Blake Griffin Shows Weaknesses in Clippers' 1st-Round Playoff Exit

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30:  Blake Griffin #32 (center, in white) of the Los Angeles Clippers watches from the bench after leaving the game with an ankle injury against the Memphis Grizzlies during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  The Grizlies won 103-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

His dunks are the things of legend, helping him sell tickets, jerseys and suburban carpool vehicles like few figures in professional sports. He rebounds with ease, a violent grace to the way he snatches the ball out of mid-air and shuttles it up the court. He was built in a lab for NBA forwards—or maybe cloned from the musculature of Karl Malone—possessing every measurable requisite for success at the position.

And yet someway, somehow, Blake Griffin is still not a tried-and-true star in this league.

Yes, he's a "star," per se, and he was plenty deserving of his trip to Houston this season. And for what it's worth, you could see that he put in work to improve this offseason. (Fun note: Griffin often trains in the gym of my school, Loyola Marymount University, and I saw him put up a lot of jumpers this summer).

But if he thinks he's even scratched the surface of his potential, then Griffin has another thing coming.

The physical gifts are there—I think that goes without saying. And so is the mental part of the game. Griffin is among the most focused, energetic, hard-working All-Stars in the game. What he's missing is a truly refined means of scoring.

Too often his post moves look stiff, timid and stilted. It's hard to describe, but he doesn't look to have a smooth arsenal around the rim. His moves are clunky, which isn't a death sentence, but hardly inspires confidence.

During the regular season, when some teams slog through the doldrums of a long season, those moves are good enough to get away with. He's so physically superior that it doesn't matter. But come the postseason, and against a team like the Memphis Grizzlies, those inadequacies were painfully explicit.

And I know, I know, I know. He sprained his ankle during the series. But if he was healthy enough to play, he should be healthy enough to contribute. Especially on a team as deep as the Los Angeles Clippers were this season.

He took minutes from a potentially productive lineup, and he replaced them with a flawed, timid performance.

In the Game 5 loss, bar none the most important game of the series, Grifin played a substantial 20 minutes, but did so to no avail. He finished with four points and five rebounds, and he looked hapless guarding Memphis' federation of bigs.

But more than anything else, he looked depressed. His body language didn't read "I can score with a sore ankle." It read "without my athleticism, what can I do?"

In a way, it's poetic that Memphis was the team Griffin flopped against. Griffin was matched up, time and time again, with his on-court foil, Zach Randolph. Z-Bo is fat and thick and slow where Griffin is cut and lean and quick.

When Randolph gets the ball down low, he hits a smooth, no-jump lefty layup, where Griffin tries ripping rim from glass. When Griffin takes off, he defies physics, flying through the air like a 747. When Randolph jumps, you can hardly slide a nickel under his feet.

But Randolph has an old-school game, and his success in slowing down Griffin is proof that skill supersedes panache. His arsenal of moves is so intricate, so very, very deep, that he can abuse a superior physical specimen. And on defense he's so physical and aggressive that it doesn't matter he can't jump. His opponent won't be getting close enough to the rim for a dunk.

When Griffin goes back to look at this awful, no good series on tape, he ought to watch every game twice. Once to watch himself—to understand the player he is right now. And again to watch Randolph—to understand exactly what he needs to learn.

Because put Randolph's old-man game in Griffin's young-man body, and watch out league: We might just be looking at a first-ballot Hall of Famer.