“I’m done,” Griffin said of his days as a dunker. “Hanging them up. You got to find a clip and just play it on a loop.”
That Griffin decided to make that declaration on the same night that he finished an alley-oop with a rim-punishing jam was probably the biggest clue that the 6-foot-9 forward known for delivering deadpan jokes wasn’t serious. The dunks aren’t going anywhere, but they will now serve as side dishes for Griffin’s more well-balanced offensive meal, which includes a more accurate jump shot.
Griffin has worked diligently with Clippers shooting coach Bill Thate over the past two seasons, correcting more than a dozen flaws that Thate found in his shot. And during a Clippers’ preseason-opening, 112-94 loss to the Golden State Warriors — the first of the post-Donald Sterling era — Griffin’s improved jumper was a more startling development than the new theater lighting at Staples Center.
“It’s just the confidence really, when I’m open I’m going to shoot it,” Griffin said. “Because you just feel it’s going in. But I’m not strictly a jump shooter now. I still got to do the things I used to do, the things that got me here.”
Griffin scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the first quarter and all six of his made field goals came from 18 feet and beyond. Chris Paul didn’t even think twice about swinging the ball to Griffin in the right corner for an early three-pointer when Warriors big man Andrew Bogut was late to roll out to contest, likely because the shot was so unexpected.
“Blake is an elite player in this league, an all-star, an all-NBA. I don’t think we’re saying, ‘You can take these shots, but not these shots,’” Paul said. “I don’t think there’s a shot that we don’t want him to take. When he’s open, when he has a shot, he’s going to take it.”
Griffin has always shot a high percentage of the field because so much of his offensive was generated from attacking the rim. But he has worked with Thate toward developing greater range, balance and a consistent release and the numbers support how much the hard work has elevated his game.
Whether Griffin decides to make the three-pointer a part of his arsenal will be determined over the course of the season. But Clippers Coach Doc Rivers expects to see more than last season, when Griffin attempted 44 shots from long distance and connected on just 12. That actually was an improvement from his two previous seasons, when Griffin shot a combined 15.9 percent (7 of 44) from three-point range.
Griffin also made strides, in terms of attempts and effectiveness, on mid-range jumpers. He shot 35.7 percent (95 of 266) from 15 to 19 feet and 38.4 percent (58 of 151) from 16 to 24 feet last season, making bumps from 33.5 (68 of 203) and 34.2 percent (27 of 79), respectively, in the previous season.
“He is shooting it,” Rivers said of Griffin’s outside shot. “He has confidence and the other guys have great confidence in him. He brings a great dimension to the team. If he can post up and make jump shots like he’s doing, he can create great spacing for us. That is really good for us.”
Paul has been the Clippers’ best player since he arrived in a trade from New Orleans three years ago but Griffin has started to close the gap and has gradually gotten better each season. Lost in Kevin Durant’s first most valuable player campaign and LeBron James’s continued brilliance, Griffin finished a distant third in MVP voting after helping keep the Clippers afloat while Paul missed 20 games with injuries. He averaged career-highs of 24.1 points and 3.9 assists, shot 52.8 percent from the field and raised his free throw percentage to a more respectable 71.5.
“Blake works, that’s no secret,” Paul said. “Everybody knows that. Just like last year, we had the utmost confidence in him; we have it in him now. I’m going to stay on him about shooting that [three-point] shot, just like he stays on me.”
Forced to withdraw from participating in Team USA because of a fracture in his back, Griffin used his summer to get healthy and study ways he could be more effective in Rivers’s system.
“It’s extremely frustrating watching the tape and you’ll be like, ‘Oh, you should’ve shot that.’ Or ‘Oh, I can shoot that.’ Knowing that a better shot was coming here, or if I step over this far, a better shot’s coming or I have more time,” Griffin said. “Just seeing that on film all summer long and knowing going into the season the plays that we run and where my shots are going to be and what reads to make.”
Griffin hasn’t exactly adopted a gunner’s mentality but he won’t shy away from taking the shots that are available to him. “I have to find that fine line of mixing it up and keeping the pressure on the defense and not just floating around and taking jump shots all game long,” Griffin said. “Early on, it was going [in] and that’s fine. But I think I need to continue to find that area where I’m both outside and inside, using a good ratio.”