Take Five: Looking on the Bright Side With the Blake Griffin Injury
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 14, 2010
As an NBA fan, this was really one of the last things you wanted to see happen this season. It was bad enough when Blake Griffin, the #1 pick of the 2009 draft, had to sit out the first three months of this season with knee injuries, but reports came recently that Griffin, just a week away from his tentatively-scheduled debut with the Los Angeles Clippers, would be undergoing further surgery, now lost for the entire season. It sucks for many reasons, mostly because unlike many recent high draftees (Oden, Rose, Durant to an extent), where we were cautioned that it would take time for star potential to develop into star performance, Griffin looked for all the world like he could come in and be the best player on a playoff team right away. Everything about his game and his makeup screamed “NBA-Ready,” and the Clippers were starting to heat up just in time, playing their best ball of the season in anticipation of his arrival. Everyone wanted to see the kid, and everyone wanted to see the kid succeed. Now…well, balls.
There’s a whole, whole lot of additional negative to focus on with this injury–the destructive impact it’ll have on the petulant drive of Clippers point guard Baron Davis, the bad lineage it now puts Griffin in with regards to the history of big men with early-career health issues, even the further perpetuation of the so-called “Clipper Curse” that it represents. But there’ll be plenty of people who are going to be happy to tell you all about those. I’m more interested in focusing on the positives–few in number and poor in consolation that they may be–that seem possible to arise from Blake’s unfortunate, if not exactly unpredictable, circumstances. Here’s five potential benefits to the injury woes you might not have contemplated. (Unless of course, you saw me Tweet about them earlier, in which case, apologies for the double dip):
1. Gets a Legitimate Chance at Rookie of the Year Honors. Early on, some pundits were wondering if, in this year’s supposed weak rookie class, Griffin could swoop in at the beginning of 2010 and play well enough to merit Rookie of the Year honors, even with missing the first two months of the season. Unexpected breakthroughs from rookie PGs Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, however, dwindled the likelihood of that down to nil. Now Blake gets a full season to make his case, and for a rook as hyped as he, it seems only fair. Besides, with the presumed NBA debut of current Kentucky point John Wall (a prospect currently causing NBA scouts to speak in tongues) coming in the same season, it could set up a nifty little “Griffin vs. Wall” debate that could make for the most exciting ROY debate since LeBron vs. Darko. OK, bad example, but…you know.
2. Avoids Friction with Marcus Camby in the Frontcourt. Camby, the Clippers’ 14th-year power forward, is clearly the past, while Griffin, who plays the same position, is undoubtedly the future. But the Camby Man has played fairly well this year, and despite his cringeworthy shooting touch and near-non-existing mobility, he can still be dominant enough on defense and on the boards to rightly demand playing time. With center Chris Kaman elevating his play to a near-All-Star level, something’s gotta give, and if Griffin did struggle early, he’d have Camby breathing down his neck and possibly subbing for him in late-game situations, potentially hurting the future star’s confidence. With Camby a free agent at year’s end, however, and the Clips unlikely to re-sign him, Grififn can enter next year unquestioned as the team’s starting power forward. And we’d all avoid a bunch of annoying blog debates about how to split up the trio’s PT in the process.
3. Misses the Ricky Davis Era in Los Angeles Completely. With Stephon Marbury on the outs with the NBA, Zach Randolph and Ron Artest having rehabbed their images, and Vince Carter playing (if not exactly thriving) on a decent team for once, the shortlist is now down to Tim Thomas and Ricky Davis for the proud honors of being the NBA’s most infamous cancer. To be fair, neither is really getting enough playing time to perpetuate any real on-court malaise, but lord only knows what goes on behind closed doors in those locker rooms. With Davis’s contract expiring at the end of the year, it seems likely that Blake will never actually have to share the floor with him. And while Davis’s presence wouldn’t necessarily guarantee draft bust status–that guy the Cavs took with the #1 in ’03 turned out OK–you don’t really want to take any chances with this shit, do you? Especially not a karmically-challenged squad like the Clippers.
4. (Possibly) Gets a New Draft Pick and New Coach to Work With. It’s far from guaranteed, but envision the not-too-far-fetched scenario: With Griffin out for the year and the post-season starting to fade beyond the horizon, Baron Davis goes into Operation Shutdown mode, undercutting his recent inspired play by packing on another 20 pounds and reverting to chucking up five threes a game. Kaman and Gordon miss time with their recurring injuries, and suddenly the team is giving key minutes to Steve Novak and Brian Skinner. Losses pile on and the team slips into the Western Conference cellar. But, there’s a silver lining: With the bad vibes mounting to a new high around the Clippers franchise, Donald Sterling finally offers the fanbase an olive branch by firing much-detested coach Mike Dunleavy, luring Avery Johnson or Jeff Van Gundy back from ESPN’s clutches to take his place. Now Griffin has a decent coach, and in all probability, a high lottery pick–maybe a defensive-minded swingman, or a better backup point for Baron Davis than Sebastian Telfair–to start his career with next season. Wouldn’t be so bad, would it?
5. Has Plenty of Time to Hone His NBA Sense of Humor. Don’t underestimate the importance of this one. From all indications, not only is Griffin a phenomenal athlete, a commendable teammate and a tireless worker, but the seeds of him having one of the better senses of humor in the league are definitely there as well. I remember a quote from an ESPN The Magazine profile where after Clips sharp-shooter Steve Novak missed a three or something in practice, Blake went over to him and with a straight face–so much that Novak wasn’t even sure he was kidding–offered to work on him with his shooting if he needed. It’s not so much the joke, which is only mildly funny at best, as the fact that he did it with a straight face. Do you have any idea how few players in the NBA can pull off a straight face? I seriously doubt you need a second hand to count them–most are so comedically clumsy, and so in love with the idea of themselves actually trying to make a joke, that the straight face (which in many ways is the key to being funny) is basically impossible. Plus, his response to a question about L.A. being big enough for both him and Kobe (“I don’t know if it’s even big enough for Kobe himself”) shows an awareness, and a knack for off-the-cuff repartee, that is similarly rare among the NBA greats. He’s got the raw potential, and we need funny dudes in the NBA even more than we need quality big men. So in between rehabbing stints, I hope Blake’s concentrating on what’s important, and doing plenty of fucking around on YouTube, maybe filming a SportsCenter spot or two for ESPN.