Tag Archives: Blake Griffin

If We Lined Up Every NBA Player, Who Would You Take 1st?

A few weeks before Green Bay defeated Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV, Fox analyst Troy Aikman made a declaration that somehow stands as both shocking and obvious: If every single professional football player were available and he had the first pick in a real-life draft, he would roll with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Aikman’s rationale was made based on three factors about Rodgers: (1) a proven ability to compete and thrive on the professional level, (2) space for improvement with a limitless ceiling, (3) and age.

It was met with a mixed reaction of sacrilege and revelation.

For nearly a decade, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were the most widely accepted number-one picks in such a theoretical draft. To most NFL followers, a conservative sport that overwhelmingly values tradition, including anybody else in the discussion was blasphemy.

Yet what Aikman said made sense.

He noticed a young, bright star about to catapult himself into another stratosphere and ventured ever so slightly against the grain to make a logical answer. His hypothetical choice was a bold one.

After the 2011 NBA Finals, and the unprecedented collapse of a player who was recently accepted by everyone in the universe to be the sport’s greatest player, how would Aikman’s proclamation translate to the NBA?

Let’s say a new CBA is agreed upon and calls for a complete overhaul. On September 1, each player is thrown into a league-wide draft with the order conducted at random. In this fictional future, Curt Flood never existed and free agency has yet to form. You pick a player and he is yours until death or retirement — whichever comes first.

In what order would the players go?

Is LeBron James still the first pick? Are Kobe and Amar’e selected in the first round? Does John Wall come off the board before Dirk Nowitzki? Would Chris Wallace drop down on his knees and take Zach Randolph without blinking?

In the aftermath of LeBron’s mental defrost, this vague, otherwise pointless question has become rather interesting. Being 26-years-old and undoubtedly the most athletic, talented and complete player in the game — and still improving — LeBron was the obvious answer. To many he still is. But if the ultimate objective each June is to become that lucky one team out of 30 to win the hardware, handpicking a player who will lead you through a sunny meadow with unparalleled dominance only to cower when the grass thickens turns this once-easy selection into quite the predicament.

Below are my top five.

None of the players on this list are better overall basketball players than LeBron James. For that matter, Derrick Rose isn’t any more adept at running a team than Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin may never rival Pau Gasol’s touch around the basket. But their value, mostly thanks to youth and lofty ceilings, make selecting them over The King less far-fetched as it once was.

5. Russell Westbrook

When he needs to make a quick decision, say, in transition with numbers, Russell Westbrook morphs into a stallion with blinders. In half-court sets he tends to search for seams that simply don’t exist, stubbornly forcing his square body through a round hole.

But what if we look at Westbrook through a different lens? What if we decrease the comparisons to Steve Nash and replace them with Dwyane Wade’s ability to attack the rim, score at will, and get to the free-throw line enough to keep conspiracy theorists up at night?

Comparing Westbrook’s third season (age 22) with Wade’s second (age 23) is telling.

Westbrook: 21.9, 8.2, 4.6 with 1.9 steals per game.
Wade: 24.1, 6.8, 5.2 with 1.6 steals per game.

Their PER and Usage Rate are within two percentage points, and Wade attempted 9.9 free-throws per game to Westbrook’s 8. Wade took 17.1 shots per night. Westbrook? 17. If a changed environment were to alter Westbrook’s role on his basketball team, the results could be more conducive to the style he was born to play.

4. Dwight Howard

Maybe he’s unfairly being compared to the league’s seven-foot ghosts. Maybe it’s that he has no rival. Or maybe the game’s drifted too far away from the big man as a noteworthy puzzle piece. Whatever the reason, Howard might be the most difficult of the five to build a championship-caliber team around.

He has carved out a niche as basketball’s most imposing defender. He’s the best in the league at altering shots and a top three rebounder, but there’s so many things on the other end he still needs to improve — and time’s running out. The 2009 Finals appearance wasn’t a signal of Howard staking a claim so much as it was Kevin Garnett’s faulty knee rewarding him with a free pass. All that being said, he’s twice as talented as the next best at his position. He’s also 25.

