Los Angeles Blake Griffin was supposed to get this started last season; instead he broke his left kneecap in the final preseason game.
He was worth the wait.
Griffin’s got the Los Angeles Clippers — a punchline of a franchise for years — actually winning, with nine consecutive victories at home heading into Wednesday night’s game against Chicago at Staples Center. Overall, they’ve won nine of 13.
Griffin is doing it with a combination of brute athleticism, an array of flashy YouTube-worthy dunks and solid passing. He’s averaging 22.8 points, 12.7 rebounds (fourth in the league) and 3.6 assists.
The No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA draft also produces double-doubles almost nightly, with 39 so far, including a stretch of 27 in a row that ended last month. He’ll find out today if he’s the first rookie All-Star since Yao Ming of Houston in 2002-03.
“You hear how much looser everybody is and how much fun we’re having,” he said. “If you get double-doubles and you lose every day, that’s not fun at all.”
Griffin’s numbers earned him Western Conference rookie of the month honors for the third straight month in January, when he led all rookies in scoring and rebounding.
“Early on, it looked like (Washington guard John) Wall was going to run away with all the attention and rookie of the year,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said, “then all of a sudden this guy exploded with all these great plays. And now the team is playing better.”
Twice this season, Griffin has scored 40 or more points, making him the first rookie to do so since Allen Iverson in 1996-97.
“He definitely should be in the All-Star game, without a doubt,” said Milwaukee’s Corey Maggette, a former Clipper. “He’s one of those special players, like LeBron.”
Griffin is already committed to the All-Star dunk contest and was selected to play in the Rookie Challenge game.
Hindering his bid to add All-Star to his name is the fact that the Clippers are well below .500, but have knocked off some of the league’s best, including Oklahoma City, West-leading San Antonio and Chicago. They dispatched Miami and the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers within a five-day span last month.
“I’m confident with our team and our talent,” he said. “The key for us is keep learning.”
That’s something Griffin is always doing. The 21-year-old forward is still figuring out when to assert himself and how to improve his shot selection, which isn’t always high percentage. Griffin relishes getting physical with opposing defenses, a tactic he said makes him more comfortable.
“I know I have to work on defensive things, but it’s not all going to come at one time,” he said.
With every breathtaking vertical leap, Griffin is bringing hope to a beleaguered Clipper Nation that hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2005-06, also the last time the team made the playoffs.