POSTED ON FEBRUARY 4, 2009:
Savior of the Thunder?
How Blake Griffin keeps pro scouts in OKC drooling
Go-to Guy. Griffin grabbed nine boards a game last year. He's improved this season to a robust 14 per game. Let's not forget he out-rebounded the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the January 26 contest. Steals, assists, blocks and every shooting percentage across the board have increased. He plays with heart and he's carrying the Sooners to a lofty national ranking.
Transitions are complicated. Let's say I wanted to shed light on a local fast food joint outsourcing the drive-thru window to India. Then, in the next paragraph, I mentioned the Tulsa Talons are inching closer to the upcoming season. Not very smooth but a necessary change of direction.
Such is the dilemma we're facing now that Super Bowl XLIII is in the history books. What is the best course of action to get from the final whistle blown on the NFL campaign to the college basketball season?
Two words: Blake Griffin. The Oklahoma Sooners sensational sophomore could have entered last year's NBA draft. His draft stock hovered around the middle of the first round. He pushed into the lottery by season's end.
He did the unthinkable by returning to school. This year he has a 50/50 chance of being selected number one overall.
Not to overstate the obvious but OU is a football school. However, even Sooners faithful cannot deny what is transpiring inside the Lloyd Noble Center this year.
The 6-foot-10-inch, 251-pound phenom is an amazing specimen to watch. His power, quickness and basketball acumen has personnel directors at the next level drooling on their keyboards.
He turned heads locally as a freshman last season. With a year of seasoning, experts across the nation jumped on the Griffin Train.
His minutes are up four per contest. He is scoring 22 points per game. That's a vast improvement over the 14 from a season ago.
Here is why pro scouts are salivating: his rebounding prowess. To put it in basketball street terminology -- dude has mad hops.
He grabbed nine boards a game last year. He's improved this season to a robust 14 per game. Let's not forget he out-rebounded the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the January 26 contest.
The list goes on and one. Steals, assists, blocks and every shooting percentage across the board have increased. He plays with heart and he's carrying the Sooners to a lofty national ranking.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder rolled into town it was bittersweet. On one hand, it was great to see "our" state get a major sports franchise. On the other hands, I already miss the Seattle Sonics and their grotesque green and yellow uniforms mucking up my plasma screen.
The Thunder started the season as an abject disaster. They were lucky to finish a game within 10 points of the opposition. A coaching change ensued and now the Thunder is making noise.
Is that a good thing? Should they strive for competitiveness? Or should they follow the NBA blueprint and tank the season to improve their odds of winning the draft lottery?
The Thunder currently sports the leagues third worst record. This gives them a 15.6 percent chance of winning the first pick in the draft. If they "lose out" and finish in last place, their chances of winning the first pick in the lottery nudge up to 25 percent.
The last time the franchise with the worst record won the first pick in the draft was 2004. This led to the Dwight Howard pick. Last year the Chicago Bulls had their number called. They won the lottery despite only having a 1.7 percent chance. In other words, there are no guarantees.
True basketball fans root for the possibility of Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin running the court together. Imagine the electricity, not only in Oklahoma, but around the league with two blue chip prospects teaming up for the next 10 years or so.
Who wins if Blake Griffin joins the Thunder? The city, state, franchise and Kevin Durant. You can almost hear the Thunder PR machine licking its chops.
On the other hand, the NBA and Griffin lose if he winds up in Oklahoma City. OKC is an afterthought in most NBA circles. Griffin would be labeled the savior of the Thunder. That's a ton of pressure to drop on the shoulders of a 20-year-old kid.
He would toil in obscurity for years. The Western Conference is so top heavy that the Durant/Griffin combo may not be enough to propel the Thunder into playoff contention.
Would it be so terrible for Griffin to escape to greener pastures? What if the Dallas Mavericks or New York Knicks barely miss the playoffs and win the lotto? Wouldn't that be best for Griffin?
It's no lock Griffin is chosen number one overall in the draft. The Thunder would make him the first pick 100 percent of the time. However, other college and international players could sway front offices of other organizations.
Just look at other college player of the year candidates like Stephen Curry. He's in the process of learning the point guard position. His shot is silky smooth. However, he's listed at 6-foot-3, 185.
North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and Notre Dame's Luke Harangody have two things aiding them in this process. They play for prestigious basketball schools (more so than OU). They are scrappy and white.
Don't forget the floppy haired Spaniard being compared to Pistol Pete Maravich.
One NBA draft site compares Griffin to Carlos Boozer of the Utah Jazz. That's laughable. Boozer hasn't left his feet for a rebound in three years. Griffin has springs for legs.
Griffin's weaknesses are clear. He needs to work on his face-up game. His jump shot could use more consistency. Free throw shooting and defensive fundamentals are areas of need.
You can teach Blake Griffin to shoot, defend and pick his spots. You can't coach Stephen Curry into a growth spurt. Coaches have tried. It doesn't work.
Look no further than this past Saturday's contest between OU and Iowa State. The Sooners led on the road by four points with less than a minute to play.
Griffin catches the ball -- passes back out to the perimeter -- resets himself -- takes another entry pass -- turns and fires a fade away jump shot over the outstretched hand of a defender. Sooners up by six. Game over.
This is the kind of guy I want battling me in the league. Now the Thunder must sit back and allow the season to play out.
Never in the state of Oklahoma will the collective eyes be watching ping-pong balls bounce with such angst. Eat your heart out Oklahoma Lottery Commission.
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