Blake Griffin can’t reach his defensive potential

Is it okay to impose a limit on a player with seemingly limitless potential? People don’t react well to negative predictions, it seems on the verge of wishing ill. For the sake of honesty, I’m imposing one: Blake Griffin will never be a great defender. Perhaps good, perhaps passable, but more likely the latter than the former. I would even say “bad” has better odds than “good.” While we’re quick to dream upon Blake Griffin’s physical prowess, few speak to his one physical limitation. You see, the issue is that Griffin has stubby arms–for a power forward. While his 8′ 9″ standing reach is massive for a regular human, it is quite measly for his position.

Below, I’ve listed all the starting power forwards who’ve had their standing reaches recorded (I’ve added wingspans after the comma). The numbers probably shade even shorter than they should. Many of the larger, older PFs–guys who still play well in part due to their length–are from an era where reaches and wingspans were never measured. KG, Pau, and Dirk are drawn Stretch Armlongs whom we’ll never know the true measure of.

Reaches and Wing Spans of Starting PFs

Channing Frye: 9′ 2.5″, 7′ 2.5″

Chris Kaman: 9′ 2.5″, 6′ 11.75″

LaMarcus Aldridge: 9′ 2″, 7′ 4.75″

Elton Brand: 9′ 2″, 7′ 5.5″

Andrea Bargnani: 9′ 2″

Nene Hilario: 9′ 1″, 7′ 4.5″

Chris Bosh: 9′ 1″, 7′ 3.5″

Ersan Ilyasova: 9′ 1.5″, 7′ 1.25″

Carlos Boozer: 9′ 0.5, 7′ 2.25″

Amare Stoudemire: 9′ 0.5″, 7′ 1.75″

Josh Smith: 8′ 10.5″, 7′ 0″

David Lee 8′ 10.5″, 7′ 0″

Kris Humpries: 8′ 10.5″, 7′ 0.5″

Tyler Hansbourough: 8′ 10″, 6′ 11.5″

Trevor Booker: 8′ 10″, 6′ 9.75″

Kevin Love: 8′ 10″, 6′ 11.25″

Paul Millsap: 8′ 9.5″, 7′ 1.5″

Blake Griffin: 8′ 9″, 6′ 11.25″

Blake Griffin is dead last among standing reaches. He only bests Trevor Booker in wingspan, and Booker is really Andray Blatche’s backup. Shooting guard Dwyane Wade has a longer span than both. It is difficult to contest LaMarcus Aldridge’s shot with normal human features. This might explain why Blake averaged less than half a block per game in his rookie year.

This seems sadly objectifying, to make a man’s arm his glass ceiling. It’s also logical. A raised limb contests a shot. An outstretched one turns a passing lane into traffic going the other direction. Arms are important, arms and feet. A stout dude like Chuck Hayes can compensate for length-lack by laterally shuffling at a sprinter’s pace. Blake Griffin does not have this skill. I’m not sure if anyone but Chuck Hayes has this skill.

When Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard entered the draft, they shared similar physical attributes. Griffin was a half-inch shorter, eight pounds heavier. They jumped the same height on the “max” vertical leap, with Griffin besting Howard in the “no step” vertical by an inch and a half.

Those freaky mantis arms, though. Howard crests out at an incredible 9′ 3.5″ standing reach, 6.5  inches above his otherwise physical doppelganger. Dwight’s wingspan is more than five inches wider than Blake’s. This vast difference in limb length does much to determine why Howard is a center, and the best defender in all of hoops. Those shot-erasing arms stretch so far, far enough to reach into the opposing coach’s lockeroom, wiping those pretty plays from that colorful whiteboard. Blake’s arms are just long enough to pat himself on the back for incredible dunks that appear all the cooler because he flew farther to the target than Dwight would have to.

For some odd reason, reach is the purview of draftniks, but rarely spoken of outside the draft. I believe that we subconsciously internalize length as size or height. Often I hear that Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis are small guards, while PGs like Deron Williams and Derrick Rose are bigger. Curry and Ellis are taller than Williams and Rose, but Deron and Derrick have oak branches for limbs. At some level, the viewer takes note, makes a composite out of all the attributes. I think this is one reason why readers refused to believe my assertion that Dwight Howard is 6-9. The reach makes him seem so much larger.

I hate to be the bearer of Blake Griffin negativity, but it is only because I respect reach as meaningful, predictive. If we are to speak to his promise while citing his physique, why not make pessimistic extrapolations as well? Blake is great, he’s thrilling and charismatic. Just don’t expect him to be a defensive force. It’s likely out of arm’s length.

Image by Anthony Bain

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  5. [...] Griffin [6' 10'', 6' 11.25''] will never be a great defender,” Ethan Sherwood Strauss persuasively argued in January of this past year. Players that are smaller than 6’10” with a [...]

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