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NBA / Dec 5, 2012 / 12:30 pm

One Of The Clippers’ Best Players Is Holding Them Back

Blake Griffin

Frontcourt players are constantly trying to expand their game and their range. It’s part of becoming a well-rounded basketball player, but it shouldn’t come at the detriment of what’s made someone successful. While Blake Griffin‘s outside shot has improved over his three seasons in the league, he needs to be aggressive and get to the rim, even if that means more uncomfortable moments on the free throw line.

The Clippers started off hot this season, winning eight of their first 10 games. But they lost their next four, and barely eked out a win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, needing a questionable “Reggie Miller leg kick” foul on a late Chauncey Billups three-point attempt to get the victory. Chris Paul is doing his thing – he’s currently fourth in the league in APER, per Hoopdata, so what’s to blame for Los Angeles’ up and down opening month? One aspect, Blake Griffin’s aggressiveness, needs to improve if the Clippers are going to be considered legitimate threats in the West.

Through the season’s first 15 games, Griffin is averaging a career-low five attempts at the rim on a per game basis (via Hoopdata). In each of his last two seasons he averaged over seven attempts at the rim, making over 65 percent of those shots. The most efficient shot in basketball is the shot right at the rim, and Griffin is either failing to get there or he’s deliberately shirking going inside, instead relying more on his developing outside shot.

He’s averaging a career-high 4.8 attempts from 16-23 feet, after averaging under four each of his first two seasons. He’s shooting better from that range (43 percent) than he did over his previous two seasons as well, but on the whole, Griffin’s shooting from the field is down from last year. He almost shot 55 percent from the field last season, but this year he’s back around the 51 percent he shot as a rookie. That’s still a tremendously efficient percentage, but it’s always worrisome when you see a player as young as Griffin regress.

Because Griffin is relying more on his outside shot, he’s not getting to the line as much, either. He’s averaging a career low 5.4 attempts per 36 minutes after averaging eight attempts his rookie season and seven attempts last year. Last season’s abysmal 52 percent shooting from the free throw line, less than his percentage from the field, might be part of the blame.

We all know of Dwight Howard‘s free throw woes after the Rockets successfully came back last night by deliberately fouling the big man, and that’s something Griffin battled earlier last season. Free throws are a large part of the game, and for someone like Blake, who is constantly in the fray of the paint, getting to the line and sinking those shots is something he’ll have to do if the Clippers are going to be successful.

So far, he’s shooting free throws at a below-average rate on the season (just 62 percent), but that’s still an improvement over last year… except he’s not getting to the line nearly as often as he did earlier in his career, and it’s also affecting where he shoots around the court. He’s more apt to try a jumper now, rather than drive into the paint and initiate contact with his defender. The Clippers have Jamal Crawford, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, and Eric Bledsoe playing big minutes; they don’t need any more perimeter scoring. They need a big man that can get easy buckets in the paint and get opposing frontcourt players into foul trouble. So far this season, Blake Griffin hasn’t given them that player.

Why isn’t Griffin being more aggressive?

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