If the Los Angeles Clippers' power forward is named NBA Rookie of the Year this season, he would join Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas, Larry Bird and David Robinson in a most interesting category. They are the only players to have won the award in a year other than the one immediately after being drafted.
Lucas, the 1963-64 winner, was drafted in 1962 but wasn't active in the NBA for a year because he was going to play for the American Basketball League's Cleveland Pipers until the league folded. Bird, the 1979-80 honoree, was drafted in 1978 but went back to Indiana State for a final season. And Robinson, who hoisted the trophy in 1989-90, was drafted out of Navy in 1987 but had to fulfill two years of military service.
That brings us to Griffin, the top pick in the 2009 draft from Oklahoma. He missed all of last season due to a knee injury, but is back and ready to battle 2010 No. 1 pick John Wall of Washington for rookie honors.
"It'd be an honor to win it,'' Griffin said in an interview with FanHouse. "But I'd gladly give up that trophy to make a playoff run.''
Such a run isn't sizing up as too likely for the Clippers, off to a 1-6 start. As for the rookie race, that's looking a lot better for Griffin.
He's averaging 18.1 points and 11.0 rebounds. Wall, a speedy point guard, is averaging 19.4 points and 9.6 assists.
Can anybody say dead heat?
What is quite evident is there are no other candidates. For those who thought New Jersey's Derrick Favors, Minnesota's Wesley Johnson or Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins could emerge to provide a dark-horse challenge, forget it.
This stands to be the most exciting rookie race ever between two players to have been No. 1 overall picks. Lucas was technically a territorial pick and Bird went No. 6. While Robinson was a No. 1 selection, let's just say 1989 top pick Pervis "Never Nervous'' Ellison was never in the race. The last guy to be picked No. 1 overall and not play his first season, Portland's Greg Oden, offered little challenge to 2009 top selection Derrick Rose two years ago.
"A lot can happen from now until (the end of the season),'' Griffin said of it being way too early to say how he stacks for Rookie of the Year. "You just have to wait and see. I remember at the beginning of the year (last season) everybody was talking about (Milwaukee's) Brandon Jennings. And then (Sacramento's) Tyreke Evans just kept steadily doing his thing (and ended up winning the award).''
Still, Griffin considers Wall, whose Wizards (1-4) also have one win, a worthy foe.
"I watched the highlights from their overtime win the other night,'' Griffin said of Wall totaling 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals in a 116-115 triumph over Philadelphia last Tuesday. "If they're on TV, I'm always watching games. But I don't check the box score every night. But I know he's doing well.''
So is Griffin. He had a career-high 26 points Friday at Denver and followed that Saturday with a career-high 17 rebounds at Utah.
"He's going to be good,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said. "He's going to be very good.''
That's hardly a new thought. But the NBA had to wait a year on Griffin after he came down wrong in an October 2009 preseason game and was lost for the season with a stress fracture in his left knee.
The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder was cleared to play without limitations last summer. It didn't take long before he realized he was all the way back.
"I was doing my workouts, lifting weights and playing pickup games every day, five days a week, and my knee was as good the next day as it was before,'' Griffin said. "That's when I really got into the mindset that it's normal now. ... It's been great being able to play. I definitely cherish it. I don't take it for granted.''
No, he doesn't. Just watch one Clippers practice and that is evident.
Clippers officials last season called Griffin the hardest-working guy on the team. Nothing much has changed this season.
"There are times when you're almost like, 'Take it easy. Save some of that for the game,''' said Clippers reserve center Jarron Collins. "He doesn't know any speed except 'all out.' ''
But there's still work to do. At 59.6 percent (31-of-52), Griffin isn't much of a foul shooter. And he's still learning to be an effective defender.
"He's got great athleticism and he's a powerful kid,'' said Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. "He's just got to continue to build and learn and control the defensive end for us. Just learn the right way. He'll do that. He's a smart guy, he's a hard worker and a great kid. We've just got to give him some time.''
Put it all together and Griffin certainly has a chance to hold up a trophy next spring and join Lucas, Bird and Robinson as one not taking the traditional path to be Rookie of the Year.
Speaking of Lucas, Bird and Robinson, all have Olympic gold medals. A goal of Griffin's is to get one himself.
"That'd be great,'' Griffin said of hoping to play for Team USA in the 2012 Olympics in London. "But there's a ton of guys who deserve to be on that team. It'd be a real cool thing to do. ... If there's a spot, I'll definitely be willing to work for it.''
Griffin was invited to attend Team USA's training camp in Las Vegas in July in preparation for the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. But after consulting with the Clippers it was determined best not to risk anything with his knee.
Griffin isn't on the 35-man USA Basketball working roster for the Olympics, but that's a technicality. USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said he could be added.
"He definitely falls in the category of a player we're watching,'' Colangelo said. "He's just getting started. Let's a give him a little bit of time.''
Colangelo said Wall also is on his "watch list'' for Team USA. It wouldn't be surprising if Griffin and Wall end up being linked for a long time.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson