LOS ANGELES (AP) - Blake Griffin played his entire rookie season like a man making up for lost time.
Now that the Los Angeles Clippers‘ dynamic dunker has been named the league’s top rookie in a landslide, he’s already thinking about ways to improve on a delayed NBA debut that was well worth the wait.
Griffin accepted the Rookie of the Year award on Wednesday, becoming the NBA’s first unanimous choice for the award in 21 years.
The No. 1 overall draft pick out of Oklahoma in 2009 missed all of the 2009-10 season after breaking his kneecap in the Clippers‘ final preseason game. But Griffin returned with one of the most impressive debut campaigns in a generation. Griffin frequently thought back to that season in limbo while picking up his award during a party at the Clippers‘ training complex.
“To miss my entire first year and then be able to be up here today is definitely satisfying,” Griffin said. “When I got injured, I just decided I had to come back even better. I had to keep improving even while I couldn’t play, and I dedicated myself to that.”
Griffin received every first-place vote from a panel of 118 media members, easily outdistancing Washington’s John Wall. The Clippers‘ 22-year-old power forward is the first unanimous choice since San Antonio’s David Robinson in 1990, and just the third in NBA history after Ralph Sampson in 1984. New Orleans’ Chris Paul came close in 2006, missing by one vote.
Griffin led all rookies in scoring and rebounding while playing in all 82 games for the Clippers, finishing 12th in the entire NBA in scoring (22.5) and fourth in rebounds (12.1) while ranking second among rookies in assists (3.8).
The 6-foot-10 Griffin was the NBA’s first rookie All-Star since Yao Ming in 2003, and he won the dunk contest at All-Star weekend in Staples Center with an iconic leap over a car.
Although Griffin’s aerial acrobatics made him a staple of nightly highlight reels with more than 200 dunks of varying viciousness, he’s already at work in the offseason rounding into an even more complete player.
“He’s a highlight at any second of the game, but he’s also smart enough to know that the fundamentals are the part that will make him better and help this team,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He handles it very well. He has great humility and great character.”
Griffin received a maximum 590 points in the voting, while Wall had 91 of the 118 second-place votes to finish with 295 points. New York’s Landry Fields received 12 second-place votes and 62 points, but finished fourth in the overall voting behind Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, who got 11 second-place votes and 81 points.
San Antonio’s Gary Neal and Detroit’s Greg Monroe were the only other rookies receiving votes.
Wall, the No. 1 pick last summer, tweeted his approval of Griffin’s victory, saying: “Congrats to the homie … well deserved!”
Cousins’ teammate, Tyreke Evans, won the award with the Kings last season.
Griffin was named the Western Conference’s Rookie of the Month six times, becoming the first player to sweep that award since Paul did it with the Hornets five years ago. He’s the first rookie to average 20 points and 10 rebounds since Elton Brand in 1999-00, and the only rookie among the league’s top 45 scorers and top 20 rebounders.
Griffin showed remarkable consistency, even during the dog days of the Clippers‘ 18th non-winning season in 19 years. He had 63 games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds, third-most in the NBA, including 27 straight.
“This is just the beginning of a career that’s going to be very special, very fun to watch,” Del Negro said. “I’ve had this date on my calendar since the first day I walked into the gym and saw Blake shooting baskets.”
Griffin faded only briefly, going through a seven-game stretch in March without a double-double, but finished strong with his second triple-double in Los Angeles’ season finale.
“He has matured enough to know he doesn’t have to win every game,” said Griffin’s father, Tommy, who coached his sons in high school in Oklahoma City. “He knows it’s a long process about getting better every day, and then seeing where he is in a year or two years. That’s just how Blake is. He’s not ever going to be satisfied.”
Griffin won over fans with a humble personality and a dry wit, which he showed off when comedian Norm MacDonald showed up at Griffin’s news conference and warned the Clippers star about the curse of the Rookie of the Year award: Nobody has ever won it twice in a row.
“I’ll try as hard as I can,” Griffin said with a grin. “That’s going on top of the goals for next year.”
Griffin is the first Clippers player to win the award since Terry Cummings won it with the San Diego Clippers in 1983. Adrian Dantley, Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio won the award during a five-year stretch with the Buffalo Braves, who moved to San Diego in 1978.
Griffin shares general manager Neil Olshey’s optimism about the Clippers‘ future, which includes ample salary cap space and a talented young roster featuring Eric Gordon, centers DeAndre Jordan and Chris Kaman, and fellow rookie Eric Bledsoe.
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