When the Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated by the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs last week, it was quite clear that the lack of a healthy Blake Griffin really hurt them. Griffin was a game-time decision for Game 5 and when he eventually came in off the bench, he was well below 100 percent. He tried his best to carry the Clippers anyway, but the Grizzlies prevailed and Griffin’s athleticism was sorely missed in Game 6.
Griffin has now been in the league for a three years and he’s established himself as a star player. It’s not just his funny car commercials, or even his thrilling dunks–he’s the second-best player on one of the better teams in the Western Conference. Griffin’s emergence begs the question of where he ranks among the best power forwards in the league. Could he possibly be the best?
The current slate of power forwards is a bit tricky to sift through. Many of the best players at the position either underachieved this season, were injured for significant amounts of time or both. Kevin Love missed most of the 2012-13 season and when he was in the lineup, it was clear that he wasn’t his usual self, as he struggled to shoot from the field before he was eventually shut down for the year. When Love has been healthy, his raw numbers have been superior to that of Griffin, but he has yet to take his team to the playoffs. Considering Love’s injury concerns and his lack of playoff experience, I’d give a slight edge to Griffin now, but that could change if Love takes the Minnesota Timberwolves on a playoff run next season.
Dirk Nowitzki also missed significant time this season, which was a big reason why the Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade this year. When he was in the lineup, he struggled mightily upon initially returning, but thrived after the All-Star break, when he looked a lot more like his old self. At this point, comparing Grfffin to Nowitzki is inconclusive until we know if Dirk truly has his groove back or if his hot run at the end of this season was merely a fluke.
Pau Gasol also missed time this season and put up the lowest numbers of his career. On the other hand, he also played extremely well towards the end of the season, putting up two triple-doubles in a three-game stretch. As with Nowitzki, it’s tough to get a good feel for where Gasol is. This season might represent a player who is past his prime, but it could simply be the consequence of so any things going against the Los Angeles Lakers this season. That being said, when you consider how much younger Blake is and his impressive athleticism, I’d give him the edge.
Is Blake Griffin the best power forward in the NBA? It’s hard to say. After all, he did struggle to defend Zach Randolph in the Grizzlies series (those two really don’t like each other, huh?), but that could just as soon be chalked to him not being at full health. In any case, Griffin is certainly among the best at his position. He’s refined his game considerably over the past three years, as he can now hit mid-range shots instead of relying solely on his athleticism. As Griffin continues to mature and hone his skills, he will get even better. If Blake Griffin from 2020 came in his Kia Time Machine to visit Blake Griffin from 2013, I’d sure he’d tell him things are just going to get better.