“SportsCenter” wouldn’t be complete without him. And despite some dissent across the league, it’s safe to say the All-Star game wouldn’t be, either.
Blake Griffin earned the honor as the first rookie to make the All-Star Game since 2003 by assaulting both NBA rims and opponents’ egos on a nightly basis. The former No. 1 pick has become a YouTube sensation and a fan favorite while guiding the Clippers out of obscurity.
“He’s a human highlight film,” said Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, who actually had to laugh when recounting the now-famous Griffin throw-in dunk over Timofey Mozgov. “He’s unbelievable. It just happened to have been Timmy, but it could’ve been anyone. He’s one of the hardest and highest jumpers I’ve ever seen.”
Mozgov, who had the best/worst view, said he caught a lot of flack for being posterized and agreed that Griffin is worthy of showcasing his skills on the All-Star stage.
“What do you want me to say?” Mozgov sheepishly said with a shrug. “He’s really strong. He can run and can shoot. He can dunk.”
When asked to recount the dunk, the always stand-up Mozgov didn’t shy away from it.
“I remember everything,” he said with an awkward smile. “That [next] morning all my friends sent messages and [were] joking and making funny. … But it’s basketball and it happens every time. But we won the game even maybe though he dunked like ten times.”
Not every NBA player has been as gracious when discussing Griffin’s selection. Portland Trail Blazer Andre Miller grumbled that too much hype and respect has been given to Griffin too soon, while a vet – like Miller’s teammate LaMarcus Aldridge – gets overlooked.
“I’m not a hater. But [Griffin] hasn’t made anyone better,” Miller said. “They are giving young guys too much respect.”
Phil Jackson, following what was perhaps his final visit to the Garden on Feb. 11, disagreed. Jackson noted that teammate Baron Davis, never known to be a gym rat, has ratcheted up his intensity and is in the best shape in years.
“He’s gotten Baron Davis to…play hard,” said Jackson. “And [the same goes for] his effect on other veteran teammates, as well … he’s reinvigorated the entire Clippers organization.”
Furthering to contradict Miller’s statement are Griffin’s stats, as they are comparable to many of today’s frontcourt greats. Griffin leads all power forwards in assists [3.5] and is fourth in offensive rebounding. Griffin, who’s averaging 23 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 51 percent shooting, said he’s humbled by all the attention but won’t stop working to win over the haters.
“It’s an honor and I really appreciated getting voted in and all of that. But I know I still have a lot of work to do to be where I want to be. It is cool [and] it’ll be fun,” he said, adding he knows not all are happy with his selection. “For every ten people out there that love me, there are ten people out there that hate me. You have to keep that in the back of your mind and just take everything with a grain of salt.”
Clippers fans are taking the selection with a huge sigh of relief. After being selected No. 1 overall in 2009, Griffin missed all of last season with a stress fracture in his left knee. Rather than get swallowed up by hype and hard times like the Clippers previous No. 1 overall pick Michael Olowokandi, the basketball center trapped in a linebacker’s body pushed through recovery and the Clippers are reaping the rewards in 2011.
“In a way it [being selected] has surprised me a little bit. But the best part about all of this is how my teammates and coaching staff have continued to bring me along and help me in every step of the way. I think that’s been the key,” he said. “I do want to say much love to my teammates. I share this honor with them. [But] at the same time, there are a lot of guys who deserve to be in that game, in my opinion. There are a lot of guys who are worthy.”
Amar’e Stoudemire obviously wasn’t a surprise to make it but said Griffin’s selection also wasn’t a shock. Perhaps because Griffin had a great mentor.
“I remember when Blake was first coming out [of high school], he was at my skills academy camp,” said Stoudemire, who went toe-to-toe with Griffin in their L.A. duel when Stoudemire notched 39 points. “I think I showed him too many skills.”
D’Antoni, who coached a young Stoudemire in Phoenix, said the two are comparable. He said upon entering the league, both were young, raw talents who weren’t afraid of victimizing veterans en route to crushing dunks. And added that their main weapon of choice – the dunk – can be a powerful tool.
“It changes the strength of the team,” D’Antoni said when asked if a huge dunk can change momentum. “Your other players feed off that stuff. We have that with Amar’e and they have that with Griffin.”
D’Antoni then added that teams will eventually figure Griffin out if he doesn’t develop a jumper like Stoudemire but added the caveat that Griffin is further along in other areas, making him an obvious choice for all-star status.
“If you watch his [Stoudemire] game he takes more punishment on the offensive end. That’s where the punishment comes in, not on the defensive end,” he said with a laugh, digging at Stoudemire’s occasional defensive lapses. “He doesn’t take it on the defensive end [like Griffin]. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of wear and tear there.”
Griffin, for his part, said he appreciated the kudos from the Knicks and the rest of the league but added the goodwill won’t make him complacent.
“All of the areas, to be honest,” Griffin said when asked what he needs to improve. “There’s not a single area I’m satisfied with. I have to keep improving my overall game. It’s not going to happen tonight. I’m not going to wake up tomorrow being able to do all of these new things. I want to do them, but it’s going to take time.”