Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Should Blake Griffin Be the #1 Pick?

On Thursday evening, David Stern will get up to the microphone in the nee-Felt Forum above Madison Square Garden, wear a tie that will be the subject of 2 or more Bill Simmons jokes, and announce that the Los Angeles Clippers are taking with the first pick overall Oklahoma power forward Blake Griffin. Tens of thousands of articles, blogs, pieces and commentators will say over the next few days that this is the right pick, but that Griffin is cursed because he's a member of the Clippers. We're not here to focus on that. Instead, let's ask a question that everyone is ignoring: should Blake Griffin really go #1?

For the record, we have nothing against Blake Griffin. He's a fine basketball player, seems like a nice guy, and does not appear to be a stiff. But at the same time, he does not appear to be a superstar either. His college performance, while impressive, is reminiscent of guys like Elton Brand and Emeka Okafor. The best analogue in the NBA for him appears to be Antawn Jamison. In other words, he should be a fine pro, a good contributor, and an occasional All-Star. But a star or someone to build your franchise around? Highly unlikely. And when you have the #1 pick, you shouldn't be looking for a solid contributor. You should be looking for a stud.

What's more interesting is that he's not even a good fit for the Clippers roster. Let's examine his impact in three different time horizons.

Short Term (next 1-2 years): He's a power forward, which is the absolute last thing this squad needs. Currently on the Clippers roster is a good veteran center (Marcus Camby), a decent front-court player (Chris Kaman) and a petulant power forward (batshit crazy Zach Randolph). Hell, they also have DeAndre Jordan, a mildly intriguing prospect for the front court. Do they really need another big guy to compete in the next year or two? Didn't think so.

Medium Term (next 3-4 years): Okay fine, Camby's gone in a couple of years, and maybe they buy out the last year of Randolph's contract. Is Griffin really the answer for this roster then? Probably not. The Clippers are still staring at Stiff Kaman in the middle, Aging Baron Davis in the backcourt, and Eric Gordon hoisting up 3's in a contract push. Not only is Griffin unlikely to mesh well with this madness, he's also not going to be thrilled that this team still stinks, and will likely be renting in LA with an eye to being a free agent soon.

Long Term (5+ years): Okay, let's give him the benefit of the doubt that he re-ups after his rookie contract expires (probably at an exorbitant rate), which moves the debate to an analysis of Griffin's long-term upside. And again, he looks like he'll be a solid pro, but spectacular? Unlikely. Do you want him clogging up your cap as a second banana?

Given all of this, is it really the Clippers' best move to take Griffin? I say no. There's two ideas that make a lot more sense and are probably better basketball plays for them:

1. Trade the pick. I noted last year that this is a lot easier said than done, but let's note that the Clippers are picking first overall and that despite my reservations about Griffin, a lot of teams do really like him, and he's the closest thing to a "sure thing" out there. What could they get in return for the first pick? Not to play Simmons Jr., but here's 4 ideas that aren't absurd.
  1. Memphis. The Grizzlies pick right below the Clippers, and appear to be thinking about taking Yinka Dare, er, Hasheem Thabeet. The problem is it's unclear what the Grizzlies could give up besides the #2 pick to compensate the Clippers for their troubles...maybe Mike Conley?
  2. Oklahoma City. At some level the Thunder have the same issue as the Clippers as they don't really need a power forward. However, Griffin would actually be a great fit here, as he could play second fiddle to Kevin Durant for 10 years. Would the #3 pick and some combination of future picks (of which this team has a ton) be enough?
  3. New York. Wait, they fired Isiah? Shit. Next idea.
  4. Sacramento. Assuming you didn't mind what was available at #4, wouldn't that pick plus Jason Thompson make a lot more sense?
2. Take someone else. Is Blake Griffin the player with the most upside in the entire draft class? I don't think so. While some may argue that Thabeet is a potential stud, I disagree. However, Ricky Rubio is a potential stud point guard, and in the end, may be a perfect fit for this team. He wouldn't have to start immediately, which is good because he's 17 years old. He'd have 2 years of apprenticeship with Davis, (assuming Davis doesn't get dealt--a fair assumption), and could take over the reins just when the Gordon-Al Thornton-Jordan-next lottery pick core was ready to mature. And based on his international play, he won't be a stiff, and may be a stud point guard in 2-4 years. Why not take him?

Taking someone safe with the first pick is a mistake. Taking someone who's a little bit more of a dice roll but could become the face of a franchise is a better idea because elite talent is hard to get in the NBA. So Clippers, take a fricking chance. Pass on Griffin, let him toil in Memphis for the next 4 years, and make your next point guard of the future Ricky Rubio.


Teddy said...

True story--in junior high I attended a basketball camp at which Yinka Dare (then in prep school) was a counsellor. I beat him in a free throw shooting contest, 7/10 to 6/10.

El Angelo said...

The minute you passed the ball, you beat him in assists, too.