Nylon Calculus

Blake Griffin has been playing Moreyball


The Chris Paul trade raised many questions about its potential impact on the Clippers offense in general and Blake Griffin in particular. Many assumed that the five-time All-Star forward would shoulder a heavier offensive load, perhaps making greater use of his passing skills to help fill the facilitation void from the Point God’s departure.

This assumption led to further concerns about Griffin’s effectiveness in an expanded role. After all, he had been moving away from the rim and settling for long mid-range jumpers over numerous seasons before bucking that trend last year. Even with the additions of Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, Patrick Beverley and others, as well as Doc Rivers’s renewed emphasis on ball movement, it was fair to wonder whether Griffin would thrive under these circumstances.

A nine-game sample offers far from conclusive evidence, but early signs have been encouraging. Griffin has risen to the occasion, stepping back beyond the arc and concentrating on shots in relatively high-value zones:

 

 

Nearly a third of Griffin’s field goal attempts have been 3-pointers, up from his career-high 12 percent last year. While his success rate (42 percent) seems likely to regress, there are other positives in the details.

First, Griffin has attempted 3-pointers on a consistent basis. If we dig deeper into his shot chart, we can see that he has put up a minimum of three jumpers from downtown in every game against different types of defenses.

 

 

Of course, in light of the many different ways that Griffin can wreak havoc on offense, opponents have almost certainly been willing to grant the 3-point shot to a traditionally low-volume, 32 percent shooter. If he proves that he can knock it down with some regularity, defenses may play him tighter and force him inside the arc, thereby reducing his attempts from downtown. Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see him take advantage of the opportunities that are currently presented to him. It indicates his increased confidence in the 3-point jumper.

Second, Griffin has shown an improved ability to create such shots on his own. Less than 60 percent of his made 3-pointers have been assisted, down from his 85 percent career mark and lower than the average rate that comparable players tend to post. He has generated 3-point opportunities in numerous ways — from simply pulling up off the dribble when the defender gives him space (especially on the left side of the court) to stepping back behind the arc with various degrees of difficulty. In the long run, based on the relative inefficiency of pull-up shots, perhaps Griffin is bound to scale down these attempts to an optimal level. But the fact that he has the capacity to create 3-pointers for himself is beneficial for a whole host of reasons.

Overall, Griffin’s 3-point shooting has largely supplanted field goal attempts from the mid-range. Whereas 34 percent of his shots last season were taken in this latter zone, only 10 percent have been there thus far. Griffin has even paired his 3-pointers with more frequent attacks at the rim to elevate the efficiency of his offensive game:

 

 

Approximately 79 percent of the shots taken by Griffin thus far have been in the restricted area or the 3-point range — much higher than the 52 percent that he compiled last year. This rate puts him in the top 15 among players with at least 75 field goal attempts.

Naturally, such an aggregate measure overlooks many important contextual details, including offensive role, workload and balance between the two components. Among the players ahead of Griffin are 3-point specialists like Ryan Anderson, rim runners like Clint Capela and low-volume role players like Kelly Oubre Jr. Once shot creation, usage and versatility are accounted for, Griffin’s “Moreyball” status becomes even more impressive. It might very well turn out to be short-lived, but it’s intriguing to consider the possibility that he might take his game to another level at a time when the Clippers are turning the page from the CP3 chapter.



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