Vinny D Must Temper the Tool that is Blake Griffin

Vinny D Must Temper the Tool that is Blake Griffin

While watching the low block monster more commonly known as  Blake Griffin this season, it occurred to me that he does the bulk of his damage in the first and third quarters. I vocalized this observation and was immediately accosted by Blake’s considerable, and fast-growing, fan base, a fan base you can count me among for the record.

As a big fan of both Shawn Kemp and Karl Malone’s games in their days on the hardwood, Griff reminds me of some sort of atomic superman genetically engineered by Hubert J. Farnsworth to capture and manufacture both players’ best athletic attributes.

He comes out of the gate like a beast awakened from a tranquilizer-induced slumber angry beyond belief that he’d been caged and prodded in such a casual manner by such callous hands.

But then he seems to fall back into a stupor for stretches, at least when I do the eyeball test. Let’s take a look at the raw numbers through his first 35 games.

Note: One game was missing from the wonderful Popcorn Machine that was used to probe Griff’s inner workings on the court, December 22 vs the Houston Rockets, as well as the corresponding play-by-play I tried to use in it’s stead. But one game’s worth of sample size is not nearly enough to skew the overall trend, so don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s still accurate data.

Indeed, the eyeball test certainly seems to be backed by the initial statistical findings, with a noticeable discrepancy in the third quarter, especially, between his minutes played and his production.

Is Vinny Del Negro simply not using him correctly, or is it something else?

Over the previous 10 games, games in which the Los Angeles Clippers played very well, going 7-3, the gap in production-to-minutes closed a bit, indicating more efficient time on the floor for Griffin.

Obviously, the next step was to chart his production-per-minute to see if the pattern still held true. Turns out I didn’t have to.

A couple of contemporaries were working up the exact same data sets and nearly identical graphs for SLAM at the exact same time as I was, beating me to the finish line and leaving me somewhat stymied momentarily as to how to proceed.

Check out their excellent work, as it will come into play as we take the next step in the process.

While Griffin is initially approaching “Backward-N” type in raw data sets, we can see by his production-per-minute in Loren and Aaron’s collaboration that he tends to finish at least a little stronger in the fourth quarter as compared to the second and third stanzas.

I came to many of the same conclusions that they did as well, that he may be tiring quickly with all that raw, angry energy expended early on in games.

To further explore this concept I asked the following question:

Does it take more energy to score or rebound?

The responses I got were of the same opinion as my own. Generally speaking, a player expends more energy going after glass than dropping the rock in the bucket. It might take two or three leaps while fending off others to secure a single board, while a shot or dunk is one coiled, preconceived notion, one-and-done in most instances. To grab a rebound in the physical NBA one must position themselves amongst the jostling giants, pushing, leaning while all the time readying ones self to make repeated leaps into the rafters to latch onto an object that was made to bounce thousands of times a game.

No easy task. And one that expends vast amounts of energy to put up the kind of league-elite numbers on the glass that Griffin is.

It would stand to reason, then, that Griff’s rebounds should follow suit, follow the pattern, if he truly is tiring as a given showdown progresses. Let’s take a peek at this premise, using Loren and Aaron’s chart as a control.

The substantial spike in the fourth quarter that bucks the trend would seem to indicate that tiring is not the sole reason for Griffin’s spotty production from quarter to quarter. Of course, you could say that it’s simply garbage time stat padding, but the fact that Griff plays the least amount of minutes in the fourth while at the same time bringing in his most boards-per-minute says otherwise.

If it was the fatigue factor then the spike in third quarter minutes should be playing a bigger role in holding him back from becoming productive again the final one, but in fact Griffin is more productive on the glass in the fourth, per-minute played, than any other.

And it would stand to reason that a nice mental powernap in the locker room at the half should have Griff fresh for a beastly burst in the third, something the raw numbers bear out, while the microscope does not. The third quarter is in fact his worst of the game in terms of production-per-minute, counter-intuitive to what we’d expect to see.

Theories thrown around, in addition to the fatigue factor, range from double-teaming to opposing adjustments to his simply being a rookie and unable to pace himself properly.

As for the Clippers as a team, their production practically mirrors Blake’s with 26.9 points in the first, 25.0 in the second, and dipping to a game-low 22.6 in the third before sneaking back up to 23.2 in the fourth.

It’s pretty clear that even with Griffin’s teammates’ production –yes even taking into account DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon’s propensity to gain momentum as a contest continues– that the Clippers’ success as a winning franchise rests squarely on Blake’s stout shoulders.

The onus therefore falls to head coach Vinny Del Negro to manage and balance the minutes properly to give his guys the best chance for success while maximizing the considerable effect Griffin has on a game. This is never an easy task, even in the simplest of terms, and frankly, I find myself lacking in the faith department when it comes to Vinny D even recognizing the possibility that he needs to do so.

If there’s one thing you can say about Vinny D, it’s that he holds a sway over his players in a positive way that makes ‘em want to win for him. By my count, the Bulls’ players saved his hide no less than two times last season in Chicago when he was quite literally dangling by a string as the head honcho on the bench.

I can’t be sure if the last 10 games’ samples charted here were by his design or by chance, but it’s clear that managing Blake’s ferocity in the first and tempering it so that it becomes more evenly spread throughout each game would lead to more chances to win a given game.

But, hey, what do I know. The Clippers are 9-4 in their last 13 after all.

Now if they could just beat those pesky clubs immediately ahead of them in the standings they might actually make up some real ground toward a potential playoff run in the reeling, injury-riddled and vulnerable midsection of the Western Conference.

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One Response about Vinny D Must Temper the Tool that is Blake Griffin
  1. Loren says:

    Good stuff, Clint. Little slow though… Jokes.

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