NBA PM: Blake Griffin’s Knee Strong
If there were any lingering doubts, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin has fully healed from his offseason knee surgery.
After suffering a torn meniscus and undergoing surgery in July that kept him out of the Olympics, Griffin was still able to put in a lot of individual work this summer.
“A couple of weeks after surgery, it really wasn’t an [issue] to be honest,” said Griffin about recovering from the knee procedure. “Even when there was a little swelling, I still felt normal.”
The Clippers got together at USC Galen Center on Wednesday evening to give their fans a glimpse of the revamped roster. The open scrimmage was packed with a lively crowd to watch an informal but spirited pair of 12-minute halves.
Griffin put on a show with an array of signature dunks (not necessarily a Mozgov or Perkins, but still spectacular) that erased any doubt of diminished athleticism.
If there’s a flaw in Griffin’s game (in addition to improving from the free throw line), it’s on the defensive end of the floor.
“Being a better defender, being a better help defender and a better on the ball defender, that’s really my main focus throughout camp,” Griffin said.
The Clippers have a very deep roster of players. Scoring should not be an issue this season. The bigger question, can they pass muster as a united defensive squad?
“For the most par, our defense has been great and that’s been the best part about camp,” Griffin said.
Both Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan were notably vocal through defensive rotations (more so earlier in the scrimmage than later, but this was a very informal setting).
“Blake hasn’t missed a beat from his surgery this summer,” said Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro. “I’m pleased with his talking on his defensive end, his stance, his communication on the weak side. He’s been really good this first handful of practices.”
The Clippers look improved from last season, at least on paper. Their Game 7 win on the road in Memphis to advance to the second round of the playoffs was a big step for a team that was lottery-bound for many years.
The Clippers are taking their very first steps toward what they expect to be a strong season, without concern that Griffin will be hindered in any way from his almost-forgotten offseason knee surgery.
Impression from Scrimmage
The night started with warm-up drills that showed Chauncey Billups looking like Chauncey Billups. He didn’t scrimmage and isn’t ready to play, but his level of activity and mobility was a good sign for those awaiting his return from what was a major Achilles injury.
Chris Paul, Grant Hill, Trey Thompkins and Billups sat out the scrimmage.
The score wasn’t the point, but some clear impressions were made by the players and their excitement playing together and against each other was evident.
“The guys have been playing hard,” Del Negro said. “You can see the chemistry building a little bit in terms of the communication out there.”
Before tip, Griffin tossed in a 75-footer that managed to go in, which seemed to excite his teammates even more than the raucous crowd.
The immediate takeaway is that the Clippers are are deep. The chemistry is coming along quickly. This is a team that believes they’re a contender this year.
Of the 30 teams in the league, certainly a high percentage feel the same way, but the Clippers’ combination of athleticism, veteran know-how and sheer number of quality players is impressive.
Del Negro has made defense the early focus in training camp . In the scrimmage, Jordan was the most vocal in leading the team through rotations.
Jamal Crawford is going to score a lot for the Clippers this season. He’ll replace Mo Williams seamlessly but with better size and even more athleticism.
Matt Barnes will, somehow, earn rotation minutes. He’s such a natural slasher/hustle player – he was a strong late pickup.
Lamar Odom, historically, shows up to camp in “medium” shape and works himself in through camp and the early part of the season. His best year with the Los Angeles Lakers was when he played summer ball with Team USA.
He, by no means, looked overweight but equally, he’s not where he’ll be in a month’s time.
Odom already gave the team a different look with a playmaking option in the frontcourt. With Paul and Billups out, Odom got a lot of touches and moved the ball well.
Griffin is also an above-average passer. The Clippers are going to be able to field lineups with tremendous passing. Often Odom and Griffin will finish games together. Against smaller teams, that’s a natural. Jordan makes more sense against teams with true power players.
Eric Bledsoe is still developing as a point guard. His combination of strength and quickness is unique but he’s a scorer before playmaker. Defensively, he may be one of the team’s best options in the backcourt. He may be one of the top change-of-pace point guards in the game right now.
It remains to be seen how the bench tandem of Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins will hold up and perform through the season. Neither are necessarily “high-impact” players but Turiaf brings a tremendous presence to the locker room. Hollins is athletic and willing.
Do the Clippers have enough to win it all? That’s not answerable in October but there’s a lot right on paper and after a little intrasquad scrimmage, it’s evident the Clippers will be very good this season.
Who has the best team in Los Angeles?
“It’s going to be an exciting season for us and [the Los Angeles Lakers],” said Caron Butler. “Basketball is definitely back and it’s something that you’re looking forward to. I was excited for the moves for us and for them because as a competitor and as a basketball player you want to play against the best, get the best shot from everybody. I look forward to this challenge and this upcoming season.”
Growth from DeAndre Jordan Vital to Clippers
Perhaps the true key for the Clippers this season to climb into true contention is the development of Jordan.
While his ability to block shots and dunk the ball with ferocity is unquestioned, can he grow as a true defensive anchor for the Clippers?
In the past he’s been too eager to go after the block, often ending up out of defensive position or away from the rebound.
The Clippers are asking more from him this year and he says he’s ready to meet the challenge.
“I think we’re the deepest team in the league,” Jordan said. “We definitely have guys who can start for other NBA teams coming off the bench.”
Jordan put in a good summer of work, coming into camp trim and healthy.
The team also needs for Jordan to improve at the free throw line, where he’s been a liability throughout his young career.
“I totally changed my shot, working with our shooting coach,” said Jordan. “I’m still working but I feel like I’ve improved a lot.”
If the Clippers can keep Jordan on the floor in end-game situations with improved defense and free-throw shooting, the team may be able to climb into one of the top three seeds in the Western Conference.
HOOPSWORLD Season Previews
The 2012-13 NBA season is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of early storylines emerging.
Can the Miami HEAT repeat their championship quest from last season? Is this the final championship run for the aging Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs? Will Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks finally put all of their talent together and join the league’s elite? Can the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, now boasting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder as Western Conference champions? Is this the year the Minnesota Timberwolves reach the playoffs behind All-Star Kevin Love? Likewise, the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are poised to make playoff runs of their own, but can they seal the deal? Are the Dallas Mavericks toast, or will their new group of hungry veterans surprise us all?
The HOOPSWORLD team has these questions and more all covered and you can find season previews for all 30 NBA teams by following this LINK.
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