Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Blake Griffin is just getting started
By Ramona Shelburne ESPNLosAngeles.com
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- He's at the beginning, we hope. The start of a brilliant career. A hundred more steps to take and challenges to meet.
His ceiling, already so high, isn't even in sight yet.
Which is why it seemed so fitting that the one day Blake Griffin took time out for a well-deserved bow, accepting his award as the NBA's rookie of the year Wednesday afternoon at the Los Angeles Clippers' training facility, he promised to end it, miserably, in front of a television set.
"It's killing me watching these playoff games," he said. "It's making me itchy to get back out there and play."
He's taken three weeks off since he finished his rookie season with a triple-double against the Memphis Grizzlies on April 13. But "off" is a relative term in Griffin's world of budding superstardom.
"I've been as busy as I was during the season, just going here and there for business," he said. "I've worked out at this place near my house a bit, too, swimming, biking, weights. Low-impact stuff.
Blake Griffin is one of only three NBA players in history to be a unanimous choice for NBA rookie of the year.
"And I'll be back here tomorrow to play with some of our guys."
So yeah, about that vacation ... or, at the very least, how about letting one of the most dominant rookie seasons in NBA history soak in a bit?
It hasn't happened yet, and might never.
"Honestly, it's one of those things where maybe I don't really want it to soak in," Griffin said. "I know what [the award] means, and I'm thankful for it. I'm very appreciative.
"But I've got to stay hungry. I've got a lot to prove still."
In the corner of the room, his mother, Gail, could only smile and shake her head. Her youngest son has always been this way: insatiable, dogged, focused.
She worries, as a mother would, that he will push too hard one day, that he has already pushed too hard.
"I started worrying about him back in February with that road trip [before the All-Star Game]," Gail Griffin said. "I could see it wearing on him. But rookies just have to learn that, I guess.
"He loves the game. If he could just play ball and not have so much other stuff. ... But I know that's part of it, and he does, too."
Growing up, he had his older brother Taylor to measure himself against and push himself toward. Now it must come from within.
"I'd like to have him just come home for a couple weeks and just have him all to myself, with my husband and get Taylor home, but that's probably a done deal," Gail Griffin said. "He finishes one thing and he's ready to go on the next."
What's next is what's going to be so fun to watch.
As good of a season as Blake Griffin had -- he joined David Robinson and Ralph Sampson as the only unanimous rookie of the year selections -- he's really still at the beginning of it all.
"There's still so much room for him, and that's what's so scary," Clippers general manager Neil Olshey said. "When he gets to the point where he can make 16- or 17-footers at 60 percent, he'll be unguardable.
"I think even if you break down his game this year, you already see improvement in certain areas like free throw shooting and his assist totals. And honestly, I really think that Blake's biggest growth will come as we get better. A lot of the things that have made the game tougher for him were based on the roster he played with."
Ah, the eternal Clippers lament of injuries and bad luck. This season was no different, as starting center Chris Kaman missed 50 games with an ankle injury and leading scorer Eric Gordon missed 26 with a wrist injury.
But in this case, Olshey was speaking generally as well.
The Clippers know how special Griffin is.
So special, it seems, the franchise that has seen so many beautiful beginnings fizzle into frustrating endings over the years might actually realize the importance of doing right by him and the consequences of it going wrong.
All the Clippers need to do is watch the way he works and listen to him speak.
"I like the way things have gone, but things have to keep going in that direction; they have to keep escalating," Griffin said.
"You can't just make one or two changes and then just kind of let things go. It's a two-sided relationship. You've got to put in as much as we put in. As long as that's happening, this is a great place to be."
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.