3. Blake Griffin

It’s tempting to put Griffin at the top spot. He’s the youngest player on the list, a more athletic Karl Malone, and for the next eight to 10 years should finish top five in scoring, free throw attempts, and rebounds. Off the court, Griffin seems to be a charismatic person; the most relatable 6’10” gravity defying freak of nature who’s ever lived. On the court he mutates into a monstrous brute. (Multiple reports from a slew of anonymous sources say a handful of players are refusing to see Super 8 this summer, due to its summoning of disturbing Blake Griffin related flashbacks.)

Random Fact: In less than 15 minutes of action, he recorded five assists in his first All-Star game. It took Charles Barkley five All-Star weekends to get five assists total.

2. Derrick Rose

He’s a 22-year-old MVP. Cut it, dry it, place it in the freezer.

And just wait until he starts making 40% of his threes.

1. Kevin Durant

Durant already has two playoff series (2010 vs. the Lakers and 2011 vs. the Mavericks) under his belt that, when we look back in a few years, could be the character-shaping events that transformed him from a talented, once-in-a-decade scorer to a grizzled, 25-year-old assassin. The curtain was turned back a few inches after the Dallas series, and what was revealed should scare everyone in the league. Durant’s mental fortitude aligns well with his atypical body, and the result is destined to be historical dominance.

“I don’t even speak to em anymore. You move to LA & there’s more important people than family”

Blake Griffin might not exactly be Steve Nash when it comes to deadpan humor, but (a) he’s only 19, (b) I wasn’t even aware he had vocal chords until now, and (c) you’re about to be disappointed if you were expecting a third reason.

I am now for the first time looking forward to the Blake Griffin era. Hopefully, partnering to make funny videos will give Baron Davis something to do until his next contract year.

But, ah, back to the lecture at hand: Blake’s “You’re playing, and people are like ‘He’s got great knees'” line make me laugh out loud. Jeez, if only there was a quicker way to express that sentiment to you, though. I mean, that took forever to type. Email me if you have any ideas. (video via TrueHoop and from Clips Nation, whose logo should be purchased by LA’s lovable losers so as to replace this derivative slop)

Full Disclosure: I Still Think John Wallace Will Play in an NBA All-Star Game One Day

Did you hear there’s a Draft tonight? I know, I almost missed it too. No one has been talking about it but, apparently, executives from thirty teams are going to sit around making phone calls all night in Madison Square Garden and decide the future of their franchises while a bunch of young men in funny-looking suits put on ugly hats that transform them into instant millionaires. It’s supposed to be wild.

Honestly, until all the trading went down, I wasn’t even all that excited for the NBA Draft for probably the first time in my entire life. I mean, it’s always a great event and watching it is one of my favorite things to do each year so I was looking forward to it in the same sense that it’s always cool when Christmas comes along, but I just really don’t have an informed enough opinion on most of the guys people are talking about as lottery picks to have gotten all that fired up.

To be completely truthful, I could barely pick any of Tyreke Evans, James Johnson and JRue Holiday (who might have the best draft-day name since D’Brickashaw Ferguson) out of a lineup. And if I haven’t actually watched you play in a basketball game five or six times, I really can’t pretend to know what the hell I’m talking about when I discuss your pro potential.

Eagerly trying to read up on all these guys can help, but it often just make things worse by bringing faux-knowledge into the equation. I try to check out as much info as possible and subsequently end up trying to sound intelligent when out drinking by saying things like “I like Johnny Flynn a lot but I think his size might mean he’s a bench player at best” or “I’m pretty concerned about Dejuan Blair’s MRI,” but all the scuttlebutt, innuendo and flat-out misinformed descriptions that are out there about how these kids actually play the game means that even doing your homework isn’t going to propel you into some new stratosphere of insight if you didn’t actually watch the games. (Wait, someone is seriously trying to get me to believe that Gerald Henderson is going to be the next Latrell Sprewell? Hmmm. Considering that I have actually watched Gerald play at Duke for three years and I have also seen this, you, sir, are either peddling misinformation or just lying to me.)

