LOS ANGELES -- These are the games Blake Griffin will eventually be judged on.
These are the games Griffin can take a sledgehammer to the growing stereotypes about his toughness and skill set and reshape an image that has slowly gone Hollywood.
For much of the Los Angeles Clippers' 106-102 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Griffin was doing just that, but the game played out like the previous four games of their first-round playoff series last season: with the Clippers and Griffin finishing up on the short end of the stick.
Like with most things that go wrong with the Clippers, Griffin will get the brunt of the blame, especially on a night when Zach Randolph had 26 points and 15 rebounds and Marc Gasol had 23 points and nine rebounds.
Griffin’s 23 points and 11 rebounds will likely get lost in the mix, but they shouldn’t.
It was his eighth double-double over the past 10 games and his 98th game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds since the 2010-11 season, which is tied for the most of any player during that time.
Considering the number of critics Griffin has, it’s not hard to make the argument that Griffin might be the most underrated player in the NBA right now.
Yes, you read that right.
How can the player you probably think is the most overrated player in the league actually be the most underrated? Well, it’s easy. When one of the league’s rising stars gets universally labeled as a one-dimensional player whose only redeemable qualities are highlight dunks and funny commercials, it’s easy to forget that Griffin is actually so much more.
He’s one of the most gifted big men in the game and has yet to even touch his potential, despite some who think he already reached it after his third All-Star season.
“What is he, 24 [years old]? He’s going to keep getting better,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I have to remind myself: Blake is really young. I think we all forget that. I know I do at times. I’m on him pretty hard. I ask a lot out of him. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many years you’re in the league as it does your maturity, and it happens at certain ages. I just think he’s going to keep getting better and better.”
Before Monday's game, Griffin was named the Western Conference player of the week after averaging 25.7 points (third best in the conference), 11.3 rebounds (ninth in the conference), 4.7 assists and 1.0 steals in a 3-0 week for the Clippers.
So far this season, Griffin has showcased his improved midrange game, hitting five of seven shots on the right elbow and three of five shots in the short left corner, which are two of the shots he has been working on. He has also been challenged to defend the opposing team's best player most nights, guarding the likes of LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love so far this season. Griffin is also shooting better than 60 percent from the free throw line, including 66 percent this month.
“I was really working on my overall game this summer,” Griffin said. “The biggest thing was working on things I knew I was going to be able to use. They broke it down exactly and said we’re going to be running these plays and you need to work on this shot and that shot. It’s also the first summer I was completely healthy all summer and also the first summer where I really felt I knew what I was working on and why I was working on it.”
Rivers said he was amazed at Griffin’s work ethic when he first joined the Clippers. Griffin would always be the first player on the practice court and would often come to the facility by himself during off days. Rivers would observe Griffin from his office and often chatted with the athletic big man about what would be expected of him.
“If you want to be great, you have to expect there’s going to be pressure on you,” Rivers said. “Chris [Paul] has pressure on him, and so does Blake. I always thought it should be a privilege. I never had pressure on me as a player. I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t have that type of pressure because Dominique [Wilkens] had it all. If you’re in that position, you should look at it as an honor that people think you can be that. That’s a good thing. I always tell my guys to embrace it.”
Paul was one of the first ones to notice Griffin’s improved shot over the summer and in training camp, and has encouraged him to shoot it whenever he gets a chance.
“He’ll tell you in a heartbeat that every time I give it to him, I tell him, ‘Shoot it, shoot it,’ because nobody works on it as much as he does,” Paul said. “I have the utmost confidence in him. It’s fun because we’ve both had the opportunity to grow together. I think we understand each other a lot more, and we’re just going to continue to get better.”