Commentary

Blake Griffin taking it to next level

With double-teams coming more often, Clippers rookie works on passing skills

Updated: January 23, 2011, 12:10 PM ET
By Pedro Moura | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- The more points he scores, dunks he dramatically slams home and buzzer-beating 3-pointers he hits, the more attention teams will to pay to Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, and the 21-year-old rookie sensation knows that.

Good thing he's developing a keen passing eye to go along with the rest of that offensive arsenal.

Blake Griffin
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesBlake Griffin had seven assists in the first half against Golden State on Saturday. He finished with 30 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists.

Griffin had a career-high eight assists in the Clippers' 113-109 win over the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on Saturday, plus a suddenly standard 30 points and 18 rebounds. The rebound total also tied a career high.

He took only 16 shots and made 10, passing up a number of so-so shots when double-teamed in favor of an open jumper for a teammate. And, on a night in which the Clippers shot below their season average from the field, Griffin's passing was the kick-start to the offense time and again.

"That's the way you put pressure on teams when teams are double-teaming you," Griffin said afterward. "That's the way you pick them apart -- just make life miserable for them. Find the open guy every time.

"I didn't do that tonight, but that's the next step to becoming a better player, that place where you know where the double-team is coming from and who's open at all times."

He's not quite there yet, but each time Griffin touched the ball in the post Saturday, Golden State sent a second defender -- almost without fail. Sometimes, as Clippers forward Ryan Gomes described it afterward, he'd make his first move too quickly for the Warriors' help to get there in time, and Griffin would be off for the basket.

But when the second -- or third -- defender did get there in time or was on track to do so, Griffin started looking for the pass. And so he'd swing it back out to the original passer -- often point guards Baron Davis or Eric Bledsoe -- or find sharpshooter Eric Gordon on the perimeter. Five of Gordon's seven made shots came directly off passes from Griffin.

How does Griffin do it?

"Reading the defense," said Davis, who averages just under seven assists a game and had six Saturday. "He did a great job of seeing when the double-team was coming and which man was open. He could have had a triple-double had we knocked down more shots."

Griffin alluded to getting to the next step as a passer. Interestingly, his solution on how to get to that next step sounded very similar to Davis' assessment about where Griffin is now.

"A lot of times it's just reading rotations, to the point where you know in your mind before somebody's open," Griffin said. "It's just a matter of studying film and understanding the game."

So that's it? All he has to do to reach that proverbial next step as an NBA power forward is study some more film, understand the game some more and -- voilą -- he's a great passing forward?

"I wouldn't say that's what he has to do. He's been doing it," said Gomes, who had 15 points and a key 3-pointer off an assist from Griffin. "Tonight he had eight, but there was a lot of games he had seven, five. He always looks for guys when he doesn't get shots and when he gets double-teamed."

Gomes did say Griffin is still a ways away from reaching the realm of a passing big man like San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan.

"Of course," Gomes said. "He doesn't recognize the double-team before it comes yet. But as far as getting guys the shots in open areas, he's been doing that."

He has, with a fair amount of regularity, too. Griffin has had 19 games with four or more assists and 11 with five or more. And his 3.4-assist-per-game average this season is also better than Duncan's career average and something that Duncan has bested only four times in his 14-year career.

Seven of Griffin's eight assists came in the first half, when the Clippers' offense was truly flowing. It grew stagnant some in the third and fourth quarters, when Golden State switched to a 3-2 zone and Gordon went out of the game because of a bruised back.

But even in the second half, Griffin's passing was one of the primary creators for the offense -- when it was functioning, at least. If his shot wasn't there, he'd pass out almost immediately and help the rest of the team get going offensively.

"He knows he's gonna get doubled or even triple-teamed," said center DeAndre Jordan, who averages less than one assist per game. "He's done a better job throughout the year of finding open guys, and we get wide-open jump shots, 3s, cuts and wide-open lanes to the basket because of them doubling Blake."

Call it the Blake effect -- another Blake effect.