Blake Griffin might be the most criticized star player in the NBA right now. From his defense to his shooting to “all he can do is dunk!” it might not even be close. It’s odd, at least when you look at his numbers. The 6-10 power forward has improved every year — he hasn’t forgotten about the dunks, either — and if he isn’t the best power forward in the league, he’s right there.
But Anthony Davis is no slouch. The Pelicans’ second-year star might be the most intriguing young player in the league, and will certainly develop into an MVP candidate for years to come, barring injury. The two forwards are completely different talents, yet today we’re asking the question. Who would you rather have: Blake Griffin or Anthony Davis? We argue. You decide.
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Don’t be blinded by the high-flying, fast-breaking, dunk-slamming style of Blake Griffin. Although easily one of the league’s more entertaining big men, Blake falls short when we examine both sides of the court. Let’s consider two key concepts when choosing between Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin: consistency on offense, and dominance on defense.
Firstly, in terms of offensive production it’s a near stale mate. When we look close it’s hard to see a clear advantage for either player. Griffin’s athleticism and inside game is better — he finishes 62 percent of the time at the rim and Davis finishes 60. However, Anthony Davis is the more comfortable midrange shooter. Along with scoring, their rebounding is dead even. Per 36 minutes, .2 rebounds per game is the margin of difference.
Let’s take a look at the raw offensive numbers:
Griffin: 36.2 MPG, 22.0 PPG, .520 FG percentage, 7.6 FTA, .702 FT percentage, .573 TS percentage
Davis: 34.6 MPG, 19.2 PPG, .526 FG percentage, 5.7 FTA, 76 FT percentage, .578 TS percentage
They’re both efficient scorers on a solid volume of attempts. You give Anthony Davis the extra two minutes a game, it gets even closer. I’m highlighting how close they are on purpose for one reason: potential. Griffin is 24 years old in his fourth season, and Davis is 20 years old in his second season. It’s not like Blake Griffin is a grandfather but when it’s this close why wouldn’t you take the guy with four less years of mileage? The other thing to factor in here is Griffin has the league’s best point guard running his offense. Jrue Holiday is no Joe Schmo but you have to concede there isn’t a single person who’d take him over Chris Paul.
So we have two big men producing similar numbers in different ways on offense. What about defense? This is where I make it easy to choose Davis. It’s no secret Blake Griffin has been labeled as soft. Chauncey Billups said Griffin might be, “too nice.”
We all remember when Matt Barnes had his infamous ejection against the Thunder earlier this season, where afterward he tweeted, “Love my teammates like family but done standing up for these N*****! All this **** does is cost me money.”
Now all that aside, Davis won the NABC award, given to college basketball’s best defensive player. At Kentucky he broke the freshman block record with 183 swats. He only fell 24 blocks short of David Robinson‘s all time college record (207). The Admiral was an All-Defensive team member on eight separate occasions, just for a point of reference.
Synergy Sports ranks Griffin 217th at opposing points per possession. They rank Anthony Davis at 114. Davis is averaging 3.1 blocks per game, which is first in the NBA. Griffin is averaging .6 blocks per game. Davis is also averaging 1.4 steals per game, to Griffin’s 1.1 steal average. When you look at advanced statistics meant to outline the output of a player on a whole, you can see the difference. Davis is sixth in the league for player efficiency rating (26.3); Griffin ranks 18th (21.8). Davis’s defensive rating is over six points better than that of his team this season. Griffin’s is only two points better than that of his team. Davis is averaging .210 win shares per 48 minutes, (WS/48). Griffin is averaging .182 WS/48. What does all that mean? It means that you can anchor your team around Davis at both ends of the floor, something that can’t be said for Griffin.
People forget far too often, especially in basketball, that defense matters. Davis, in his second year, is already the key cog in the Pelicans offense and defense. Griffin, at 24, isn’t the key offensive or defensive piece.
I am fortunate enough to witness premier basketball talent on a nightly basis.
I see LeBron James make shooting 60 percent look easy. I see Kevin Durant score 29 points per game, and appear like it was just another day in the office. Through all the constants, there is always another player preparing himself to elevate his game to the next level.
When thinking of a player that fits that stereotype, Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis immediately come to mind. Anthony Davis is 20 years old, and currently in the early stages of his second NBA season. Through all of the Pelicans’ early season issues, his play is one of the main reasons why New Orleans has not fallen into an even deeper hole in the Western Conference.
Blake Griffin, in his fourth season, has shown real promise. He continues to improve each year on both sides of the ball, and most importantly, his post game is becoming something that opposing coaches need to gameplan for.
At this stage in their careers, Blake Griffin is better and more valuable than Anthony Davis.
Examining Griffin’s first year, and comparing it with Davis, it is clear that Griffin was the more productive player in a similar situation. Griffin’s first year with the Clippers saw the team post a record of 32-50 while he averaged 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and a PER of 21.9. Davis’ Hornets (now Pelicans) posted a record of 27-55 while he averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists and a PER of 21.7. Across the board, Griffin posted a significantly better stat-line than Davis.
Both Griffin and Davis have greatly improved from their rookie seasons. Blake has consolidated his place among the league’s best power forwards. Davis has been excellent this season, but his age factors in the issue of if he can sustain his current level of play for more than one season.
One factor that Griffin does not have the edge in is defense. Davis’ superior length and instincts make him a stout rim protector, something Griffin has lacked in the early stages of his career. But again, Blake displays improvement. Actually, opponents are shooting 38.6 percent against Blake in the range of 5-9 feet.
The three-time All-Star is often criticized for only dunking, or relying on his athletic ability to score the majority of his points. This is one of the biggest fallacies in the NBA today. Griffin averages three dunks per game, which is a total of six points. His scoring average so far this season is 22 points per game, so the rest of his offensive production cannot be all slam dunks and alley-oops. His work inside has improved every season; Griffin is shooting 67 percent on shots coming inside the paint.
So what does all this mean? Davis has a high upside; I am confident he will become a star on both sides of the floor. But before I set anything in stone, I need to see him add more to his sample size.
Griffin, on the other hand, has four years of impressive play under his belt. He improves every year where his critics state he is weak. His defense was an issue, so he took the necessary steps in becoming a better all-around defender. His lack of post moves was an issue… Griffin is now a polished inside presence.
Griffin’s experience gives him the edge over Davis. In a year or two, Griffin will be in the conversation as the league’s best power forward.
Who would you take right now?
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