Chris Paul is the main cog in the Los Angeles Clipper machine, making his extended absence a tough blow for the immediate future.
Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times noted that:
“Chris Paul underwent an MRI exam Sunday that revealed a Grade 3 AC joint separation of his right shoulder that the Clippers said would sideline their All-Star guard up to six weeks.”
A six-week timetable would mean that Clippers would be without Paul for 20 games—at the very least.
The plus side would be that 13 of those 20 games would be against Eastern Conference opponents. The downside is that the Clippers tend to play down to their opponents—just 8-6 against the East this season.
Without Paul, the Clippers will face questions both on the floor and personnel wise.
Just one year removed from having the third-ranked scoring bench at 40.1 points per game, the Clippers have taken a significant step back this season—falling to 17th at 30.4 points per game.
There are valid reasons to the fall in rankings this season—Jamal Crawford’s insertion to the lineup and Matt Barnes missing significant time to eye surgery.
Without Chris Paul, the bench dynamic changes.
Darren Collison is forced into the lineup, meaning the top two bench scorers on the team are now starting.
This leaves Darius Morris, Maalik Wayns, Willie Green, Matt Barnes, Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens on the bench.
The return of shooting guard J.J. Redick cannot come soon enough for the Clippers.
This would allow Crawford to go back to his sixth-man role, and carry the load off the bench.
However, Coach Rivers sounded non-committal to when Redick would be able to return in a report by ESPN’s Arash Markazi:
"Redick shot. He looked OK," Rivers said. "He'll get there but I don't know how soon, but the fact that he's shooting is a good sign."
Until then, coach Doc Rivers will have to shuffle his rotations to make up for the lack of production—possibly keeping at least one starter on the court at all times.
Darren Collison finds himself in a familiar position, once again taking over starting duties for an injured Chris Paul. Paul dealt with multiple injuries in 2009, forcing Collison (a rookie at the time), into the starting lineup.
He made the most of the opportunity—averaging 12.4 points, 5.7 assists and 2.5 rebounds on 47.7 percent shooting.
Whether or not Collison can replicate his rookie success will be something to watch moving forward.
SI.com’s Rob Mahoney is not optimistic and notes that:
“While Collison makes for a decent enough backup, he’s out of his depth and stylistically out of sync as a temporary Paul replacement. L.A.’s offense can succeed with him contributing in small doses or merely observing at times, but the fact that Collison doesn’t create dribble penetration, subsists on pull-up jumpers and only has rudimentary playmaking skills doesn’t exactly bode well.”
While Mahoney is correct on all fronts, this does not necessarily mean the end of the world for the Clippers.
The Clippers are ranked seventh in team defensive efficiency at 100.6. If they are able to keep it up on the defensive end, they can potentially create more transition opportunities—where Collison and his speed can excel.
Before Chris Paul’s injury, the obvious need for the Clippers was another backup big.
The need has shifted to more guards, as Fox Sports' Kyle Montgomery noted (via Twitter) that was the primary reason to forward Stephen Jackson being waived.
The Clippers recently signed point guards Darius Morris and Maalik Wayns to 10-Day deals, and the roster could see even more new faces before Paul returns.
Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic are other names that the Clippers are considering signing.
With Bynum—baggage and all, the Clippers would solidify their front court with another skilled big man that can hit free throws.
Blake Griffin has quietly enjoyed a resurgent season.
His statistics are mostly up from last season at 21.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists. The most encouraging sign would be from the free-throw line, where he is shooting 70.6 percent—a staggering 18.5 percent increase from two seasons ago.
Griffin’s midrange game has also made considerable strides, as Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times notes:
"He is shooting 38.2% on shots from 15-19 feet, a considerable improvement over the 33.5% of shots he made from the same distance last season. Griffin is even better from 20-24 feet, making 43.1% of his shots as opposed to 34.2% from that distance last season."
Griffin has been the beneficiary of playing pick-and-roll with Chris Paul to generate open looks. With Paul out, things will undoubtedly get tougher, as defenses begin to focus more on Griffin.
The eventual return of J.J. Redick should help alleviate the increased defensive pressure on Griffin— possessing the ability to create off screens, and space the floor as a three-point threat alongside Jamal Crawford.
Doc Rivers is no stranger to losing star point guards to injury. Just last season, the Boston Celtics lost Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL in his right knee.
Over the next 22 games without Rondo, the Celtics had a surprising 16-6 record. The Celtics eventually came crashing back to Earth finishing the season 23-21 without Rondo.
By comparison, the Clippers are expecting to miss Chris Paul for six weeks.
Of the 20 expected games without Chris Paul, 14 of those will come against teams with a record below .500.
While Paul’s injury is unfortunate, the Clippers could potentially stay competitive in the Pacific Division standings before he returns with fresh legs.