The Los Angeles Clippers will soon have Blake Griffin back in the lineup, but the MVP-worthy play of Chris Paul during his absence could mean a new and somewhat limited role for the high-flying big man.
Griffin was medically cleared to play this weekend, which officially starts the clock on his four-game suspension for getting into a fight with the team’s equipment manager. That puts his return at April 3 after missing the last 41 games with a quad injury and a broken hand.
But there is some thought that Blake Griffin could return to a slightly different role thanks to the torrid play of Chris Paul. As SB Nation noted, Paul has been assisting on 52 percent of the team’s baskets while he is on the floor in Griffin’s absence. He has also brought his teammates more into the fold, SB Nation noted.
“He’s the one shot creator the team has in a starting unit filled with finishers. As good as J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan have been on offense in Griffin’s absence, they couldn’t play their games without Paul setting them. During the post-Griffin stretch, Paul has assisted 59 percent of Redick’s makes (139 of 237) and 46 percent of Jordan field goals (87 of 189). The latter is an impressive number considering Jordan gets unassisted buckets mostly from offensive rebounds, often off Paul’s own misses.
“Between the points he scores directly and the ones he creates through assists, Paul has been responsible for 47 of the Clippers’ 104 points per game. He’s done it while remaining efficient and avoiding turnovers. The numbers aren’t hollow either, as Los Angeles has gone 26-13 in that time and they have been 16 points better per 100 possessions when Paul plays as opposed to when he’s on the bench.”
That could mean an altered role for Blake Griffin in his return, with the ball moving through Chris Paul more often and Reddick and Jordan playing a somewhat larger role. It was Reddick who was the hero on Sunday, taking a crafty inbound pass from Paul to hit the game-winning shot.
Clippers beat Blazers, 96-94, on buzzer-beater by J.J. Redick. Chris Paul: 25 Pts. Crawford: 25 Pts. pic.twitter.com/Ukygv3Ewye
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 25, 2016
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 25, 2016
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he had been cautious with Griffin’s rehab as well, erring on the side of caution and keeping him out one week longer than Griffin had wanted.
Rivers said that Griffin “looked great” in the work he’s done so far, but the slow recovery could also mean limited minutes for Griffin, at least until the playoffs. Rivers also admitted that Griffin’s conditioning is a bit down after his long layoff.
“[Griffin] had no endurance as far as his wind,” Rivers said, via ESPN. “But as far as playing basketball, he looked terrific…. We figure we have five or six or seven or whatever more days and honestly I don’t know if you can get him in the condition to play 35 minutes or 30 minutes right away. My guess right now is we’re going to start him.”
But if Blake Griffin is returning to the Los Angeles Clippers in a more limited role, it’s not Chris Paul’s idea. The point guard said on Sunday that in practice, “everything’s a lot smoother when Blake’s on the court.” And if the Clippers are to compete with powerhouses San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, they will likely need both Griffin and Paul playing at their peak.
[Picture by Harry How/Getty Images]