By Chris Molicki
It’s bad enough that Blake Griffin punched a Clippers’ assistant manager, but it’s been confirmed that he’ll miss 4-6 weeks due to a broken hand sustained from the incident.
However, Griffin had missed the previous 14 games due to a quad injury, and the Clips went 11-3 in his absence. They also beat the Pacers Tuesday night in their first game since the Griffin news broke, bringing that mark to 12-3.
This has a lot of people asking a very controversial question: Are the Los Angeles Clippers better without Blake Griffin?
I’m here to tell you the answer is no.
First, let’s talk about why Los Angeles has had a nice run of success minus Griffin. One reason is that the star forward can sometimes clog up the offense a bit. Blake operates from the elbow a lot, and while he is deadly there, it hurts the Clippers’ spacing, especially when DeAndre Jordan is on the floor.
Now, Los Angeles is running a more spread-out offense, with Chris Paul controlling the ball the majority of the time and setting up Jordan for lobs. When you mix one of the best point guards in the league and the best lob man in the league with a lot of space, good results are bound to ensue.
But while this success is encouraging and it helps that other players have stepped up, it’s important to question if this is sustainable.
It’s also important to remember that Griffin, when healthy, is a borderline top-10 NBA player. He’s a dynamic scorer, one of the best big-man passers in the game, and, of course, he’s a freak of nature. While he may slow things down at times, the versatile bruiser adds more to the Clippers than he takes away.
Griffin leads the team in points and minutes, while he is second in rebounds, assists, and PER. That’s not easily replaceable.
And yet, it seems like the Clippers have done just that. J.J. Redick is having a stellar run, Paul Pierce seems to be back from the dead, and even Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has become a viable starter. These are the players that have led the Clips to 12 wins in 15 games without Griffin. But those wins may be fool’s gold.
Let’s take a look at the quality of teams played in those 15 games. Only five of those games have come against teams above .500, with L.A. going 3-2 in those contests, a respectable mark. But then you have to realize that the other 10 games came against sub .500 teams, meaning the Clippers racked up a 9-1 record against a fluff schedule.
You can argue that the Clippers are just doing what they’re supposed to do: beat the teams in front of them, and that’s all well and good. But when looking at the grand scheme of things, this is a team desperate for postseason success, and the past 15 games does not mean a Griffinless team will achieve that.
The western conference has a supernova in the Golden State Warriors, a worthy and possibly equal squad to them in the San Antonio Spurs, and a third contender with arguably two of the best five players in the league in the Oklahoma City Thunder. Los Angeles will likely have to beat two of them to reach the Finals, and they’ll have to reach their absolute ceiling if they want any shot of doing so.
That’s where Griffin comes in. In postseason basketball, the game gets tighter, the players are more motivated, and the coaches will try to take away your best options. Playoff defenses would have an easier time sniffing out the things that Paul and Jordan do best if Griffin is off the floor. And I don’t think Pablo Prigioni and Cole Aldrich can pick up the slack when that happens.
The reality is that, barring injury, the Clippers will likely finish no higher than fourth in the west. If that happens and they get through their first round playoff series, a date with one of these two teams awaits. And they’ll stand no chance without Griffin.
Bill Simmons made the Ewing Theory popular; the theory that a team actually performs better without its best player. And while I think that is sometimes possible, it isn’t the case here. If the Clippers want to reach the finals and not be forced to blow up their current core, they need to play to their fullest potential.
They need Griffin to reach that ceiling.
Image Provided by: (Mark J. Terrill/AP)