Are Los Angeles Clippers Now Becoming Blake Griffin's Team?

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Are Los Angeles Clippers Now Becoming Blake Griffin's Team?
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Chris Paul showed the Los Angeles Clippers the path to the podium; Doc Rivers illuminated the trail, but Blake Griffin has been the one leading the actual procession.

The four-time All-Star has risen to and surpassed the superstar threshold.

Always good for a bloated box score or a fully loaded highlight reel, Griffin has changed the way he's achieves those numbers. It's the impact they've made on his team that captures his transformation from secondary star to a franchise centerpiece.

Contextualizing Griffin's Across-the-Board Contributions
Category Statistic NBA Rank
Points per game 24.4 6th
Rebounds per game 9.7 11th
Field-goal percentage 53.7 T-12th
Player efficiency rating 23.9 9th
Win shares 10.2 4th

Basketball-Reference.com

"He just works on his game and he's getting the payment," Rivers said, via ESPN's J.A. Adande. "He's putting in a lot of deposits, and now he's getting some cash back."

And Griffin isn't the only one getting rich off those returns.

The Clippers (46-20) are the hottest team in the NBA (winners of nine straight) and one of the best we've seen from start to finish. L.A. has the fifth-best winning percentage in the league (.697) and the second-highest net rating (plus-7.7 points per 100 possessions). It's one of only three teams with a top-eight efficiency ranking at both ends of the floor (109.4 offensive rating, second, and 101.7 defensive rating, eighth).

This despite the fact that Paul lost 18 games to a separated shoulder earlier this season. Or that sharpshooter J.J. Redick has missed more games (36) than he's played (30). Or that perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford sat out five of the last six contests due to a strained calf.

Or that the bench has been shuffled like a deck of cards at the World Series of Poker. Team salary has been shed through trades (Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens), and gambles have been made on the free-agent market—some good (Danny Granger, Glen Davis), others not so much (Stephen Jackson, Sasha Vujacic and Darius Morris).

Through all the chaos, Griffin's elite-level talents have remained constant. He's played all 66 of the Clippers games, providing absurdly reliable scoring (24 straight games and counting of 20-plus points), rugged rebounding and, of course, some of the best high-flying finishes in the game.

He's a showman in every sense, and not everyone is a fan of his work.

"Blake gets hit as much as anyone in the league," Rivers said, via Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles. "We have all seen it. It gets old. It really does."

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Some teams see it as a mind game. Griffin has called it "cowardly," per Markazi.

It might be even simpler than either of those. It could just be the outcome of the frustrating realization that he's playing his way into unguardable territory. Opposing defenses have moved on to the last resort.

His aerial game is already legendary to the point that he's actually changed some hoops vernacular. People don't get posterized anymore—they get "Mozgoved."

But since first joining the league, he's added layers upon layers to that athletically based game, a process hastened by Griffin's rise to the top of the offensive pecking order during Paul's lengthy absence.

He might not be the best passing big man (his 3.6 assists leave him trailing Joakim Noah, 4.9, Kevin Love, 4.2, Josh McRoberts, 4.1 and Marc Gasol, 3.7), but he could be the best playmaking post player in the league. His combination of handles, vision and quickness goes unrivaled on the low block.

"He’s so unselfish to be a superstar," Jamal Crawford said, via Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Under Rivers' watch, Griffin is getting more of his touches on the elbows. There, he can survey the entire floor and decide what his next move should be: pass, attack or shoot.

Defenses used to be able to live with the last option. Not anymore:

If he gets to the basket, it's finished. Of the 72 players with at least 250 shot attempts within five feet of the hoop, only LeBron James (78.5) and Kevin Durant (74.4) have made a higher percentage of those looks than Griffin (69.1).

If there's room to shoot, though, he's letting it fly with confidence. And for good reason. He's converted 39.0 percent of his attempts from 15-to-19 feet, the same success rate as Carlos Boozer and a better one than Al Jefferson (36.6) and Tim Duncan (34.8).

"If he’s hitting that perimeter shot — the way he can put it on the floor and get to the rim so quickly — it makes it difficult," Utah Jazz coach Ty Corbin said, via Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune. "Big guys who are guarding him become reluctant to close out...The more he’s making his perimeter shot, the tougher he is to guard."

That explains why he's a nightmare matchup, then. Because he's drilling that shot with regularity:

If he's grown this much as a player, is he now the franchise leader? Yes and no.

He's the focal point of this offense. He's averaging nearly six more points per game than anyone else on the team and his usage percentage (29.1) is almost two points higher than his peers.

"The Clippers are more dynamic and less predictable than ever before with Griffin generating so much of the offense," Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster wrote.

With Griffin drawing the (flying) lion's share of the coverage, defenses become more vulnerable to the best point guard in the game. Paul has always picked his spots as a scorer, and Griffin's emergence has made those calls easier to make and those scoring chances more efficient.

In terms of on-court ability, Griffin might just be the best thing this roster has going:

Paul's leadership, toughness and experience are just as important to this team. This isn't a changing of the guard: It's a shared ownership venture for the Clippers.

"They might have two of the top five players in the league in Griffin and Chris Paul," Adande wrote. "They have a championship-proven coach in Doc Rivers."

L.A.'s Big Three might not have the conventional makeup, but its ceiling extends as high as that of any contender.

Griffin couldn't lead this march on his own. But the Clippers wouldn't be having championship thoughts without him.

 

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

 

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