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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

The sky's the limit for Blake Griffin

Clippers' rookie is already better than anyone imagined, and he doesn't appear to be stopping.

March 12, 2011|Mark Heisler
  • Clippers power forward Blake Griffin and Celtics power forward Glen Davis chase after a loose ball during a game at Staples Center last month.
Clippers power forward Blake Griffin and Celtics power forward Glen Davis… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Catching up with Blake Griffin....

That's just it. You can't catch up with him, or no one has yet.

The Blake Rules are like none before him.

No one saw him coming until he broke out as an Oklahoma sophomore.

Even as runaway No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, no one thought he'd be this good this soon.

In the biggest surprise of all, he might just be warming up.

Before Blake, phenoms didn't come out of nowhere, they were preceded by marching bands, or jet escorts.

LeBron James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine in high school. Kobe Bryant was an All-Star starter at 19, before he was a Lakers starter.

When Shaquille O'Neal was an LSU junior, you didn't have to look to know he was coming, you could feel the earth move.

When Griffin was an OU freshman, NBA people didn't look, knowing he wasn't coming out after having a knee scoped, despite having averaged 15-9 and being named All Big 12.

I put him at No. 24 on my pre-NCAA tourney mock anyway, having seen him dribbling left handed behind his hip, which few 6-foot-9, 250-pound righties do.

ESPN's Chad Ford ranked 100 players after that season, none of them Griffin.

Then came his sophomore year, as in Who Will the Lucky Lottery Team Be?

The Clippers hit the jackpot, brought him here and found he was even better than they thought.

On top of his amazing running, jumping, dunking, power game, etc., he could play facing the basket, handle the ball, pass it and shoot it.

Coach Mike Dunleavy donated Zach Randolph to Memphis just to get him out of the rookie's way, not that he expected Blake to match Zach Attack's 20-10 average.

"He'll get the 10 but I don't know about the 20," said Dunleavy. "It may be more like 17-10 his first season."

Unfortunately, Griffin's first season didn't turn out to be 2009-10, making it Dunleavy's last.

Finally debuting after a year off because of another injury, Griffin averaged 21-12 in November, 23-14 in December and 26-13 in January.

If few players ever had his size, hops, quickness and athleticism — Hakeem Olajuwon? — Griffin's skill level went almost unnoticed as the "Top 10 Highlights" became "Blake and Nine Others."

Who do you think leads the Clippers in three-point percentage?"

That's Mo Williams at 50%, but Griffin is No. 4 at 39%.

"I'm trying to think of someone who was like him as a player," Sacramento personnel director Jerry Reynolds says.

"He has the same kind of toughness and ability to post up and run the court Karl Malone had — but he's way ahead of where Karl was at that age.

"Tim Duncan was more skilled but not as athletic.

"If those are the two best power forwards in the game, if Blake stays healthy, he should be right there with them."

"I watch the Clippers now just to see him."

If Griffin's health will determine how far he goes, he's more like the greats, a one-off.

There was no Bill Russell before Bill Russell, nor were there any Elgin Baylors, Wilt Chamberlains, Oscar Robertsons, Jerry Wests, Earl Monroes, Magic Johnsons, Larry Birds, Michael Jordans or Charles Barkleys.

If Bryant resembled MJ, Kobe's work ethic, iron will and psychedelic shot selection made him an archetype, too ... before James raised the bar to "16-year-old with grownup power forward body who could be an NBA All-Star at four positions now."

Now here's Blake with his gifts, skills and I-can't-watch leaps and dives that have fans holding their breath.

"For me, it's not even like that," said Griffin last week.

"It's not kamikaze. I hear that all the time. I think for me, I can cover up some mistakes or make up for certain things by playing harder.

"For me, I've got to play hard because I'm not as developed or I'm not where I want to be in certain areas.

"Because of what happened last year, having to sit out all last year, I think that makes people want to say that."

That's not it.

Whatever the danger level, fans hold their breath because he's so precious.

Oh, and he's nice. Superduperstars as nice as he is come along every ... century?

If John Ireland and Steve Mason cross off the days until July 1, 2014 when the Lakers can sign him, Blake is the Clippers' to lose ... not that they haven't been up to the challenge before.

"I think that's the way it should be," Griffin said last week. "This is the place I'm starting out, it's a great place — but things have to keep moving forward."

The Clippers were 22-40 as he spoke. They started the weekend 25-41 with a 4-1 record under new point guard Williams and an eye-opening victory in Boston.

If this is where honeymoons have always gone to die... quickly... this is their best ever.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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