Essentially what I’m saying is that I have no clue which of the players in this year’s Draft will be any good. Partly, it’s because I really don’t watch much NCAA basketball anymore. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that every time I go into an evening thinking “Nice, UNC/Duke is on tonight,” I later find out that the Jazz are playing Denver or the Heat are playing the Suns, and I end up watching that instead. The quality of play is just so much higher and Dwyane Wade literally does something in every game he plays that would be the ACC highlight of the year if he did it while playing for Clemson. Still, if college hoops were played during the NBA offseason, I would watch every game. But rarely does my desire to watch even a great match up like UConn vs. Syracuse supersede the feeling that I would be missing too much if I chose to watch that over Deron vs. Melo.

On top of my lack of first-hand knowledge about this year’s draft crop, I also know that I have been waaaay off about a lot of players even back when I did watch a ton of NCAA hoops. I thought Boozer would be mediocre at best, for example. I absolutely adored Ron Mercer. I thought John Wallace would be a beast. I saw Rashad McCants making a few All-Star teams. I was a huge Maurice Ager fan. I even sort of liked Hilton Armstrong quite a bit for some reason. (On the other hand, I have actually gotten a few things right: I couldn’t believe Vince Carter didn’t go #1, I’m still baffled as to why Josh Howard fell to #30, I loved Shane Battier and I was one of the few people who had any inkling that Dwyane Wade would be a superstar — although I admittedly had absolutely zero idea he would be this good).

Despite all this, there is one definite opinion I have about the 2009 Draft, however: I would take Ricky Rubio over Blake Griffin.

It’s impossible to dismiss Blake’s incredible numbers or look past how easily he dominated the college ranks last season. His ability to rebound will definitely translate to the pro level. He might even be an NBA All-Star some day. That is all true. I know all that.

I just think Rubio has the potential to be legendary.

Like everyone else, I haven’t seen him play all that much, of course. But who would you want if I told you that you could either have (a) a guy whose upside is a pre-alcoholic Vin Baker, or (b) a potentially beloved 6’4″ teenager with floppy hair who has the chance to be the next great white point guard?

From a purely on-the-court basketball standpoint, I can see why Griffin is so appealing — he’s a can’t-miss talent who has zero potential to not be very good. And generally, my belief on how a GM should approach a draft is to be risk-averse. The upside argument for taking guys like Tyrus Thomas who can’t necessarily do anything great on a basketball court over guys like LaMarcus Aldridge who have proven skills that apply to any level of basketball has always puzzled me. I would take LaMarcus over Tyrus thirteen times out of ten.

But if this Spanish kid can figure out how to pass the ball with as much flair, presence and effectiveness as he has done internationally, the Rubio phenomenon — both on the court and off the court — could reach giant heights. We’re talking about a taller, goofier-looking Steve Nash-type of fan-love. Something like that not only makes your team instantly relevant Leaguewide and featured nightly to casual Sportscenter viewers, but it gives you the franchise foundation point guard that it is becoming increasingly clear that the best teams in this League now all need. (Yes, I know that Orlando and Los Angeles both made the Finals without marquee PGs, but the Lakers are a special case because of the triangle and Orlando had a lot of other things working in its favor this post-season. The Cavs are obviously another team without a great PG, but (a) look what happened to them, and (b) any team with LeBron is always going to be an anomaly.)

Ultimately, the NBA is an increasingly perimeter-based League, so I’m taking the potentially transcendent PG over the certainly sound big guy.

Take Rubio over Griffin. I’m certain that this is how it should be. Write it down. Take a picture. Book it. Ricky Rubio will have a better career than Blake Griffin. It’s a certainty.

Just remember that this is merely the opinion of a guy who would have taken John Wallace over Ray Allen in 1996 — and remember that all the other “expert analysis” out there is coming from people whose perspectives have been equally flawed in the past.

They just won’t tell you about it.

john wallace

John Wallace: Future NBA All-Star