Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: Bye, Bye Blake
8:00 AM EDT on March 26, 2009
Recently, I read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (which I highly recommend) and there was a passage in the book where Chuck Klosterman assails the concept of probability:
Life is chock-full of lies, but the biggest lie is math. That's particularly clear in the discipline of probability, a field of study that's completely and wholly fake. When push comes to shove--when you truly get down to the core essence of existence--there is only one mathematical possibility: Everything is 50-50. Either something will happen, or something will not.
If you are one of those people still holding out hope that University of Oklahoma basketball stud Blake Griffin will continue his career here in the Sooner state, I suggest you embrace Mr. Klosterman's philosophy. I, on the other hand, subscribe to math being all-powerful, and as a result, I am convinced that Blake Griffin in a Thunder uniform is a pipe dream.
Many people who post at OrangePower.com are probably cheering the inevitability of Griffin, who played his high school ball beneath the giant cross at LifeChurch before becoming a Sooner legend, being exported over state lines come Draft Night 2009. While I understand the sentiment, it is ridiculous. Anyone who wants the Thunder to thrive in this state, on the floor and off, should be praying that what minuscule hope remains of the ping pong balls falling our way are enough. The kid would be perfect in the blue and orange/red.
From a marketing standpoint, it's a (not intended as a pun) slam dunk. He already has a built in following from around the state that dwarfs the goodwill the Desmond Mason acquisition brought to the table. Please don't take that as a slam against OSU in the comparative sizes of the fan bases of the two major local schools, because actually I think there are more OSU basketball fans. However, Griffin's talent transcends the Bedlam rivalry. You don't have to like either school to want to watch Griffin play.
Speaking of talent, most NBA draft websites have run with the projection of Griffin as "a more athletic Carlos Boozer." Even I fell into that trap initially. And it isn't a very exciting simile. Sure Boozer is a good, solid big man, but Utah has him now while he is in his prime and they are hoping he opts out of his contract this Summer so they can give his job to Paul Millsap.
Those comparisons came about because Boozer is a big, bruising power forward who can dominate for rebounds and generally hangs around the basket on offense. While those tendencies do describe what Blake Griffin does for the Sooners, the comparison unfairly limits his skill set. Boozer hangs out by the basket out of necessity. Griffin hangs out by the basket because he can. If needed, Griffin could just as comfortably stretch out for mid-range jumpers, and has on occasion shown an ability to dribble with the ball. Neither of those things are in Boozer's repertoire. And the "more athletic" tag is fitting, but again under selling Griffin. Boozer is a practically ground bound player who, even at 6'9", rarely dunks the ball. Blake won the McDonald's All-American slam dunk competition and has leaping ability on par with Dwight Howard.
As I said before, I initially bought the Boozer link and once mentioned it to Patrick. Then, Patrick came up with a much better player to view Griffin in light of: Amar'e Stoudamire. The Suns' power forward/center is practically who Blake was cloned from. Stoudamire has the strength and the athleticism to overpower, run past or jump over any defender who has the misfortune of being assigned to him.
The one significant difference between Blake and Amar'e is another thing that would have made him a perfect fit for the Thunder. Stoudamire has been quietly killing the Suns for years with his desire to be the guy while letting his jealousy of more popular teammates effect his focus on the game. Meanwhile, Thunder GM Sam Presti has been modeling his team after the San Antonio Spurs, meaning he has attempted to assemble a team of talented but low drama players. Kevin Durant is the perfect center piece, while Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook are great complements. They are all players who really seem to have no interests outside the sport of basketball. More importantly, they do not have the kind of "look at me I am the star" attitude that typically comes with such great talent.
Griffin would fit into the category Presti desires. Just look at this video diary he did for ESPN. He is quite possibly the most boring person who anyone has ever given a crap about. There is no drama to the guy, even when opposing players try to go WWE on him, he quickly finds his zen-center then goes back to playing (and dominating) at basketball.
This all makes it that much sadder that math hates us. Back when P.J. Carlesimo was coaching the Thunder to what appeared to be the worst season in NBA history, there was a 1 in 4 chance that Oklahoma City would get the first overall pick in the draft and the right to keep Griffin at home. So much has happened since then. The core of Durant, Green, and Westbrook matured. Mid season acquisitions of Nenad Krstic and Thabo Sefolosha turned out better than anyone could have imagined. Plus, Scott Brooks has looked like a rising star in the coaching profession. Today, there are four teams that have worse records than the Thunder and one team with an identical record. That team, the Timberwolves, is headed in the opposite direction as OKC, seeming to get worse as the season comes near a close.
With only eleven games left in the season, the draft position is pretty close to set. Assuming the five teams beneath the Thunder don't go on an incredible winning streak, there will be odds of 7.5% for the Thunder to wind up as the first pick overall. Basically, the winning streak has cut their chances to a third. Meanwhile, there is an 80% chance that Sacramento, Washington, the Clippers, Memphis, or Minnesota will wind up in pole position. And give up thinking that the Thunder will attempt to trade up, because nothing short of offering Kevin Durant will convince the GM who possesses that pick to even return Presti's phone calls.
It's a real shame. A starting line up of Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green, and Griffin with Krstic coming off the bench could have been a playoff team next season and a potential championship contender within a few years. Makes me wish I agreed with Chuck Klosterman.
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