Griffin steadily evolving into complete player (cont.)
Still, the scout said Griffin's moves down low have improved already.
"It was all dunks and overpowering people before, and now he's gotten to the point where he can use a jump hook and he has better footwork in the post," he said. "It's something where I think this summer -- if he's not on the Olympic team [Griffin is one of 20 finalists] -- then he really needs to spend time going to Hakeem Olajuwon. The fact of the matter is that everybody who has gone to him, their game has improved. I think that's a step in the right direction that he has to make."
Griffin has a long way to go to resemble "The Dream," but he has become more effective on the offensive end. His shooting has improved from 50.6 percent last season to 54.3 percent this season, with a slight uptick from mid-range (34 percent to 36 percent) and in the paint outside the restricted area (36 percent to 38 percent), according to NBA.com. If and when he becomes consistent with his outside jumper, his already-scary offensive attack could be even more dangerous.
"When he's knocking down that jumper ... he's unguardable," Paul said.
The greatest cause for concern, it would seem, is the drastic decline in Griffin's free-throw accuracy (from 64.2 percent last season to 52.4 percent this season). It's poorly timed considering the way in which teams are now defending him, becoming even more physical in an attempt to make him this generation's version of Shaquille O'Neal with the Hack-a-Shaq approach.
But Clippers general manager Neil Olshey isn't panicking yet, instead looking to Hall of Famer Karl Malone, who shot a combined 54.8 percent from the line in his first two seasons before finishing his career with a 74.2-percent mark.
There's no easy solution to that, though, and Griffin has learned the hard way that his failures can't be fixed simply by putting in more hours on the floor or in the weight room. It's the downside of his driven personality, and the trait that helped him get here is now running the risk of holding him back.
"What's gotten Blake this far is that perfectionism," Iavaroni said. "And now, to get to the next level, he's got to learn -- like all maturing performers -- that it's not all, 'Drive, drive, drive, through the wall, through the wall, through the wall.'
"'There are times when [he should say] 'I need to take less of this so that I have more energy for that' -- whether it's weight lifting, shooting jumpers. It's quality over quantity, in a nutshell.'"
The push for perfection affects Griffin during games, too.
"Blake holds himself to such a high standards that there are times when it's counterproductive because he tries so hard," Iavaroni said. "He's so committed to being as perfect as he can be that he doesn't leave room for error. To know that it's OK to miss a jump shot, that it's OK to miss a free throw, that it happens to everybody. But if you let it affect the next play, then it's an issue. He's done a much better job of shaking fouls off, shaking free throws off, things like that."
Progress, not perfection, is the shared goal. And while Griffin's coaches and teammates enjoy his nightly dunking exhibitions as much as anyone, it's the less-glamorous parts of his game that they're obsessed with now.
"As we get better, it'll be more about our transition defense -- how many stops we get in a row, or how we're rebounding -- than it will be about the spectacular plays and all of that," Del Negro said. "Although those are great and we want to use those to our advantage, we also want to make the right basketball play.
"I think Blake is learning those things. Things can turn quickly in games, and it's about mismatches and recognizing them, about teams making runs at you and how you respond to them. He's learning all those things, but Blake's a worker. You can see improvement in his game already, and I think that will just continue."
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, of all people, has noticed Griffin's growth.
"It's just his second year but I do see him getting better," said Perkins, the victim of one of Griffin's most memorable dunks, on Jan. 30. "He used to be all dunks, but now he's developing a real game. He's starting to get a 15-footer, and the thing I'm impressed with him about is he actually started playing defense better.
"If you watch his pick-and-roll defense, I see him making an effort to help where last year I didn't see that. I see him getting better."
If there's one area where the Clippers are counting on Griffin to grow more than anywhere else, it's his ability to be a potent pairing with Paul. The vision must be realized if this is to be a long-term relationship, though there's clearly work to be done.
As wondrous as the idea of a Paul-Griffin one-two punch was when the deal with New Orleans went down on Dec. 15, it was never as simple as it seemed. The younger Griffin -- though worthy of Jordan's "Lob City" moniker -- was hardly the versatile, veteran big man with whom Paul was used to playing (see David West and Tyson Chandler). Their styles don't always mesh either, as Paul often spends his time probing the defense while Griffin wishes he would simply send it his way in the post.
"With Chris and Blake, the timing is what they've got to get," Olshey said. "Not having practice has affected it. Chris came from David West, who was more of a pick-and-pop kind of guy.
"They're still learning each other. Chris is trying to learn where Blake likes the ball. Blake is trying to learn when to dive, when to pop, what Chris needs from him. It's definitely a work in progress, and I think that the more they're together, the more they know where each other's sweet spots are coming from. But it's going to be a monster [combination] at some point."
It can't come quickly enough for the impatient Paul, though.
"He's growing like everybody else and seeing what it's like to play for a contender," Paul said of Griffin. "It's a different game, but he's getting it."
Paul -- who has fallen in the first round of the playoffs twice (2009 and 2011) and reached the second round once (2008) -- is widely considered one of the most intense and intelligent players in the league. He's as demanding as they come with his teammates, and likely even more so when the stakes are so high. And Paul has occasionally put his coaching hat on with his young teammate.
"We got on the court together in San Antonio [on March 9], and I tried to talk to him about footwork," Paul said. "That's the thing that can separate you from a lot of players. The other thing is bringing it on both ends. That's the way you really become a competitor, when you get mad that people score on you.
"He's working on it. This is a tough season, and we don't get much practice time. But I'm glad that he's on my team, I'll tell you that much."
The lessons, Griffin said, are something he welcomes.
"[Paul] is a very cerebral player, and he knows the game really well," Griffin said. "I'm kind of learning the game through his eyes and kind of seeing how he reacts and how he navigates through things. It's been important for me. We've been more and more on the same page.
"At first, when a player comes in, it's hard to click right away. But now, he'll tell me whatever he's thinking. We have that kind of relationship where you don't have to hold back this or hold back that. For us, it's about getting better, and the only way we're going to do that is if we're open and honest with each other. That's how it's been, and that's how it needs to be."
As Griffin and Paul continue to find their way as a combo, Iavaroni said the teaching moments will be key.
"We need to do more of that," Iavaroni said of Paul's session with Griffin in San Antonio. "That's where Chris really understands that the more he does that, the more people feel like his leadership is totally spiritual.
"It's technical in the vehicle of it, but the spiritual side of that is where he really gets a lot of mileage because these guys listen to him."
As Olshey sees it, Griffin has what it takes to be a future Hall of Famer. The playoffs will be a major test for the 23-year-old, and he could have a chance to add to his résumé this summer if he's selected to compete for Team USA in the London Olympics.
As for the numbers, the reality is that they do matter. Griffin's production over two seasons is on par with the likes of Tim Duncan and Olajuwon, and the fact that the Clippers are winning with him -- even with the added internal pressure that comes with it -- means his reputation is better for it.
Despite the pressure of this unique season, the love affair with Griffin remains after all.
"He can be one of the greats, and I think he will," Olshey said, "because most of the things that derail guys who have that God-given ability but don't fulfill their potential don't relate to him.
"You've got a guy who is probably one of the top 20 players in the league already, and he's still evolving. His work ethic is unparalleled. There's just so much more to his game."
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