Forgive me for the Jerry Seinfeld shtick, but what's the deal with the Los Angeles Clippers? A four-game losing streak since their monumental win at the San Antonio Spurs has rendered their scorching 8-2 start little more than a relic of the NBA season's first few weeks.
There are fingers aplenty to point—Chris Paul's 2-of-14 flop against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a stinker from the supporting cast in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks, a collective fourth-quarter collapse at the Brooklyn Nets.
Blake Griffin has been complicit in at least some of these struggles. That was apparent on Monday night when the Clips lost to the Anthony-Davis-and-Eric-Gordon-less New Orleans Hornets at the Staples Center, 105-98.
Not even a franchise-record nine three-pointers from Caron Butler could cover for Griffin's awful evening. The two-time All-Star tallied a career-low four points (on 1-of-9 shooting), six rebounds, three assists and four turnovers before fouling out after 35 minutes of play.
To be fair, it's not as though Blake has yet to show up for the 2012-13 season. He's chipped in six double-doubles in 14 games, including four of the 20-10 variety. He's also busied himself with the usual array of jaw-dropping jams:
But if L.A.'s other team is to be a serious title contender, it'll need Blake to be something more (if not better) than his usual, flying-death-machine self.
Which, in some ways, he hasn't been in 2012-13. Save for his assists, steals and blocks, Blake's numbers are down nearly across the board. He's scoring, shooting and rebounding at career-low levels. He's also getting to the free-throw line just 5.5 times per game—down from 7.1 last season and 8.5 the season before—which would be a blessing given his struggles (61 percent from the stripe).
Except, his infrequent visits to the charity stripe are, in part, indicative of a player who's been far less aggressive than usual. The same goes for his splits from the field. According to Hoopdata, Griffin's taking far fewer shots at the rim than usual—4.8, down from 7.3 and 7.2, respectively, during his first two seasons—and is converting them at a noticeably lower clip.
It's one thing for Blake to take fewer shots right at the basket when his overall attempts are down. It's another, though, for him to spend more time shooting from the perimeter. As it happens, Griffin has taken more long twos (73) than shots at the rim (67) this season.
Don't get me wrong—Griffin expanding his game beyond the confines of the restricted area is a good thing in the long run. The threat of a jump shot should make Blake that much more dangerous when attacking off the dribble.
His career-high 5.2 attempts from 16-to-23 feet are much more palatable when considering that he's hitting them at a 44-percent clip—well above the league average of 37.3 percent (per Hoopdata). Among players attempting five or more long twos per game, Griffin's percentage is bested only by Gerald Henderson's (45 percent) and Rip Hamilton's (46 percent).
Thing is, those guys are both shooting guards who pay their bills with such shots. Griffin, on the other hand, is a power forward, and a darn good one at that. It's all well and good that he's something of a threat from farther out.
Just not when it comes at the expense of his game on the interior. The Clippers already employ plenty of gunners on the wing, including Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, Matt Barnes and Willie Green. What they need from Griffin is for him to use his size (6'10", 250 pounds) and freakish athleticism to punish his foes in the paint.
And not just with highlight-reel dunks, either. Blake's post-up game has improved to an extent, though it's hardly the staple of the Clippers offense that it should be.
Rather predictably, Griffin's sojourn to the perimeter has diminished his impact on the offensive glass. Where once Blake was an elite offensive board-crasher, with 3.3 per game, he's since seen his offensive rebounding average (1.8 per game) and rate (6.3 percent) crater.
That'd be all well and good if, say, DeAndre Jordan were picking up the slack, but he hasn't, at least not in totality. Jordan is shooting (7.4 attempts) and scoring (10 points) more than he ever has, particularly in the paint, where his attempts are up to 5.2 per night—more than Blake.
But DJ doesn't exactly command the same sort of defensive attention that Griffin does. Nor is he crashing the offensive boards well enough to compensate for Blake's absence in the paint. Strange as it may seem, the Clippers are better at creating second chances when Griffin sits, per NBA.com/stats.
More troubling, the league's numbers suggest that L.A. is actually a superior team when Blake isn't on the floor. With Griffin, the Clips score 2.5 more points per 100 possessions but give up 10 more on the other end. On the whole, they outscore their opponents by 2.4 points per 100 possessions with Griffin and by 10 points without him.
Granted, part of this difference is a positive comment on the Clips bench. Blake often sits when his team's reserves—perhaps the best in basketball—are busy stomping their counterparts.
Nonetheless, there's something to be said for Griffin's deficiencies on the defensive end. He'll never be a long-armed shot-blocker, but he could stand to use his strength, agility and lateral quickness to better defend his own man and to rotate when help is required.
Especially considering his aforementioned issues on the offensive end. In Blake's defense, he's been playing with a strained neck and a burst bursa sac in his elbow since the second week of the season. It's possible, then, that the drop-off in Griffin's effectiveness can be attributed to his health, or lack thereof.
In which case, the Clips had better hope that Griffin gets well soon. Otherwise, the question becomes, can the Clippers really hope to contend if their second-best player (behind Chris Paul) isn't playing up to par on either end of the court?