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ON HIS first possession as an NBA player, in a summer-league game in Las Vegas, Blake Griffin ran a pick-and-roll with Eric Gordon and scored on a layup. If the Clippers are going to compete in the West, that play has to become a Staples Center staple.
After decades of regrettable lottery picks—Michael Olowokandi, Danny Ferry, Bo Kimble, Reggie Williams and so many more—Los Angeles might have finally figured out this draft business. One year after nabbing Gordon, a dynamic 6'3" wing player who averaged 16.1 points as a rookie, the Clippers won the lottery and spent the first pick on Griffin, an ultra-aggressive 6'10", 251-pound power forward from Oklahoma whose only mistake so far was wearing a shirt to the draft that looked suspiciously like the Lakers' shade of purple. "I'll try to bounce back from that," Griffin says.
The Clippers rave about everything from Griffin's court savvy (coaches say he did not miss one defensive rotation in summer league) to his citizenship (he came to the rescue of a stalled motorist near the team's practice facility) to his 9:30 p.m. bedtime ("I'm kind of a loser, I guess," he says). Griffin is aware of the supernatural force known as the Clipper Curse but says "there's not enough evidence for me to believe in it." This was after he strained his right shoulder in summer league and bruised his left knee before training camp.
Griffin and Gordon provide a foundation, but point guard Baron Davis has to accelerate their growth. After a miserable first season in L.A., Davis trimmed 12 pounds, bringing him down to 215, which should help him direct the up-tempo offense that coach Mike Dunleavy plans to install. "Six spots are probably locked up in the West," Dunleavy says. "Two are open." With the 10-year vet setting up Griffin and Gordon, the leap from 19 wins to a playoff berth suddenly seems imaginable.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F Blake Griffin (R), 22.7 PPG; G Sebastian Telfair, 4.6 APG; G--F Rasual Butler, 11.2 PPG; G--F Ricky Davis, 6.4 PPG • New acquisition • (R) Rookie (college stats)
COACH: Mike Dunleavy (seventh season with Clippers) • 2008--09 RECORD: 19--63 (fourth in Pacific)
POINTS SCORED: 95.1 (27th in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 103.9 (25th in NBA)