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Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The NEXT: Kevin Durant?


We know he can rebound in the NBA, but score consistently?

Last night Blake Griffin had what for him has become a common line in Oklahoma's win over Oklahoma State, a tight game billed as "Bedlam" even though the upper rings of Hank Iba Arena were mostly empty. Griffin had 26 points and 19 rebounds, a monster game by most standards, but a typical one by Griffin's. In fact, with plenty of games left in his season, Griffin is in elite company in recent history. With Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti courtside, we wondered while watching the same game, based on his typical splits, what kind of NBA player does Griffin project as?

It's mixed.

That's because projecting scorers-rebounders from college to the NBA is always tricky. You have similar sounds coming from vastly different instruments.

For example, look at Griffin's company in this statistical realm. From ESPN Research, we know that Griffin has the most 20-point, 15-board games in the last 11 years. Tim Duncan had nine in '96-97, and Paul Millsap had nine in '05-06. Even while Millsap has improved his numbers this year in Utah, the chasm between he and Timmay is huge. But that's normal: it's always hard to project guys who are high scoring and rebounder combinations in college.

Duncan diversified his scoring portfolio in the pros.

A year before Duncan, another power forward dominated college hoops. Kurt Thomas averaged 28.9 points and 14.6 rebounds as a senior at TCU, leading the country in both categories. A longtime pro, he's averaged 9.4 ppg and 7.2 rpg in the NBA. Another player that piled up scoring and board totals recently was Kevin Durant. Durant, not three years ago, averaged 25.8 ppg and 11.1 rpg at Texas, numbers not light years away from Griffin's current 22.3 ppg and 14 rpg.

We realize you hate the comparison. And yes, Hummers and Porsches can both hit 90 MPH, but that's the point: The NBA is a different kind of highway.

The distinction involves the different ways a guy can score the ball. Last night, Griffin shot a typically high percentage, knocking down nine of 10 shots, several of them dunks. He dominates the game around the rim, gets offensive rebounds and is good inside five or six feet. Compare that to Durant, who routinely pulled up for long three-point attempts even while he could shoot over people inside. Like Griffin, Millsap and Thomas were guys glued to the paint in college, and while Griffin shows some decent passing skills (like Duncan) and the occasional handle on the perimeter, his ability to score from outside the paint is a slowly developing trait. He's taken just six three-pointers all year, and his FT shooting needs work. He's shooting 60.8% this year.

What Griffin does have is incredible athleticism wrapped in an NBA-ready frame. Pro scouts will certainly have to wonder, however, as they project him, will his game develop because of that athleticism, or is his current appeal purely caused by it? In Durant, you knew physical play wasn't the cause of his college rebounding prowess, the dude was a stick. That was just height, knack and hunger.

Durant can already score 24.5 ppg in the NBA, his body still filling out. Even as a potential No. 1 pick, based on his limited range of scoring options, most might find it hard to imagine Griffin would ever score as much in the NBA as Durant already is. The NBA requires its scorers have range.

There's no question Griffin is gifted, but he's not yet an NBA-star guarantee.

Of course, if he plays next to Durant, he won't have to be.

If you're interested in moving images more than text, we've got a pretty sweet video with Blake Griffin right here.