The Clippers are 15-3 since Blake Griffin went down in December.
In the aftermath of a punch that left the face of an assistant equipment manager, Matias Testi, severely swollen, and the right hand of Blake Griffin broken, teams around the association should be inquiring about the availability of the Clippers star forward. The Clippers, having already weathered the storm of controversy around Donald Sterling’s racism, shouldn’t have problems dealing with their star player punching someone in the face. Regardless, that shouldn’t stop other teams from sending offers the Clippers’ way, and with a 15-3 record since Griffin’s injury in December, the Clippers should be listening.
Now the real question is whether or not the Clippers would be better off without Griffin. In the last two seasons, the Clippers have played 34 games without him. During those games they went 25-9. Doc gave Blake’s extra minutes to wing shooters to surround Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan‘s pick-and-roll and space out the floor. They put out a mix of Wesley Johnson (48% on corner 3’s), J.J. Reddick (48.6% of 3 point field goals), Paul Pierce (46% from 15-19 feet), and Jamal Crawford (50% on corner 3’s) to set and run around screens for each other. This simple and spread out offensive set has been working quite well under the helm of one of the best all around facilitators in the game in CP.
In January, while Griffin has been out, the Clippers have scored 107.9 points per game, 3.6 points higher than their season average. They shot 47.3% from the field this month compared to 45.8% the rest of the season. The Clippers Defensive Rating is one point lower in January than their season average, and their Offensive Rating is four points higher.
Although this evidence is anecdotal, it proves that the Clippers can function without Blake, and they might even look better. Without Griffin, the Clippers follow the trend many teams are moving towards, using a small-ball mentality by replacing Griffin with three point shooters. That offense, in a small 34 game sample size, has shown to be more effective than the offensive scheme the Clippers run with Blake Griffin.
Now imagine what type of return Griffin could bring to the Clippers new small ball mentality team without him. He would almost definitely net major future assets to the tune of either one or two future first rounders, and some substantial NBA wing players to deepen the new opening. Imagine a scenario where the Celtics give away Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and the Nets unprotected first round pick for the superstar they’ve been longing for to push them over the edge into serious contention. That deal would have to be something the Clippers take seriously, as it would give them the defensive firepower on the wing to keep up with Western Conference powerhouses, and the offensive depth to run their small ball scheme more effectively.
Blake Griffin is a go-to scorer in the post, averaging 0.86 points per possession. When things are going poorly for the Clippers, play gets sloppy, CP’s elbow jumper isn’t falling, the Clippers tend to fall back on Griffin’s reliable (not pretty) post play. He can facilitate from the high post, jab-stepping into the middle while looking for cutting teammates and popping a jumper if the defender gives him too much space, or he can torture defenders in the low post, contorting his body in creative ways around and over their outstretched arms.
The issue with trading Griffin is that, come playoff time, games become more intense and more of a grind. Defenses take over in pressure playoff games, and teams tend to play sloppier. If the Clippers don’t have Blake’s post-up game to fall back on when that sloppiness occurs, the Clippers may not have what it takes to compete. Although the Clippers are playing better without Griffin right now, he’s still their most consistent player and he’s truly invaluable to their serious playoff contention aspirations.
Although the Clippers are unlikely to trade Griffin in the end, the offers should be coming in from front offices around the league, and Doc Rivers would be hardheaded not to listen to them when his regular season offense is humming sans-Griffin as is.
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