Before an NBA season begins, ESPN ranks the 500 best players in the NBA. Some of their rankings are debatable while others are relatively spot-on.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ Blake Griffin — also known as the best dunker in the NBA and one of the league’s players with the most potential to break into the elite top 5 in the next season or two — is ranked at No. 14.
This year’s place on the list drops him from last season’s preview No. 10 positioning.
To be completely honest, I don’t know if I agree with the No. 14 ranking or not. I can see this as being both of the regular ESPN ranking standards — debatable or spot-on.
Griffin has all the talent and physical attributes to be one of the best players the league has ever seen. He is known as a dunker, but could easily expand his offensive game as a great mid-range shooter. Besides simply scoring, he could become a solid low-post passer and a pick and roll player if Clippers’ coach Vinny Del Negro would smarten up and run the play with him and Chris Paul.
In his two NBA seasons, Griffin has improved vastly in all areas. One could only think he’s only halfway to where he could be.
Defensively, Griffin can swat shots out of the gym, he’s an average one-on-one defender, a fantastic help defender and he grabbed 10.9 rebounds per game. His 2011-12 numbers of 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds a game were top 10 in the league individually — 10th place in points and 6th in rebounding — while they compiled for 41 double-doubles, which was fourth best in the league.
And he can only get better.
Looking at the players ranked above him, Griffin could move up the ladder in the upcoming season to retake his No. 10 rank from a year ago.
No. 13, Andrew Bynum, is no longer with the Los Angeles Lakers and could easily lose his mind as the Philadelphia 76ers go-to-guy. Bynum has had mental crack ups before, but had Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson to lean on.
They’re not in Philly.
Rajon Rondo comes in at No. 12 for being an excellent overall player, but when it comes to offense talent, he could very well be outside the top 40. He has no jumper, doesn’t attack the basket half as much as he should, and doesn’t make All-Star teams if it wasn’t for the talent around him.
Dirk Nowitzki looked horrible for a large majority of last year’s lockout shortened season. If he doesn’t return to shape, Dirk could easily find himself out of the top 20.
On the other hand, each one of these players could legitimately play to their ESPN ranking or beyond, depending on how the season rolls out. Remember the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose was ranked as a top guy for last season, but injuries kept him off the court for majority of the campaign.
I’m going to preach to the choir: No one really know what could happen in any given season.
Dirk could come into this season with a renewed energy because he realizes the Dallas Mavericks are younger and have a full roster of players who can make him look better. He doesn’t have to do everything on the perimeter anymore because of OJ Mayo and Darren Collison. His low-post scoring load has been lightened as well because of Chris Kaman.
These guys will make Nowitzki’s job much easier. He could put up 25 points a night and no one would know because he isn’t the featured offensive monster anymore. They have threats all over the court outside of last year’s only scoring option outside of Dirk — Jason Terry.
Bynum could really become the goon most people think he is. In LA he had to share his looks with Gasol and was never featured as “The Man” because of Bryant.
Well, here is his opportunity to show the world he doesn’t need other All-Star players to be an All-Star himself. He’s put up great numbers on a great team, he could very well do it on an average team.
Rondo might not have to score for him to realistically be a top 12 player because he still has those guys around him that make him look better than he may actually be. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still hungry and Terry — who the Boston Celtics singed as a free agent — adds a long distance threat on the sideline for even more Rondo assists.
He maybe a amazing player by himself, but no one will ever know until he is no longer playing with future Hall of Fame players. His lack of offense makes it hard to believe, but he is an exceptional all-around player opposing teams have to be aware of.
Depending on how these other players perform and handle their in-house decisions, Blake could move up or he could be right where he is listed — No. 14.
Also, we can’t forget, Griffin has to maintain what he has done the last two years and get over the bum knee he injured in Olympic training to secure his spot as a top guy in the NBA. If he can get over his physical aliments there is no reason Griffin can’t be the highly ranked player people want him to be come the 2012-13 season.