Blake Griffin Is Learning a Harsh Lesson About the Modern NBA

Make no mistake: Blake Griffin is still a very good basketball player. His history in the game, however, puts him in a club of players held back from the height of their potential. NBA players like Penny Hardaway before him, or Derrick Rose today, injuries have robbed the league of what Griffin was supposed to become.

A former slam dunk contest champion, his knees gave out to the point that he no longer dunks at all. His perimeter shooting — the improvement that kept aging players like Vince Carter relevant into their 40s — hasn’t improved enough. Griffin’s waning years may have arrived early, as his body teaches him a harsh lesson about life in the modern NBA.

Blake Griffin’s injury history has long held back his game

Griffin’s injury history is long and varied. Sports Illustrated reports that he has endured two concussions, several surgeries on both knees, along with his right elbow. He’s a regular target for damaging flagrant fouls, with the highest number among active players: 48. Since joining the NBA in 2009, nobody has endured such varied, persistent bodily harm as Griffin has.

The man who once dunked on a player so hard that they deleted their Twitter account in shame is a grounded player today. His knees simply can’t take the landings anymore. This isn’t a diminished version of Griffin so much as a talented athlete forced to play like somebody else.

Blake Griffin’s attempts to change his game after his injuries are mixed

Griffin has spent nearly his entire career getting hurt, and reinventing his style to survive in the league. His latest shift might be the most stark so far. He went from shooting 45.2% of his shots at the rim last season, to 24.8% according to Bleacher Report

His move away from the rim hasn’t been a huge success. Unlike previous transitions to perimeter shooting like Jason Kidd’s late-career shift, Griffin hasn’t seen much success in the change. He hits 31.5% of his three-point attempts, mediocre for a one-time headlining superstar.

He’s averaging 12.3 points per game with the Detroit Pistons. This is a man rapidly spiraling away from his status as a franchise player. That is, unless a change away from Detroit could be the key to finding his niche in the league.

Could Griffin be a good fit on the Brooklyn Nets in his current form?

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Griffin recently signed with the Nets in a move that could salvage his career. He fills a niche that the Nets are aching for. But is he willing to step back, as an aging Carter did before him, and accept a reduced role? If not, his days in the league are likely numbered.

He still helped make the Los Angeles Clippers fun to watch at a time when that name was associated with the former owner Donald Sterling’s shameful behavior. He still spent years slamming down beastly dunks when so many players were adjusting to perimeter shooting. And he still has a version of his game, sans dunks, that befuddles his opponents in the post.