Two years after he was drafted to the NBA, it looks like Blake Griffin has made his presence known – in more ways than one.
The Los Angeles Clippers power forward was named NBA Rookie of the Year on Wednesday. He ended up making history, becoming the first unanimous selection for the award since C David Robinson won it as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 1990. Despite missing his “true” rookie year in 2009 due to complications suffered from a knee injury, he walked onto the court in the 2010-2011 season, and proceeded to put the entire league on notice: he was never going to back down from anyone.
His high-flying antics and amazing throwdowns made the Clippers relevant for the first time in years. He was, in no uncertain terms, a human highlight film. His walk-off victory at this year’s All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk Contest was reminiscent of another notorious dunker: promising young phenom Vince Carter in 2000. His final dunk over a car was the feature of a recent Kia Optima commercial. He finished his rookie season playing in all 82 games, averaging 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and a whopping 50.6% in field goal percentage. Not to sound too clichéd, but his Rookie of the Year award was a venerable slam dunk.
But it got me thinking – what if he wasn’t a Clipper, but a King?
After all, it wasn’t the Clippers, but the Sacramento Kings that had the worst record in the league (17-65) following the 2008-2009 season. The Kings were in the middle of their worst stretch of seasons since they arose from obscurity in 1999. With the worst record, the Kings were guaranteed one thing: the greatest chance (25%) to land the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. After Griffin decided to forgo his final two years at Oklahoma, Kings fans were chomping at the bit to take such a physical talent, and a hands-down franchise power forward.
Unfortunately for Sacramento, the ping-pong balls in the 2009 NBA Lottery bounced the wrong way: the Clippers – who had a 17.7% chance of landing the No. 1 pick – won the draft lottery, and declared immediately that they would take Griffin. Meanwhile, not only did the Kings miss out on the first pick – they fell out of the Top 3, losing out on college talents like Arizona State SG James Harden and Connecticut C Hasheem Thabeet. Ultimately, the Kings were stuck with the No. 4 spot – on the outside, looking in.
Fast forward to today, and Blake Griffin is a Rookie of the Year award winner, a potential destructive force in the league for the next 10 to 15 years, and a media darling, playing in one of the biggest markets in the United States. Meanwhile, the Kings are a franchise on the brink of relocation, with a team that probably won’t see marked improvement for the next three years.
It would be easy to say that, if the lottery worked in the Kings’ favor in 2009, Blake Griffin would have been a savior for the city of Sacramento. Maybe he doesn’t get injured in his first year, and he makes a splash with the franchise and the fans to win Rookie of the Year in 2009. Perhaps his wild popularity makes the Sacramento community a little more willing to invest in a new stadium sooner, rather than later, quashing all rumors of a relocation. Things could have been drastically different had Blake Griffin been a King – for the city, and the franchise.
Now, I will admit – the NBA and NFL are practically night and day when it comes to a given player’s development in the league. After all, the NFL has to deal with hundreds of players, some of which, their talents are left untapped until they latch on to the right team. In the NBA, however, a talent is a talent, and that talent will rise, more often, regardless of the franchise he plays for.
But, consider this: suppose the Kings did end up getting the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. They would, no doubt, pick Blake Griffin, F from Oklahoma, and walk away with the biggest smiles on their faces. However, there is one little oversight to this scenario, as in, the player they would have not been able to take in that draft:
Memphis G Tyreke Evans.
You remember Tyreke Evans, don’t you? A highlight player in his own right, who actually won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2009? A player who took a fledgling franchise and put it on its back (albeit to a 25-57 record)? A player who did what only LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson was able to do in his rookie season – average 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists? Yeah – the Kings would have missed out on that guy.
And, in a league driven by guards (see: Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Jason Kidd, etc.), the Kings would have been hard-pressed to find a serviceable one in 2009, even with a talent like Griffin on the roster. Especially one that could provide a backbone in the franchise for the next ten years.
Without Evans, there wouldn’t have been highlights like these …
and these …
and, oh yeah, right – this.
And, despite the legal troubles he ran into last year, he is still a beloved staple of the Sacramento community. Again, it could be easy to say that if it was Griffin, and not Evans, that was the face of the franchise, the Kings’ stay in Sacramento may be a little more permanent right now. But, on second thought, it isn’t the Kings’ fault – no matter who plays for them – that the economy is still recovering, and that the city is, for the most part, unwilling to spend more tax dollars on a new stadium.
I think that things would be drastically different if Blake Griffin was a Sacramento King, don’t get me wrong. At the same time, I wouldn’t trade the two years Tyreke Evans has given to the Kings for a chance to see what Griffin would have become in the Capitol city.
Congratulations, Blake – but I’ll take Tyreke for now, thank you very much.