LA Clippers Proving They're Title Pretenders Without a Healthy Chris Paul

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LA Clippers Proving They're Title Pretenders Without a Healthy Chris Paul
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Chris Paul is the tangible equivalent of an end-all for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Some toiled with the notion that while he was responsible for their resurgence, they could still win, they could borderline contend without him.

Well, they were wrong.

Seemingly overnight, the Clippers have gone from contenders to pretenders. That such a drop in status has occurred while Paul is watching from the sidelines is no mere happenstance. Instead, it's (troubling) proof of just how reliant this Los Angeles convocation is on their floor general.

The Clippers remain one of only two teams (San Antonio Spurs) that are ranked in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency. Impressive, though that may be, such two-way dominance runs the risk of complete eradication the longer Los Angeles' point man is on the shelf.

Paul has missed the last seven games, and during that stretch, the Clippers are 2-5. They've allowed 100 or more points just twice but scored 100 or more points themselves just (you guessed it) twice as well, an unsettling notion for a team that is still averaging over 100 points (100.4) per game overall.

Though there's a case to be made for Los Angeles' defense sans Paul, its offense has been an unsightly mess.

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Los Angeles' offense has been ugly without Paul.

Much of the Clippers' success this season can be attributed to their ability to control the pace on both ends of the floor. For some, that means boasting a reserved offensive attack (see the Boston Celtics), but for Los Angeles, it entails pushing the ball at an unrelenting pace.

Presently, per TeamRankings.com, the Clippers are sixth in the league in fast-break points (16.3) scored per game. They're 109.3 points scored per 100 possessions is also the fourth-best mark in the Association as well.

That type of offensive efficiency has been nonexistent with Paul on the bench, something Blake Griffin himself (via Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times) readily admits:

"It's going to be like that with Chris out. It kind of changes our dynamic," forward Blake Griffin said. "Jamal comes in a little bit earlier and is playing a little bit of a different role because he's not in with Eric at the same time."

In the last seven games, Los Angeles is scoring just 11.3 points per game in transition, which would put them in the bottom 10 of the league. Its also scoring just 94.1 points per contest, more than six points below the team's season average.

How are we supposed to entertain the notion that the Clippers are fine, or even competent, without Paul? How are we supposed to believe this team is more than Paul's stat line? How are we supposed to believe they're fit to play .500 basketball, let alone contend for a championship without their primary offensive catalyst?

We can't. And we won't.

Clippers' loss to the Celtics.

These haven't been games against powerhouses Los Angeles is dropping. Of the past seven bouts, just four were played against playoff hopefuls. And in every case but one—against the Oklahoma City Thunder—the term "hopeful" truly does apply.

Oklahoma City is a contender, but the Rajon Rondo-less Boston Celtics and the shallow-built Portland Trail Blazers are fringe playoff teams at best. And losses to a decimated Minnesota Timberwolves and docile Phoenix Suns outfit are disappointing to say they least. They're also indicative of Paul's overall value to his team. 

As entranced as we were by his performance thus far, Paul has never been more vital to Los Angeles' cause than in his absence. It has become clear his 16.6 points and 9.7 assists per game didn't just help the Clippers win, it made them win.

But should this surprise us?

Even before he went down, the signs were there. Not only was he assisting on 46 percent of Los Angeles' baskets when on the floor, but the Clippers were scoring at a rate of 115.3 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup.

Impressed?

Given that number falls to 103.8 in his absence, we should actually be astounded. 

Harry How/Getty Images
Los Angeles is more reliant on Paul than Boston is on Rondo.

Void of a floor general, teams often struggle offensively. The Clippers, though, are drowning. Proof of which isn't just found in the collective numbers, but individual ones as well.

How so?

Take Paul's 46 percent assist rate. It ranks third in the league among point guards who have appeared in more than 15 games this season. Rajon Rondo's 50 percent deferment clip tops the league, suggesting that the Celtics are in a similar situation with his absence.

Except they're not. The similarities cease to exist at them riding the pine.

Why?

Because Boston isn't as reliant on Rondo as Los Angeles is on Paul. Not only are the Celtics actually scoring more points per 100 possessions with Rondo off the floor, but their leading scorer's success isn't predicated solely on his point guard's performance.

Paul Pierce leads the Celtics with 18.6 points per game, but per HoopData.com, 60.4 percent of his baskets come off assists, a high mark any way you look at it. Yet we wouldn't expect anything less. Playing alongside Rondo, who leads the league in assist percentage, that comes as no surprise.

It's also no surprise that it's the same story for the Clippers. Griffin leads the team with 18.5 points dropped per game and 64.4 percent of his baskets are generated off of assists.

That Los Angeles' leading scorer is more dependent upon playmakers than Boston's, however, is of some concern. Or rather, it's of affliction in Paul's absence.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

When Paul's healthy and on the floor, all is well in Hollywood (for the Clippers). He keeps the ball moving, keeps defenses in limbo and never fails to direct his teammates to the appropriate spots on the floor.

What are the Clippers without Chris Paul?

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Down him, though, the ball doesn't move as crisply or purposefully, and the Clippers aren't scoring nearly as much.

The result?

Losses, and plenty of them.

Not because the Clippers are in a slump and not because they're playing overwhelmingly potent opponents.

But because they're not a championship-caliber aggregate, nor are they even a viable playoff faction without Chris Paul.

 

*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.  

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