show in true Point God fashion. They have missed everything Griffin has to offer, and after starting what could have been the best season of his career before injury, losing him for the last few months was an even harder pill to swallow.

Entering this season, the Clippers were coming off a crushing second round defeat in the playoffs that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Yet, after Griffin averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game in the playoffs, his performance was a bright spot heading into 2015-16. And with 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and five assists in 30 games before injury, it looked like he was ready to continue that high. He gave fans so much to appreciate as the reloaded team attempted to find its footing over the early stages of the season.

So, while the Clippers missed every element of his skill set from rebounding to a deadly pick-and-pop/roll option for Paul, Griffin’s passing could make the biggest difference early on in his comeback.

In the 114-109 win against the Washington Wizards on Sunday, Griffin’s six points and 2-of-7 shooting obviously wasn’t enough to revolutionize the Clippers’ scoring again. He’ll need a little time to find his shot again, find his rhythm in picks with Paul, improve his conditioning, and get as comfortable as he always is when backing down opponents in the post.

With this in mind, it’s obviously not surprising that Doc Rivers is bringing him back with limited minutes due to his conditioning and the partial tear that still exists in his quadricep. The 24 minutes Griffin played Sunday should roughly be the amount we can expect him to average over the final six games of the regular season.

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And after his weak conditioning and a few mistakes when receiving the ball in the post showed, it’s clear he needs time to adjust. Nevertheless, even if he isn’t the typical scoring machine early on following so much time out, one element of his game that can benefit the Clippers immediately is his passing.

Which just so happened to be a major reason why he finished far ahead of everyone else with a game-high +/- of +22 on Sunday.

With the way Griffin can anchor the offense from the post as a facilitator, setting up teammates on the wings as he attracts attention inside or finding cutters to the basket, the team should quickly see how they can thrive when there isn’t so much pressure on creating shots at the perimeter.

A lot has changed in Griffin’s absence, of course, but before his return, the Clippers ranked dead last in the NBA with only 35.5 percent of their points coming in the paint. Besides DeAndre Jordan getting put-backs or powering home lobs from Paul, there aren’t many players who can get to the rim with too much consistency.

So, along with his multitude of scoring techniques, Griffin can help in that regard with passes like the following to Luc Mbah a Moute. The lack of awareness by Marcin Gortat to lose the cutter helped, but no one else on the Clippers roster can work from the post and deliver passes with the kind of accuracy, timing, and reaction to opposing defenses that Griffin can.

Blake to Luc gif
Blake to Luc gif /

His three other assists weren’t quite as pretty, instead using his strong, 250 lbs frame to hand off the ball and create space for shooters. That being said, such hand-offs allow a player like J.J Redick, one of the deadliest shooters coming off a screen in the NBA, to find more opportunities

Also, after Griffin made an alley-oop dunk for his first basket, he added an effortless spin move in the fourth quarter to his brief highlight reel.

Blake spin move vs Wizards
Blake spin move vs Wizards /

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With four assists for the game, Griffin gave us some quick yet confident examples of exactly how his play from the post can add a new dynamic to the Clippers and actually get the ball inside the paint. Even if he’s simply screening to create space for others and making quick hand-offs with shooters like Redick, he makes an impact in a way that the small-ball ‘power forwards’ such as Paul Pierce, Jeff Green and Wesley Johnson simply cannot.

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Since Griffin’s injury, the Clippers have averaged 10.8 threes per game (5th) in comparison to 8.1 (17th) before his injury.

It may only be one statistic, but that’s a significant margin and helps illustrate how much the rest of the team (particularly the bench when there’s no strong pick-and-roll threat with Jordan) can loiter around the perimeter hoping to find space, testing their luck with jumpers rather than pursuing consistent structure and movement.

Plus, seeing as Griffin has an exceptional assist percentage of 27.1 this season (26.2 last season isn’t bad either), there’s no way to deny that he’ll create more for others when he assists on at least one of every four baskets the team makes when he’s on the floor.

As Paul said following Sunday’s game, his presence made an instant difference. “It’s just a confidence with him on the court that it brings to all of us,” CP3 stated after the game (per Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times), which is the kind of confidence the point guard can only instil so much by himself.

Next: 5 key takeaways from Blake Griffin's return vs. Washington

For a player as versatile as Griffin, there are plenty of ways he can help the Clippers improve if he can stay healthy. His passing and floor general nature from inside the arc is just one of his many talents that will help make a difference immediately, before shooting consistency, heavy minutes, and triple-doubles inevitably follow.