Coach: Blake Griffin’s New Moves & 76ers Defense
Blake Griffin: starting, stopping, and side-to-side
Much has been made, and rightfully so, about the personnel moves the Los Angeles Clippers made in the offseason. Additions like Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Caron Butler are eye-catching and demand a lot of attention from the media and fans. However, a more subtle change for the Clippers is the continued development of second year forward Blake Griffin, especially as it relates to his basketball agility and body control.
The transformation Griffin has undergone since his final year at Oklahoma is astounding. He was a very productive and strong player there, but his movements were linear, and he had trouble creating a burst of speed to get past a defender or stopping once he had started that momentum. He was excellent in the fastbreak, but did not yet have the polish to consistently create spaces and angles in the halfcourt. Over the course of his “redshirt” year (when he was injured before his would-be rookie season) and last season, it was easy to see Griffin had started to address those issues.
Last year, Griffin added the ability to change direction via a variety of spins and jump-stop change-of-direction moves. These additions are big for a player of his size and athletic type, as they give him more avenues to the basket and make him harder to guard with a single defender. However, over the long-term an over-reliance on these types of moves would become problematic: they are easy to scout and counter if they are all a player can do to change direction.
All that has changed for Griffin this year, however. While not a finished product, he has made a concerted effort to add some shake to his face-up game, setting up moves by facing the defender in open space, and not relying on straight line drives with a spin to change direction.
That Griffin is still experimenting with these new skills was obvious in the Clippers’ loss to San Antonio on Wednesday night: Griffin constantly found himself attempting to dribble by Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair after face-ups, but he was largely unsuccessful. However, Griffin’s continued development as a player requires he attempt (and occasionally fail) at plays like this—the long-term benefits are worth these initial struggles.
The other piece that makes it easier to guard Griffin when he attempts his face-up & shake moves is the lack of a jumper on the catch or off the dribble. Because defenders are not as concerned about him shooting jump shots, they can take better angles on him when he drives and prevent him from getting to prime operational areas. This is definitely the next major area for Griffin to address in his game.
The amazing thing is that we are talking about all the improvement Blake Griffin has made, is making, and needs to make; yet, he was an All-Star selection in his first year in the league. The growth potential for this young player is amazing, and he seems ready, willing and able to take on the challenge. That may be the brightest news for the Los Angeles Clippers in this young season.
76ers taking next steps
Last March, I wrote about the way the Philadelphia 76ers were spacing the floor offensively, and how their entire attack had a fundamental “correctness” to it that could lead to real success as the players matured and grew together. Their offense looks similarly efficient and unselfish this season, with players knowing and accepting roles. However, the real key for their ability to take the next step might be their commitment to the defensive end.
The easiest way to put it is this: they simply don’t make a lot of mistakes, and that makes them the most unselfish team in the league on the defensive end. Being unselfish on the defensive end means never taking unnecessary risks to force the action. It means staying disciplined on the ball, not reaching to become off-balance, and not negating hustle by fouling. It means creating a solid rebounding triangle on every single shot attempt, and it means getting hands up to challenge every catch. It means they communicate, in simple and direct ways, and they accept the information shared by teammates and apply it into each situation.
The Philadelphia 76ers do those things. That type of play is infectious—every player has committed to playing that way, doing their individual job, and then letting the chips fall where they may as a result. It is refreshing basketball to watch, because it is ruthlessly efficient and focused with one goal in mind… winning.
Whether the Sixers can keep their current commitment or not is the test of a long season. Today their chances of finishing with a higher seed than last year look good, and that kind of team success encourages their great defensive effort. Their lack of a bona-fide star (or two) can be masked if they are able to convert turnovers and missed jump shots from their opponents into easy scores at the other end through transition.
It will not be easy for Philadelphia to continue on their current path. Playing selfless, solid, mistake-free defense is very hard and requires a lot of concentration and commitment to detail. Will they have the discipline to pull it off? Only time will tell.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Tuesdays at 11AM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri will open his notebook and offer an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding and serves as an assistant coach at Paul VI Catholic High School (Fairfax, VA), currently ranked in the top 25 in the country by USA Today. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.