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Observing the '09 Draft Headliner

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A Daily Babble Production

Wednesday night marked my first convenient opportunity to see the man widely regarded as the top-pick-to-be in this coming June's NBA draft play in person.  The Oklahoma Sooners found themselves upset by the Missouri Tigers, but Blake Griffin did not disappoint on an individual level in his trip to Columbia.

Beyond all else, Griffin made his primary impression on the glass.  This guy is one of the best rebounders I've ever seen up close at any level.  He pulled down 21 boards, the fifth time this season he has reached 20 in a game.  But it goes beyond the sheer numbers with Griffin.  These weren't cheap rebounds by any means.  He attacks the glass with a ferocity like few others.  After boxing out, his body elevates up to the ball, and he almost always gets two hands around it before landing with elbows extended so as to secure the ball and ward off any would-be thiefs.  The combination of Griffin's size (he's listed at 6-foot-10 and 251 pounds and looks to have even more girth than that), strength, technique and tenacity make him a special force on the boards, especially playing at the collegiate level.  He is averaging nearly 14 caroms per game with good reason.  I can't remember the last time I left a game thinking about how much fun it was just to watch a star player rebound.

He played far from his best offensive game, but by no means was Griffin a slouch at that end either.  Even with Missouri doubling him on every touch in the post, Griffin managed to shoot 7-for-11 from the field while showing off a varied offensive arsenal.  He got a couple of baskets on spin moves and dunks off of catches deep in the low post.  But early on, Griffin showed the Tigers that he could make them pay for moving him off the block as well.  The sophomore forward made one Tim Duncan-esque bank shot from the left wing and followed it up with a turn-around fade-away jumper from the same spot that hit nothing but net.  It was clear that his brute strength made pushing him out of the post a difficult endeavor for the Tigers' bigs.  If Griffin could catch an entry pass on the block in single coverage, the Tigers were in trouble because he could do whatever he wanted from there.

Though he got his points, Griffin did meet some frustration with the pressure of Mike Anderson's defense.  The Tigers' constant double teams forced him into trouble with the basketball on a couple of occasions, and he wound up committing a charge and later stepping on the baseline in attempts to get to the rim in traffic.  He committed a game-high six turnovers and no doubt could have handled the pressure better at certain points.  But he also demonstrated himself to be a good passer from the post, recognizing the oncoming double teams on several occasions and making passes to cutters or open three-point shooters across the floor.  It wasn't Griffin's fault his team could only manage to shoot 4-for-18 from beyond the arc despite his passing or his mere presence enabling several good looks from deep for the Sooners.

The biggest problem areas for Griffin were foul shooting and fatigue.  The foul shooting has been an issue all year, as Griffin knocks down less than 59 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.  He went just two of seven from the line on Wednesday, and he looked tired in the second half.  He constantly left his foul shots short (sometimes in a rather ugly manner), and he appeared to be laboring when getting up and down the floor at times in the game's final minutes.

All told, there was some up and some down in my maiden experience seeing Blake Griffin play live.  The foul shooting needs to improve, and one can't help but wonder what level of conditioning he will need to hang in the Association.  But he is already a good help and individual defender as well as the owner of a superb set of offensive moves that allow him to score from the wings and demand double-teams on the blocks.  And his rebounding is a sight to behold.