On May 4th, 2011, Blake Griffin took home the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
It was the inevitable ending to what was a historically great rookie season, and one that brought a newfound level of excitement to a franchise desperate for it. The season before Blake was drafted, the Clippers were 22nd in the league in attendance. By Blake’s 2nd season, the Clippers jumped all the way up to 7th in attendance. It should be mentioned that the arrival of Chris Paul had a lot to do with the spike in attendance, but it is also undeniable that Blake’s instant greatness was the shot in the arm that kickstarted it all.
Instant greatness is perhaps an understatement when describing Blake Griffin’s rookie season. Between then and now, Blake has accumulated 10 years in the league, 6 All-Star Game appearances, 5 All-NBA teams, a top-3 MVP finish, and countless highlights. While the career resume is loaded, there are a couple of plays that stand the test of time. The Mozgov dunk is one of them.
Everyone has seen the Mozgov dunk. Ralph Lawler said it best when he pointed out that it single handedly changed Mozgov’s name to a verb. The popularity of this dunk is undeniable, but unknown to many, is that it came in a game that made NBA history. On November 20th, 2010, Blake Griffin dropped 44 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists in just his 14th career game. The only other player to post such a stat line in their rookie season was Oscar Robertson in 1960. It is safe to say that instant greatness is exactly what Blake brought to the Clippers.
That history making game in November of 2010 was just a preview of what was to come for Blake. He finished that season averaging 22.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG, and 3.8 APG, on 50.6% from the field. Only one other rookie in NBA history has averaged at least 22 PPG, 12 RPG, and 3 APG, on 50% from the field, and it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970. Blake wasn’t just the greatest rookie in Clippers’ history, he was one of the greatest in NBA history.
In the era of social media prevalence, few stars get more attention than LeBron James and Zion Williamson. The potential storyline of Zion taking the throne from LeBron when he retires is appealing, but it has created a narrative about rookie seasons that is not true: Zion is the best rookie since LeBron James. This has been said by too many people, and it completely skips over what Blake did in his 2010-11 campaign. The fact of the matter, is that Blake’s rookie season was better than both LeBron and Zion’s.
Only 45 players in NBA history have made the All-Star team in their rookie season. Blake Griffin is still the most recent player to do it, and that was in 2011. What made that selection to the All-Star team even more special, was that Staples Center was hosting All-Star Weekend. Blake participated in all three events, the Rising Stars challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest, and the All-Star game. Blake put on a show, winning the Dunk Contest, and racking up multiple highlight plays in both the All-Star Game and Rising Stars Challenge. LA’s newest star showed out under the city’s brightest lights.
Redrafting NBA drafts is a popular pastime for fans and media sites. Recently, Bleacher Report ran through a redraft of the 2009 NBA draft that saw Blake Griffin go first overall to the Clippers. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows how I feel about Bleacher Report, but my refutation of their 2009 redraft is purely fact-driven. Steph Curry and James Harden were in that ’09 draft, so Bleacher Report understandably placed them and #1 and #2 in their redraft. There is no denying that those two have had the most successful careers amongst the field, but if we were to actually redo the 2009 NBA draft, Blake Griffin still goes first every time.
On the surface, such a statement may seem ridiculous; however, it is entirely factual. Steph Curry is arguably a top-10 player all time, and James Harden is arguably the greatest scorer of all time. Despite that, Blake Griffin is what the Clippers needed. It has already been highlighted that Blake’s rookie season was nearly one of a kind, as he was putting up numbers only seen by Kareem and the Big O. Blake being so good so fast is what jumpstarted everything for the Clippers. If Blake wasn’t a near top-10 player by 2011, the Clippers would have never traded for Chris Paul to catapult themselves into contention. Without the duo of Chris and Blake, it is unlikely that Doc Rivers ever joins the fold in LA. Without Blake’s aforementioned instant greatness, the respectable Clippers franchise we now know would not have taken shape as quickly as it did.
The Clippers needed something great, and they needed it instantly. Steph Curry, who is one of the greatest players of all time, did not become an All-Star until 2014. James Harden, who is arguably the best scorer ever, did not start more than five games until 2013. The Clippers did not have time to waste. They needed a turnaround of the franchise, and they needed it instantly. That is exactly what Blake Griffin provided.
Nearly a full decade later, and Blake Griffin’s instant greatness is still felt in Los Angeles. As sad as it is that he is no longer in LA to see the fulfillment of the transformation he started, his impact is everywhere. Just looking at the players on the current Clippers’ roster, nearly all of them are here because of what Blake did. Without Blake, there is no Chris Paul. Without Chris Paul, there is no Lou, Bev, or Trezz. That is not to discredit what Chris Paul did in LA in order to warrant such a return, because his greatness is also undeniable, but he would have never been a Clipper if Blake did not put the team in a position to make that deal.
The return the Clippers got in the Blake trade is also incredibly underrated. Tobias Harris turned into Landry Shamet and a first round pick, and Avery Bradley turned into JaMychal Green. The draft pick the Clippers received from Detroit turned in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who we all know was the centerpiece in the Paul George trade. The Clippers look nothing like they did when they drafted Blake Griffin, and the majority of it is due to his instant greatness.
The stats, the evidence, and the highlights all exist. Blake Griffin’s rookie season is not just the greatest since a certain superstar, or the greatest of a certain era, it is one of the greatest ever. Blake being so good so fast changed everything for the Clippers, and it is undeniable that the respectable franchise they have become, would not look the way it does if Blake Griffin was not selected first overall in the 2009 NBA Draft.