Blake Griffin’s game always seemed to be missing one component — a consistent mid-range jumper that his critics said he lacked.
He could rebound and block shots and throw down acrobatic dunks and even post up with relative success, but could be hit the 18-footer?
In his first three seasons with the Clippers, the answer was no. But so far this season, Griffin’s game has taken a big step forward with his outside shooting.
There was no better proof than Wednesday night’s 112-85 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats at Staples Center. Griffin scored 31 points on 14 of 20 shooting, but the most impressive stat was that seven of his baskets came from a distance of 16 feet or more, including one three-pointer.
At the suggestion that he may have conquered the final frontier to becoming a total offensive package, however, Griffin objected.
"No, I have a lot of work to do in a lot of areas," he said Thursday before the Clippers practiced. "It’s an area that I’m working on but not the final frontier."
Of course, it shouldn’t be. Griffin is only 24 years old, and his game is still evolving. But being able to make mid-range jumpers on a regular basis adds a piece to his game that defenses must consider when defending him.
In the past, his teammates might have squirmed in their seats when he fired up a 20-footer. Now they believe he’s going to make them.
"I think we have the utmost confidence in B.G.," guard Chris Paul said. "He works so hard, and it’s great to see it all come together. (Wednesday’s game) was unreal. They didn’t know what to do."
Most teams don’t, primarily giving Griffin a chance to prove he can make those shots. But this season, he’s proving worthy of attention, converting 67 of 169 from 16 feet or more (39.6 percent), an improvement of more than five percent over his career average.
I just put in work…it pays off eventually.
-- Blake Griffin
In addition, Griffin has already made seven three-pointers, matching the total of his previous two seasons combined.
"The key for him is what he’s done," coach Doc Rivers said. "He keeps mixing it up. It’s amazing when you look at his big-scoring nights. One night it was all posts. I think he had very little post points (Wednesday) night; just transition (points) and jump shots. It’s nice when you’re able to do both."
Griffin’s improvement is a result of the work he did over the summer with Clippers shooting coach Bob Thate. He’s reaping the rewards because of constant repetition, not a change in his shooting mechanics.
"I just put in work — working with our shooting coach, working over the summer, the work you put in during the season," he said. "It pays off eventually."
He has also seen results in his free-throw shooting. Griffin, who started the season as a career 61-percent foul shooter, is making almost 70 percent this season. In 17 games since Dec. 1, he has converted 101 of 133, 76 percent.
"By the end of the year, I want to be in the high to mid-70s and then keep building upon that," he said.
He’s well on his way. Griffin has already been named NBA Western Conference player of the week twice, and he is currently the only player in the league averaging 20 or more points, 10 or more rebounds and three or more assists while shooting at least 50 percent from the field.
Friday night, when the Clippers travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks, Griffin will have a tough assignment covering 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki, a 15-year veteran who is still an offensive threat, averaging 20.9 points.
"He’s very disciplined," Griffin said. "That’s what makes him so tough. It’s tough to tell what he’s doing or what his next move is, and then it seems at the last second, when you realize he’s going up for a shot, it’s too late.
"You just have to do your work early and make him as uncomfortable as possible and make him put it on the ground a little bit more."