Blake Griffin has always been a quizzical talent that clearly has been limited by injuries and perhaps by the fact that he and Chris Paul never made each other better. The Clippers appeared to have reservations committing long-term to Paul with that fifth guaranteed year, but quickly agreed upon terms with Griffin on a five-year, $173 million deal.
Griffin is one of the game’s best passing big men and is the most dangerous version of himself when he can put the ball on the floor to make plays for himself and others. Griffin has been used in more of a traditional power forward role for most of his career, but that reduces a major part of his game. Griffin had an assist rate of 24.5 last season, which puts him just a notch below Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo for a reference point; two players that are so good because they are given full license to put the ball on the floor and create for others.
While Griffin is incredibly talented and multi-dimensional, his inability to adequately be stretchy as a big has limited his usefulness when he doesn’t have the ball. But as Griffin enters the post-CP3 phase of his game, that is beginning to change. Griffin shot 48.1 percent on corner three-pointers this past season and 35.1 percent overall after the All-Star break on more than three attempts per game. It is part of his game that should continue to improve even if it isn’t fully reliable at this point. The fact that Griffin will have the ball in his hands more now reduces the shooting part of the equation.
The fear on Griffin is that he fully becomes the Amar’e Stoudemire of his generation as one of the best roll men of all-time who expanded his range and repertoire on offense, but had a short athletic peak, played as a component that always limited the effectiveness of a team’s defense, and was unable to remain consistently healthy.
The first season or two of Griffin’s next contract could look very good because this is a player that finished third in MVP voting not too long ago, but the specter of his injury risk will always be an issue, especially since his contract will grow at a rate faster than the cap. But there is also the chance Griffin adjusts his play stylistically, avoids injury and has a level of longevity that extends well beyond this contract the way Karl Malone did. Griffin is certainly skilled enough to do so. Griffin ranked 22nd in the NBA in Real Plus Minus last season in what generally felt like a down season. The risk of letting Griffin go for nothing, in spite of the injuries, was always greater than re-signing him. Griffin is only 28 and has the skill level to age well if he can simply stay on the floor.
The Clippers are picking Griffin over Paul on at least some level. The Clippers really didn’t lose much during the regular season without Griffin when he’s been out with injury, while Griffin’s third place MVP season coincided with an extended absence from Paul. Griffin was the franchise face before the Clippers' trade for Paul in 2011 and now is handed back off to him.
The Clippers always felt like they were one player away during the Lob City era, but now they are in for a minor reset going all-in with Griffin and a restructured supporting cast.
Grade for Clippers: B+
Griffin receives his full five-year max, which he couldn’t afford to turn down given his injury resume. Griffin gets his money and also the opportunity to become an MVP candidate again given how much the Clippers will rely upon him for offense.
The only downside of the deal for Griffin is that he didn’t receive a no-trade clause but that is a rather insignificant detail given everything else he gets after being sidelined at the end of another season.
Grade for Blake Griffin: A-