ON HIS firstpossession as an NBA player, in a summer-league game in Las Vegas, BlakeGriffin ran a pick-and-roll with Eric Gordon and scored on a layup. If theClippers are going to compete in the West, that play has to become a StaplesCenter staple.
After decades ofregrettable lottery picks—Michael Olowokandi, Danny Ferry, Bo Kimble, ReggieWilliams and so many more—Los Angeles might have finally figured out this draftbusiness. One year after nabbing Gordon, a dynamic 6'3" wing player whoaveraged 16.1 points as a rookie, the Clippers won the lottery and spent thefirst pick on Griffin, an ultra-aggressive 6'10", 251-pound power forwardfrom Oklahoma whose only mistake so far was wearing a shirt to the draft thatlooked suspiciously like the Lakers' shade of purple. "I'll try to bounceback from that," Griffin says.
The Clippers raveabout everything from Griffin's court savvy (coaches say he did not miss onedefensive rotation in summer league) to his citizenship (he came to the rescueof a stalled motorist near the team's practice facility) to his 9:30 p.m.bedtime ("I'm kind of a loser, I guess," he says). Griffin is aware ofthe supernatural force known as the Clipper Curse but says "there's notenough evidence for me to believe in it." This was after he strained hisright shoulder in summer league and bruised his left knee before trainingcamp.
Griffin andGordon provide a foundation, but point guard Baron Davis has to acceleratetheir growth. After a miserable first season in L.A., Davis trimmed 12 pounds,bringing him down to 215, which should help him direct the up-tempo offensethat coach Mike Dunleavy plans to install. "Six spots are probably lockedup in the West," Dunleavy says. "Two are open." With the 10-yearvet setting up Griffin and Gordon, the leap from 19 wins to a playoff berthsuddenly seems imaginable.
PROJECTEDSTARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
KEY BENCHPLAYERS: F Blake Griffin (R), 22.7 PPG; G Sebastian Telfair, 4.6 APG; G--FRasual Butler, 11.2 PPG; G--F Ricky Davis, 6.4 PPG • New acquisition • (R)Rookie (college stats)
COACH: MikeDunleavy (seventh season with Clippers) • 2008--09 RECORD: 19--63 (fourth inPacific)
POINTS SCORED:95.1 (27th in NBA) • POINTS ALLOWED: 103.9 (25th in NBA)
Average points bywhich opposing bench players outscored the Clippers' reserves last season. Onlyone other team, the Magic (6.0 points per game), had its bench outscored byeven half that much.
ENEMY LINES | ARIVAL SCOUT ON THE CLIPPERS
So much of theirsuccess or failure depends on Baron Davis. If he starts the season in goodshape and they're off to a good start, then they'll be fine, because I do thinkhe'll show some pride coming off last year's disaster. But if they struggle orthey have more injuries, I don't see him leading a big turnaround.... BlakeGriffin is going to have to refine his shot and his footwork, but he's going tobring it right away and people are going to notice. He's able to come off theblock, face up and be quick enough to beat people on the drive. He looks like areal man out there, and that's exactly what they need. They don't have anybodywith that kind of relentless approach.... I was impressed that Eric Gordon wasstill bringing it late in the year as a rookie, in spite of everything going onaround him on that team.... Al Thornton doesn't create for anybody, because heplays with his head down. He was a major mistake player last year. It was kindof like watching the rebirth of Corey Maggette.... DeAndre Jordan is a21-year-old with real potential. So few bigs have that athleticism and mobilityand toughness. He has so much to learn, but in a few years I think he has achance to make it.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (GORDON)
ERIC GORDON With a strong finish to his rookie season, he showed he's a key rebuilding block.
GREG NELSON (GRIFFIN)
BLAKE GRIFFIN The No. 1 pick brings zip to the Clips.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (DAVIS)