Clipper Blake Griffin Causing Widespread Posterphobia

Blake Griffin has created a lot of interest in the Clippers this season. So far it hasn't translated into wins, but it's a great show.

Something strange is happening with the Clippers. It’s not strange that they have the worst record in the NBA; that’s sadly to be expected from a team that has had a mere two winning seasons in their 26-year history in Los Angeles. What’s strange is that even as they pile up the losses (an NBA-high 15 at this point, though they did get two wins last week), there is a buzz and an optimism surrounding the team totally incongruous with their winning percentage.

The Clippers have been on national TV four times this season, including their exclusive appearance on TNT on Thanksgiving night in which they trounced the Kings. And any night the Clippers are playing, you can pretty much rest assured that ESPN SportsCenter is going to prominently feature Clippers highlights. If the NBA were to start tracking a highlight-to-win ratio, the Clippers would no doubt lead the league by a wide margin.

What is making the Clippers must-see TV? Blake Griffin.

Griffin was the first overall pick in the 2009 draft. He’s supposed to be good, we knew that going into the season. He was outstanding over the course of his first dozen or so games, recording double doubles in about half of them. But for the last five games he's been absolutely otherworldly. Nobody knew he was going to be this good.

During those five games he's averaged 29.6 points, 14.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists, while shooting 59% from the field. Wow. The outburst has lifted his scoring average up above the 20-point-per-game mark, making him one of three players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds this season. The other two? Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.

Not only is he on SportsCenter every night - he's also on the Twitterfeeds of some of the NBA's biggest stars. Both LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal were tweeting his praises last week.

Griffin's rampage started with a 44-point performance against the New York Knicks. The points set a new record for Clipper rookies, breaking Eric Gordon's two-year-old mark. But it wasn't just the scoring, it was the way he scored. The game included five Griffin dunks, any of which would have made a lesser dunker's top 10 list for a career. One dunk in particular became an immediate YouTube sensation. If you're one of the few people on earth who hasn't seen it yet, here's your chance. Note how Amare Stoudemire, like LeBron and Shaq, recognizes Griffin in the video.

Blake Griffin dunk, Amar'e Stoudemire nod (via SevenSecondsOrMess)

Since Griffin put Russian rookie Timofey Mozgov on his poster with that massive dunk, NBA opponents have been taking one of two approaches with him. The Kings basically just got out of his way on Thanksgiving Night, letting Griffin proceed unimpeded once he got close to the rim. The Jazz took the other approach and fouled him hard before he got a chance to throw one down (check out the photo above of Griffin being mugged). Whether they clear the way or foul him, these are symptoms of the same disease - posterphobia. The entire NBA is afraid of ending up on Blake Griffin's next poster.

While the interest in Griffin and the Clippers hasn't translated into wins yet, there are legitimate reasons to be excited about the future of the team. Griffin isn't just a poster factory, but an honest-to-goodness force at the power forward. He's already showing improvement in his perimeter shot, and when he starts hitting that shot consistently, there's really no good way to defend him. He simply has a combination of strength and quickness that is unheard of in an NBA power forward. He also has a much better feel for the game than most people realize, as evidenced by his high assist totals in recent games. With seven assists in two of his last five games, it seems like it won't be long before he records his first NBA triple double.

In addition to Griffin, Eric Gordon is enjoying a breakout season, which many suspected he might after his successful summer winning a Gold Medal in Turkey with Team USA. Gordon is currently fifth in the NBA in scoring at 24.3 points per game. Ironically, though he was considered by many just a long range shooter coming into this season, he's actually been ice cold from beyond the three point arc, making just 23% of his attempts from there, well below his career average of 38% coming into the season. If he were making his threes, he'd actually be second in the NBA in scoring. To compensate, he's been attacking the rim relentlessly and getting to the free throw line with great frequency. He's third in the NBA in free throw attempts per game, behind Dwight Howard and LeBron James. Gordon has even been forced to play a lot of point guard this season due to the injuries to Baron Davis and Randy Foye, and he's developing a devastating pick and roll game with Griffin. He's averaging almost five assists per game, well above his career average of three.

Speaking of injuries, Davis and starting center Chris Kaman have been on the sideline for 14 and 10 games respectively. The absence of two veteran players, not to mention two of the team's top three scorers from each of the last two seasons, has clearly contributed to the league worst start. However, it has also created opportunities for other players, and this too is contributing to Clipper optimism.

For the past eight games, the Clippers have been starting a team consisting entirely of players under the age of 23. All of them would still be in college had they not entered the NBA draft early. It is no doubt the first time in the history of the league that such a young team has started.

Rookie Eric Bledsoe stepped into the starting point guard role in just the second week of the season when both Davis and Foye went down. Although Bledsoe looked lost and overmatched during summer league in Las Vegas, he's been a revelation so far as an NBA starter. He still turns the ball over too much, and has a particularly unfortunate knack for making bad passes at crucial points in the game, but this is part of the maturation process.

Unlike Bledsoe, who was forced into the starting lineup because of injuries, fellow rookie Al-Farouq Aminu started getting additional minutes because of the injuries to other players, and worked his way into the starting lineup through his steady play. Like Bledsoe, Aminu has been up and down - he turns the ball over too frequently and tends to get out of control driving to the basket. But he's been unexpectedly good shooting the three ball (he's made 20 of 37, giving him the third highest three point percentage in the league) and his length and athleticism are evident on defense. He's got a long way to go, but he's already come much farther this season than most anyone thought he would. Remember, he's only 20.

With Griffin, Bledsoe and Aminu all currently starting and certain to remain in the rotation even after everyone is healthy, the Clippers have three of the best rookies in the league, and could conceivably have all three selected to play in the Rookie Challenge in February. Griffin of course is likely to go way beyond that level, and is currently the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, and is making a case to be in the All Star Game itself.

The question then is, when, if ever, will any of this translate into wins? The Clippers are producing highlights galore, and developing some very exciting young players, but they've only won three times in five weeks. Hopefully when Davis and Kaman return to the lineup (and both of them should be back by next week) the added depth and experience will help them get over the top in some of the close games they've lost.

But until they start winning, at least you can enjoy the show.

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