For many players, averaging 17.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks at this point of the season would have to be considered outstanding work.
But for Blake Griffin – who arrived with averages of 22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg and 3.8 apg as a rookie two years ago – the season stats above are a definite disappointment. They’re also part of a continued downward trend. Consider these numbers from Griffin's rookie year until now:
2010-11: 22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.8 apg, 16.8 FGA, 38 mpg
2011-12: 20.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 15.5 FGA, 36 mpg
2012-13: 17.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.0 apg, 13.3 FGA, 32 mpg
That’s right – this is the third straight year that Griffin has declined in points, rebounds, assists, shot attempts and minutes.
So what in the name of Loy Vaught is going on here? From my vantage point, there are a couple key factors at work. For one, the Clippers are deeper, better and more balanced than they were last year, and they’re winning more (25-8 entering the weekend) with their two best players (Griffin and Chris Paul) dominating the stats a little bit less. (Paul’s points, minutes and shot attempts are all down from last season as well.)
At the same time, Griffin's game is still lacking one main element: a truly reliable jump shot. Maybe it's because he had so much success early in his career posting up, running the floor and catching silly alley-oops, and maybe it's also because he has focused a lot on improving his free throws (up from 52.1 percent to 62.1 percent this year). Whatever the case, the fact is that Griffin doesn't consistently make teams pay for daring him to shoot outside – which they do a lot.
In the long run, I have plenty of confidence that he'll get it figured out. And it's certainly possible that he'll do so sooner rather than later. But given the adjustments he's having to make – and given that the Clippers are still dominating despite getting less from Griffin – fantasy owners should be prepared for the possibility that these lower-level stats will remain the norm the rest of this season.
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In other hoops-related matters…
Another slightly disappointing power forward (Josh Smith) looks like he’s about to break out. I don't just say that because Smith unleashed a 23-13-7-3-4 line on the Hornets on Tuesday. I say it because it just hasn't made sense all along that his points (18.8 --> 16.9), rebounds (9.6 --> 8.3) and shot attempts (16.7 --> 15.8) have all actually decreased in the absence of Joe Johnson, and logic dictates that it’s only a matter of time before Smith starts consistently taking advantage of an offense that gives him more opportunities than ever. Aside from a shaky 53.6 clip from the line (at only 3.9 attempts per game, it should be noted), fantasy owners should anticipate some monster numbers for Smith in the months ahead.
Meanwhile, is Terrence Ross about to take off? In limited run his last two games (just 24 minutes per game off the bench), the No. 8 overall pick has averaged 21.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.0 spg and 5.0 treys, including 26 points, five rebounds, two steals and six 3s in a blowout win over Portland on Wednesday. Expand the trend to his last nine games, and Ross has posted 12.1 ppg, 0.9 spg and 2.1 3s in an average of just 21 minutes. That doesn’t exactly make him a must-add player, but there are a number of reasons to be excited. Among them: wildly explosive athleticism, a team that has no good reason not to keep playing him (and eventually increase his minutes), and a quote from teammate Jose Calderon saying: "he needed some time to get used to the speed of the NBA,” with “needed” being in the past tense because Ross has indeed adjusted. I don’t think we can expect consistency just yet, and he may not be ready to contribute much outside of points, 3s and steals, but this is a player to follow closely at the very least.
Meanwhile, what in the name of Rik Smits is going on with Roy Hibbert? (Yes, we have now what-in-the-name-of’d both Loy Vaught and Rik Smits in this column. Apparently I’m feeling nostalgic again.) As for Hibbert, there are both positive and negative developments to consider here. First, the positive: He’s averaging a career-high 2.7 bpg (third-best in the league). That's a lot. Now, the negative: He’s averaging just 9.6 ppg (lowest since his rookie year) on a career-low 40.0 percent shooting. That’s pretty grotesque for a player who stands 7-foot-2, but it also just doesn’t seem likely to continue. Hibbert is averaging almost exactly the same attempts per game as he did last year, and his non-shooting numbers are right on par with 2011-12, so I would try not to overthink it, and expect him to get back to shooting better (and back to averaging 12 or so ppg) before long. Throw a buy-low offer in another owner’s direction if the opportunity is there.
Random Thoughts, Part 1: If owners in your league don't have a lot of patience for injuries, it’s worth taking a look to see if Patrick Patterson was dropped while sidelined. He had 15 points, 10 boards and a trey in just 23 minutes on Wednesday, and was posting an interesting combo of points, 3s and blocks before getting hurt. … Normally I’d say float a buy-low offer on Paul Millsap after he posted his first zero-rebound game since 2009 on Wednesday. However, Millsap’s minutes, shot attempts, points, rebounds and steals are all down from last year, and I’m not optimistic that he’ll return anything better than mid-round value the rest of the way. … Though Kris Humphries sprained his ankle on Wednesday, he still has some buy-low appeal (assuming that the price is very low). He had 11 points, seven rebounds, a steal and a block on Wednesday and could potentially benefit from a regime change in Brooklyn.
Random Thoughts, Part 2: I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: Goran Dragic looks like he’s on the verge of a breakout. His last three games: 17.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 8.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 1.7 bpg, 1.0 3s. Another good sign: He’s getting to the line a lot (28 attempts in his last three games). The only bad news there: He has hit just 17 of them (60.7 percent). … He hasn’t done much since returning (5.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.0 apg), but I’m keeping an eye on Hedo Turkoglu. There’s enough opportunity in Orlando for a nice low-level impact once he’s back up to speed. … Alonzo Gee has started every game this season, averages 34 minutes per game and posted a nice line on Wednesday night (16-10-6 against the Kings), but overall he is a bland fantasy option. In his last 11 games, Gee has posted 10.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.6 bpg and 0.5 3s. … Speaking of the Cavs, I know that some people like to add C.J. Miles to their fantasy roster from time to time, but I’m not one of them. Yes, he has averaged 15.8 ppg and 3.1 3s in his last 12 games, but he is wildly inconsistent and flat-out hurts you in multiple categories (3.4 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.3 bpg during his 12-game run). … Beware of what you’re getting (or in this case, not getting) if you pick him up for points and 3s.