Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What Happens In Vegas: Analyzing Blake Griffin's NBA debut & the Clipper Youth Revival

Blake Griffin listening in during some pregame talks to Kim Hughes on the left.

This is completely unlike the excitement of 2006.

As great as it was to be one "Raja Bell over Daniel Ewing" three pointer away from reaching the Western Conference Finals, Clipper Fans knew "Sam I Am" was not going to lead them back to such a euphoric state at 37, 38, and 39 years of age over the next few years. And with Shaun Livingston still a major question mark at the time, we all knew that the window of success was closing in much much faster than Daniel's close-out on Raja.

But this week in Las Vegas, the Clippers are showcasing three (maybe four) highly promising 20-something studs on their Summer League Roster with Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan and Mike Taylor running the show. I was lucky enough to witness and experience this newfound excitement in Clipperland.

I believe in Mike. My name is also Mike. And you may also believe in me after watching me sing this familiar Clipper Nation tune. Or not.

The First Three Possessions

From the very first possession of their Summer League campaign, the Clipper fans were presented with what will likely become the bread and butter play of many 4th quarter sets to come.

Gordon and Griffin set up on the wing for a pick and roll. Driving hard off the pick, Gordon drew the offense and dropped a dime to Griffin for a beautiful lay-up.

The very next offensive possession, Blake showed off his nice touch around the basket, removing the remorse of any (if any) Zach Randolph spokespersons within Clipper Nation. Blake got the rock drove to the basket, absorbed contact, and hit a touch shot off glass while fading away.

On the third offensive possession, Blake once again removed the memory of Z-bo from my mind by hitting an open three pointer at the top of the key. At this myself and the few clipper fans around me went high-fiving and jumping up and down like we just got rich in Vegas.

I want to talk for a minute about each of the four signed players playing in the League (Blake, Eric, DeAndre, and Mike)

Blake Griffin

Blake would go on to showcase much more than his scoring prowess. I am certain many would call me over-the-top for this statement, but after watching Blake in person, I think his best NBA comparison is not in Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, or any other classic Power Forward Superstar in the League. Instead, Blake better resembles Lebron James than anyone else I've seen.

Please. Don't yell just yet.

Rebounding and scoring were already in Blake's resume before coming to the League. What most people have overlooked are his more-than-average handles, high basketball IQ, smart decision making and excellent court vision.

Blake ran the break a number of times throughout Monday's game. He would pull down a rebound and take off, showing off his handles before either dropping a dime, or going up to get fouled. His handles are far superior than your traditional 4 man. When he has the ball you don't get the feeling you get when Z Bo or Kaman are dimwittedly dribbling around, you feel the excitement of a Nash or a LeBron, waiting to see what he'll do with it. Blake had a number of great passes, most of which ended with a basket or a foul and freethrows. As far as passing and handles go, Blake is far greater than Elton Brand, Zach Randolph, and anyone else who played the power forward spot for the Clippers, ever. Blake followed up his night by dropping 5 assists on the Hornets on Tuesday.

Returning to my LBJ comparison, I take it that Blake was used at the power forward spot in OU and throughout his career because of his height and efficiency on the block. Because he was so dominate playing the 4, he didn't have to step out away from the basket much.

Lebron on the other hand was used mainly as a point guard throughout his career. However, Blake and Lebron are just about the same in terms of height, weight, and freakish athleticism. They were just advertised differently coming into the League. Lebron easily could've been an effective 4 if he playe

d it throughout his career.

Their similarities really are across the board if you ask me: (Rebounding, scoring, ball-handling, passing, court vision, leadership, and attitude).

Eric Gordon

Gordon and Griffin are great founding blocks for the Clippers. As they grow into leadership roles, their best asset to the organization will be their work ethic and professional demeanor. Hopefully they will establish a winning culture, much like Cassell and Mobley started to do their first year with the team.

EJ was EJ, reminding us all that he isn't one dimensional (which is precisely what Adam Morrison continued to show us in Monday's game). What makes Eric so good is that aside from his wet jumper, he has a strong body and is fearless when attacking the basket. And being that he still isn't allowed to do grown up things in vegas until December, his future is only looking up right now.

Maybe he'll grow 6 inches by October and become an instant hall of famer.

DeAndre Jordan

Seeing DeAndre up close is an experience unto itself. He has a gorrilla's wingspan and is 7". He threw down a number of sweet alley-oops Monday night and will continue to do so throughout summer league and his career.

Dunleavy has said he drafted DeAndre and Mike Taylor, thinking that they were three years away from being real contributors to the team. DeAndre might be much more ahead of the curve.

Defensively, he looked much more confident with his assignments (granted he had zero competition in the lakers' summer league squad). His timing on coming from the weak side was great, and he altered many looks with his presence in the middle.

Offensively, he shocked me and the rest of the clipper section. He showed off some nice moves in the post, with spin moves and little hook shots on the block.

If the Chris Kaman experiment is done for, the Clippers will be just fine moving on with Camby and DeAndre playing the middle.

Mike Taylor

Of the 4 players, Mike had the roughest night, throwing the ball away numerous times, and possibly being outplayed by his Summer League back up: Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney. Mike showed that his quickness is on par with the fastest in the league, and his athleticism is to be noted, as he dunk against the Grizzlies last year got in NBA TV's top 3 dunks of the year.

He has the tools, but currently he lacks the decision making, and leadership skills needed to run an NBA team. I, for one, am hopeful for Mike and he continues to be my favorite player on the team. He will hopefully play much better throughout the week.

Moment of the Night

I would not have thought this to be cool if anyone else did it but DeAndre showed off his sensitive side Monday night in Vegas.

Mike Taylor, being frustrated with his performance, got in a yelling match with Kim Hughes and the other assistant coaches on the clipper bench. After a time out and a personal conversation with some of the coaches, Mike went off to sit at the end of the bench.

A few plays later, DeAndre got a breather and chose to sit next to his buddy Mike. Sitting directly behind them, I saw DeAndre hear Mike complain for a few minutes. DeAndre then seemed to speak some words of encouragement to Mike and capped it off with a brief side hug that (would've usually lost points in my book, but in this case) showed me a new side to his character that is missed despite his candid blog and vlog updates.


All in all, Clipper Youth Movement is looking very good. Oh yeah, and there was also an alien sighting:

Alien jokes aside - Sam Cassell is one of my all time favorite NBA Aliens - I mean players.

Law's Been Laid,
Mike Whang
(Lawler's Bingo Card)

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