Chris Paul's Absence Will Be Blessing in Disguise for LA Clippers

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Chris Paul's Absence Will Be Blessing in Disguise for LA Clippers
Andrew Fielding-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Paul means everything to the Los Angeles Clippers' championship chances.

And that's not a good thing.

He has the most offensive skills, the best set of defensive tools and the loudest voice in the locker room. His value may go unmatched even by the game's best of the best.

That's a true compliment to his talent. But a potential detriment to L.A.'s title hopes.

The Clippers need Paul to make a championship push, but he can't be the only face in the picture.

That's what sends an unlikely ray of hope through the otherwise gloomy six-week period Paul's expected to miss with a Grade 3 AC joint separation of his right shoulder.

The Clippers have been marveling at CP3's gifts for long enough; this is their chance to learn how to win without him.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

In the fully loaded Western Conferences, the Clippers can't afford so much as a stumble.

But treading water isn't enough. This needs to be a time of evolving, not just surviving.

Paul might be the biggest piece of L.A.'s championship puzzle, but he's certainly not the only one:

Blake Griffin is making it harder to remember who the MVP candidate on this roster is. The three-time All-Star had already been enjoying a dominant campaign, but he's upped the ante since losing his Lob City partner:

Coach Doc Rivers keeps increasing Griffin's offensive load, but the big man keeps demanding more.

Over his last nine games, Griffin has averaged 27.0 points on 55.8 percent shooting. A career 62.6 percent shooter at the free-throw line, he's hitting 75.3 percent of his foul shots during that stretch.

In his first four games without Paul, Griffin tossed out exactly five assists a night. On the season, he's the only player averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists with a 50-plus field-goal percentage.

As Rivers told Clippers.com's Eric Patten, Griffin has his fingerprints all over the stat sheetand the win column:

He’s just doing everything for us, rebounding, defending. I’ve said it before, he’s such a good passer that people don’t know about. They get lost in his dunks and the fancy stuff. He is a great passer, not a good passer. With [Chris Paul] out we’ve really been giving him the ball and playing through him at times and it’s paying off for us.

To the hoops world's credit, the dunks are worth getting lost in. They do distract some of the casual fans from his across-the-board talent, but they're some of the best distractions we've ever seen.

He's been putting up All-NBA numbers all season, but Griffin needed this test. If the Clippers wind up getting anywhere near where they'd like to go, he'll be put in other positions where he has to lead this team.

He has more than enough talent to be Paul's offensive crutch. He has great court vision, a nonstop motor and a size-speed quickness that few defenders can match. If defenses overload on Paul, Griffin has the tools to make them consistently pay.

He's always had those weapons, but it took this injury to bring them out. As B/R's D.J. Foster noted, Paul is "at the center of everything, by design, and so the Clippers are now tasked with basically reinventing themselves on the fly."

Griffin's obviously played the feature role in this reinvention. But that wasn't the only door opened by Paul's injury.

Jamal Crawford has seen his field-goal percentage plummet without Paul (34.7), but he's focusing more on looking for his teammates (6.0 assists). Jared Dudley (43.8 three-point percentage) and Willie Green (45.5) have helped maintain proper spacing so this offense can keep rolling even with a new hand at the wheel.

Darren Collison has reminded everyone he could still be the best backup in the business. During his first four stand-in starts, he's averaged 17.5 points with a sizzling .659/.600/.909 shooting slash and 6.5 assists.

No one man was going to replace L.A.'s greatest one-man show. Now that these extra hands have been added to the pot, it's Rivers' job to keep them there even after CP3 returns.

Paul's going to be itching to get this team back on his shoulders when he returns. Judging by what he said in his first comments since the injury, via ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi, he's not happy that burden was lifted in the first place:

A lot of my friends and family reached out to me and things like that and everybody is like, 'it's OK you're going to come back stronger and tougher,' but I'm one of those people that right now, it's not all right. I want to play and I feel like I need to play. You just want to be out there to help your team.

That's the secret for Paul. He needs to see himself as a helpernot a savior.

That means the Clippers need to keep playing like a team that doesn't need saving.

Griffin cannot give up his superstar status just because Paul is back. Crawford needs to keep threatening as both a scorer and a setup man. Collison has to show this same trust in his talent even when his workload gets chopped back down.

The more cards the Clippers keep up their sleeves, the harder they'll be to stop. Keep enough hands in the pot, and anything is a possibility.

Maybe then, Paul can guidenot carrythis team down the path to the podium.

 

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

 

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