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The Real Blake Show

There are two bulls standing on a hill overlooking a pasture full of cows. The younger bull, eager, but lacking experience, says to the old bull “I’m going to run down there and f*** myself a cow.” The old bull, who has spent season after season in the pasture, turns to the younger bull and chuckles, “I’m going to walk down and f*** all of them.”

-- An old wives' tale

The night after losing Chris Paul to a separated shoulder, the Los Angeles Clippers were run off the court at the San Antonio Spurs. In the two weeks since, they have managed to stabilize themselves, compiling a 6-3 record without their All-NBA point guard. With seven games against the East and four against the West before the All-Star Break, the Clippers may not lose any ground in the standings before Paul returns in February. Most of the credit should go to Blake Griffin.

With Paul out, Blake has been given the chance to run the team. He is getting more touches and more shots than ever before and he is responding. In the last 10 games, Blake is averaging 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 52 percent shooting. His season averages, in contrast, are 23 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 52 percent shooting. Chris Paul wasn’t making Blake better; he was making him worse. CP3 is a pair of training wheels Blake no longer needs.

What makes Paul great is his ability to create easy shots for his teammates, but there’s no player in the NBA who has an easier time creating shots than Blake Griffin. Blake is a 6’10 250 ball of muscle who is one of the best leapers and most explosive athletes in the history of the sport. And while everyone focuses on his athleticism, it’s his skill and feel for the game that makes him an elite player. If Blake couldn’t pass or dribble, he would be Thomas Robinson.

After missing his rookie season with a knee injury, Blake wasted no time in the NBA. He has never missed an All-Star Game - he was an All-Star at 21, 22 and 23. As a rookie, he averaged 22.5 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists on 51 percent shooting. He has been criticized for stagnating as a player, but he came in at such a high level, there was much less room for him to grow. The others who were All-Stars from 21-23: LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard.

When Blake gets the ball at 18-20 feet, there is very little the defense can do to stop him. He is way too fast, way too big and way too good of a ball-handler. He can cross people up, he can take the ball between the legs and he can get to the rim in 1-2 steps. If he gets by his man, he has the vision to beat the help defenders with the pass. For the most part, defenders are conceding everything and hoping for the miss. The strategy against Blake has always been “hope he misses.”

What has changed this year is that he’s not missing as often. For the jumper of a big man, his free-throw shooting percentage is the canary in the coal mine. A free-throw is isolated shooting motion in its purest form; it’s just bend the knees, flick the wrists and get the point. What a power forward or center does on the line lets you know what he will do in the pick-and-pop with an NBA PG who knows what he is doing. Blake is shooting 71.5 percent from the line this season.

That is a huge step up from 61 percent, 52 percent and 66 percent in his first three seasons. He still has aways to go, but hack-a-Blake is no longer an option. Most importantly, you can see the upward trajectory. With or without Paul, the key to any Clippers game is whether Blake makes his first 2-3 jumpers. If that shot is going in, it is going to be a long night for the opponent. When Blake shoots 55 percent or higher, the Clippers have a 13-4 record, including wins over the Spurs and Thunder.

Blake’s points lead to points for everyone else. Not only does he demand so much attention in the paint that he creates perimeter shots for his teammates, he can read the floor and get them open shots when he has the ball in his hands. In January, he is averaging 4.7 assists on 2.7 turnovers. That’s an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.74. At 24, Boris Diaw averaged 4.8 assists on 2.1 turnovers. Blake is Diaw in a big market with a 40’ vertical and a few good TV commercials.

In the court of public opinion, Blake has been a victim of timing. After his rookie season, the Clippers tried to accelerate their development when they traded Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu for Paul. On a conventional timeframe, with Blake, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan as their three best players, the Clippers would have made their first playoff appearance last season. Instead of stagnating on a first-round loser, Blake would have been the captain of a rising team.

By himself, Paul can win a lot of regular season games, but he can’t lead a team deep into the playoffs. With New Orleans, his teams won 56, 49, 37 and 46 games. They lost in the first round twice and lost a second round Game 7 to San Antonio. In two seasons with the Clippers, “Lob City” was swept in the second round and lost in the first. This is what happens when The Point God is your best player. If Dwight Howard was judged by Paul’s standards, he would be a HOF'er already.

For Blake, the next two seasons are about cleaning up minor things. He needs to get the J even better and he needs to play better positional defense. He only has a 6’11 wingspan, so he will never be a great shot-blocker, but he only needs to be so good at protecting the rim with DeAndre Jordan behind him. Blake and DeAndre are still learning to play together. Doc Rivers had an All-Star PG (Rajon Rondo) with the Boston Celtics; he came to Los Angeles for the frontcourt.

If Paul isn’t ready on Blake’s timetable, he will have to be replaced. The good news is there’s no shortage of good PG’s in the NBA. Every year, there are 4-5 good ones in the draft. There are a lot of old guys in the league who resent Blake for dunking on them and being in a lot of commercials. Soon enough, the NBA will be full of young guys who watched Blake in those commercials and want to dunk on him. When he becomes the old bull, it’s going to be a serious problem.

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