I happened to stumble upon an interesting article on ESPN Insider written by ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Palmer. You can check it out here, but unless you’re an Insider, you won’t be able to get full access to it. Essentially, it’s an episode of sorts, from Palmer’s running series “Who’s Better?”, and this episode pits Blake Griffin against Kevin Durant.
Palmer compares the two in areas such as key strength, key weakness, and special skill. At the conclusion of the comparison, Palmer makes a verdict and attempts to verify it. Palmer even prefaces his article with a quick run-down:
In this space we’ll break down the best individual matchup of the week to see who’s the better player. But toss out career accomplishments or potential. This is about ability — strengths, weaknesses, intangibles — and who gives his team the best chance to win.
Pretty friggin good idea for a running column there Chris, I like it. But what’s so interesting about this particular episode, is your verdict. Palmer runs down the comparisons, with the total column advantage dead even, 2-2, but comes to the conclusion that the winner of this “Who’s Better?” match-up, is Blake Griffin-dor. Say whattt???
Palmer concludes that Griffin is the superior player at this point because of various reasons: “the league has simply never seen anything like Griffin’s skill set before,” “Griffin is a raw, mountain of a power forward in the early stages of understanding the NBA game, yet still averages a full assist more than the highly skilled Durant. He already does a lot of little things better, too. For example, passing out of double teams,” and “Durant is a phenomenal talent who can explode for 40 on any given night. But there’s a way to deal with him — be physical and push him as far out as possible to disrupt his rhythm,”
Valid points, Palmer, but put the crack pipe down real quick and let’s realize what we’re doing here. I agree with you, Griffin is a mountain of talent, with the potential to be one of the most unique and powerful forces to ever step onto an NBA floor. He could potentially have a Yao-like effect on every possession. But you said it yourself, we’re NOT talking about potential here. (side note: Durant’s potential isn’t anything to shake a leg at, in fact, I’d say Durant has a more promising potential because he doesn’t rely purely on athleticism, a trait that most see trickle away in their mid-to-late 30’s).
What we are talking about, is the here and now. Durant is the best scorer in the game right now, period. Kid can light it up all over the floor, so offensively, there’s no comparison. Defense is NOT Durant’s best attribute, but neither is it Griffin’s. Durant is one of the weaker defenders on his team, but in Griffin what we have is an above average OFF the ball defender at best, and a sub par on the ball defender. Griffin hits the boards with amazing tenacity, but he’s a PF, he should average more rebounds compared to Durant’s SF position.
With all that said, we still need to think about what I like to call the “Kevin Love factor”, which essentially has to do with a really, really good player who happens to star on a really, really bad team. Love is putting up numbers in Minnesota that are as believable as the Balloon boy’s parents, yet he barely gets an All-Star nod. Reason being, SOMEBODY has to score and rebound in Minnesota, and since nobody but Love seems to be capable of doing so, his numbers get inflated. Do I think Kevin Love is a bum? Hell no. Do I think that he’d put these numbers up on say, the Orlando Magic? No. But, Kevin Love is a top-tier talent in this league, who would be an All-Star starting for any team. It’s just, his numbers wouldn’t be historical.
So taking the Love factor into account, we need to acknowledge that Blake’s stats are a bit inflated. So with Palmer making points that Blake is averaging a full assist more than Durant and that Blake would only be a point or two below Durant’s averages if he improved his foul shooting, the Love factor proves that these are somewhat overblown. Blake’s a hell of a passer, absolutely. But Palmer goes on to state that Blake has passed out of the double-team for assists on 85 threes compared to Durant’s 40. Shit, the dude is such a good passer because he’s almost always double-teamed. Why would a team let Blake go one-on-one on the block when they can leave Eric Gordon, or Mo Williams, or Al-Farouq Aminu, or Randy Foye open on the 3-point line to double Griffin? Any player with a slight bit of anticipation can feel/see the double coming and pass out of it immediately. I’m not saying Griffin doesn’t have an obvious skill at passing the ball, I’m just saying it’s not above and beyond Durant’s ability.
Continuing with the Love factor, we need to look at Durant’s teammates, mainly Russel Westbrook. Westbrook is fast emerging as one of the best PGs in today’s game, and Durant is sharing a lot of his offensive load with Westbrook already. It’s not like Westbrook is a solid jump-shooter, so Durant can’t kick it to him for an open three when he wants, much like Griffin does to his more than adequate jump-shooting teammates. Westbrook is a bully. He drives, slashes, and uses his athleticism to score. That type of game does not lend itself well to earning assists for teammates. It also lends itself well to streaks. When Westbrook is rolling, the ball HAS to be in his hands. If he hits two runners in a row, the Thunder continually clear it out for him to keep going, and it works. Do you think we’ll ever see the Clips iso DeAndre Jordan after he makes two jump hooks? How about for Eric Bledsoe? Nah, bout as much chance of that happening as there is of Donald Sterling inviting Baron Davis to his 4th of July cookout (he wouldn’t, and it’s not because of their bad-blood, it’s more because Sterling is REALLY cheap, and he knows inviting B-Diddy means he’d have to cook an entire extra cow just to satisfy his hunger).
Blake’s athleticism is amazing. Most thunderous dunks and aggressive rebounds I’ve seen since the individual formerly known as Shawn Kemp graced the hardwood (pre-booze, post-coke). But, a better player than Kevin Durant? Right now? Palmer did himself in when he compared the two’s intangibles. For Blake he addressed the “Intimidation” intangible, saying the fear Blake’s dunks put in other teams’ hearts is comparable to taking their manhood. Palmer felt that this was a prevailing intangible over Durant’s “Attitude”. I gotta say, Chris, you seem to me to be the typical rec center baller, choosing style over substance. I don’t understand.
Palmer says of Durant’s “Attitude” : “There’s no bigger cheerleader for the Thunder than its best player. After a teammate’s dunk, assist or drawn charge, Durant is fist-pumping and working his teammates into a lather, regardless of whether he’s having a good game or not” and he even quotes Durant’s coach, Scott Brooks as saying: “What he does for team spirit you can’t measure,”
Attitude? Palm-pilot, where I’m from, we call that leadership, and in the NBA, in any form of basketball, shit, in the entire country of America, leadership is the trump card of intangibles. A skill that cannot be acquired, leadership is bestowed upon only the select few. Durant should be insulted when Palmer refers to this as “Durant’s boyish enthusiasm”. In a league full of ho-hum take it as it goes guys, alls it takes is a rally around me, rah-rah leader to will a team to an extra 10 victories a year. Durant’s leadership is the reason the Thunder arrived to the land of winning last year, much sooner than anybody expected from such a young team. His leadership is why the Thunder own the 7th-best win percentage improvement of all-time (upped win % from .280 to .610 [+.330] from 08-09 season to the 09-10 season). Ahead of Durant’s Thunder on that list? Two Celtics teams that added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007 and some dude named Bird in ’79, a Bucks team that added Lew Alcindor in ’69, two Spurs teams that added David Robinson ’89 and Tim Duncan in ’97, and a Suns team that added two-time MVP Steve Nash in ’04. That’s pretty good company if you ask me. Throw in the fact that in that turnaround year, Durant’s eighth-seeded Thunder squad pushed the defending champions and #1-seed L.A Lakers to 7 games and I think we’ve got the makings of the most effective type of floor generals- the silent but deadly type.
Blake’s a beast. A dog. A monster. A problem. But Kevin Durant’s a top-5 player. Maybe even top-3. On any given night the dude’s a danger to drop fitty. Someday, I may read this and think to myself what was I thinking? That’s how good Blake could be, SOMEDAY. But not today Palmer, NOT TODAY!
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