The Clippers are on a hot streak, but trading Blake Griffin is not the right decision
The hardest thing to do in sports is win a championship, and the NBA is no exception in that regard. Succeeding in the 82 game regular season and then enduring three grueling series just to get to the Finals is tough enough as it is, let alone winning the whole thing. It’s so difficult that 13 of the 30 current teams haven’t won a world championship. Of those 13, seven have yet to even make the Finals and actually compete for a shot at the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
One of those seven is the Los Angeles Clippers, a franchise that has been in the league since 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, San Diego Clippers, and since 1984, the second NBA team in Los Angeles. In that time, the overall Clippers franchise record, including the postseason, is 1455 - 2278 (.390). The Clippers have made the playoffs 11 times but have never made it past the Semifinals.
The Clippers haven’t even been a consistently good team until the past few years, and one of the main reasons why is their prodigal number one draft pick from 2009: Blake Griffin.
Griffin sat out what would have been his rookie year due to injury, but since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2010, the Clippers have been cruising, winning two Pacific Division titles and advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals three times. Last season, they upset defending champions San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
Los Angeles management (from the controversial Donald Sterling to current owner Steve Ballmer) has put together quite the supporting cast for Griffin, including Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and other homegrown Clipper DeAndre Jordan. In the past four seasons, this team is 209-103 and has turned into a Western Conference powerhouse.
So far in the 2015-2016 campaign, the Clippers are 35-17 and sit comfortably in fourth place in the conference. As of late, they are looking better than ever. Then what is the issue? They are doing it without their best player.
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Before partially tearing his left quad in Christmas Day, Griffin’s play was worthy of MVP talks. He led the Clippers in scoring with a very efficient 23.2 points per game on 55.2% true shooting, coupled with five assists per game and 12.4% playmaking usage. He was also the team’s leader in minutes (34.9) and touches per game (90), as well as the second highest rebounder per game (8.7) behind Jordan.
Griffin was initially expected to only miss two weeks. However, matters got worse for him when he fractured his shooting hand during an altercation with a team equipment member at a Toronto restaurant in late January. He is now expected to miss at least another month.
None of this has really seemed to affect the Clippers on the court. Since his Christmas quad injury, Los Angeles has had an outstanding 18-4 record in his absence, going from 17-13 to 34-17. They are fifth in the league in offensive efficiency (106.2) and fourth in the league at true shooting percentage (55.3) despite being surrounded by inconsistent shooters like Austin Rivers and Lance Stephenson.
Key players on the team have stepped up their game during this stretch. Before Griffin’s injury, Chris Paul averaged 17.7 points per game with 8.9 assists per game. Since then, he’s put up 21.5 points per game and 10.4 assists. J.J Redick is having a career year, shooting 48.1% from three and benefiting greatly from the extra space on the floor without Griffin.
The Clippers’ hot streak without Griffin coupled with the upcoming trade deadline has sparked scores of rumors that he will be dealt before February 18. While rumors indicate that many teams have reached out to Los Angeles, the most intriguing deals involve Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, and even Kevin Durant.
But no matter who calls with a deal (let’s be honest, Durant is not going to be traded), the Clippers should hang up the phone. They still need Blake Griffin.
Griffin is only 26 years old, which means he is just entering his prime. He might be far from the best defender, but he is making huge improvements in his offensive skillset as the earlier numbers indicate. More important, however, is that he can rebound the basketball, and the Clippers are in desperate need of that.
Each of the last four times Los Angeles have been eliminated from the playoffs, they have lost the rebounding battle. Most recently, in their collapse against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers were out-rebounded 337-311, including offensively, where Houston had a 25.1% offensive rebound percentage compared to Los Angeles’ 21.2%.
Rebounding is continuing to be an issue for the Clippers this season, despite the best efforts of DeAndre Jordan. Currently, the Clippers are eighth-worst in the league in total rebounds per game (43.1) and are 29th in rebound differential (-4.2). Their glaring weakness in rebounding results in less second chance points, and the Clippers are 25th in the league in that category.
The Clippers have been shooting the ball incredibly well on their current streak, but to be frank, they have also benefited from a fairly easy schedule over the time. However, in their four losses since Griffin’s injury, they have been out-rebounded 185-150, which is becoming a common trend among Clippers losses.
Jordan is a beast under the boards, but without a serviceable big man next to him, the Clippers will continue to be out-rebounded and will lose opportunities for second hand points. Their level of play might be sustainable for now, but when the shots stop falling and every possession counts in the playoffs, they are going to want Blake Griffin on the floor if they want any chance at finally getting past the semifinals.
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