Blake Griffin couldn’t wait to play with Chris Paul.
After being led by Paul for six seasons, the Clippers became the latest victim of losing an All-Star to free agency. Fortunately, Paul made them aware of his decision beforehand. The Clippers were able to make a trade with the Houston Rockets that landed them some assets in return — Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Sam Dekker, Montrez Harrell, Kyle Wiltjer, a top-three protected 2018 first-round pick and cash.
Another fortunate note for the Clippers is that it’s not a complete reset for the franchise, as they still have a centerpiece in 5x All-Star Blake Griffin, who the team will now be playing through full-time.
— FOX Sports West (@FoxSportsWest) July 18, 2017
We often see the effects of a team losing their best player. It can happen during a stretch of the season if said player is injured. The team usually focuses on sharing the ball and managing possessions wisely in order to make up for the loss of a great talent.
In the above clip, Doc Rivers doesn’t dare claim that his team will be better without Chris Paul. His comment about having “more ball movement” wasn’t a dig at Paul, rather he meant it as a compliment to Paul’s abilities in that the Clippers felt completely comfortable letting Paul dictate the offense for the last six years.
To paraphrase Doc’s comments, the Clippers had plenty of ball movement with Paul, but now they’ll have to share the ball even more without him.
Blake Griffin now becomes the anchor of a do-it-by-committee basketball team.
An important move for the Clippers this summer was snagging Danilo Gallinari in free agency, exactly the kind of small forward they’ve yearned for over the years. He adds size on the wing, scoring and needed floor spacing, particularly after losing J.J. Redick. Griffin and Redick posted a 115.8 Offensive Rating as a two-man lineup last season, per NBA.com/stats, just one point behind Griffin and Paul’s rating.
We’ll probably see Griffin working with Lou Williams in ways he worked with Redick, operating in the high post and on the perimeter as a hand-off screener, roller and pop man. Gallinari makes for another weapon. Otherwise, the Clippers are thin on talent.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 23, 2017
Playing through Blake Griffin is completely operable for the Clippers. Griffin has averaged at least 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists over the last four seasons. He’s still a premier power forward, and more specifically, he’s a proven playmaker.
Griffin’s assist percentage last season (23.5) was second to only Paul’s (44.4) on the team. I would expect that number to go up along with his usage.
In his career, Blake operated most lethally in the two-man game with CP3. So many of his violent, high-flying posters over the years came out of that action with Chris Paul.
Griffin’s passing game expanded as a result. The adjacent high-low game with DeAndre Jordan became just as consistent and deadly in the Lob City arsenal. Overall, Griffin is an excellent passer. His assisting should see an increase if the Clippers are to be more reliant on their ball movement because frankly, he’s now their best playmaker.
Is Griffin up to the task?
Griffin’s potential dominance without Paul is in question. The relevance of the Clippers rests on his shoulders, but now this team is under less critical attention. Their playoff contention won’t be considered a lock, which is a demotion from their six straight playoff appearances with Paul at the helm.
So this new slate for these Clippers makes for a bit less pressure for Griffin as he transitions into the primary leadership role and helps segue into a new era.
I think this finally gives the Clippers a chance to play freer basketball. Knowing you can’t rely on your talent can ignite the kind of team basketball they want to achieve.
Winning certain games will be tougher. It won’t look nearly as pretty. In that sense, the pressure definitely falls on Griffin when it comes time to make plays for his team in the biggest moments. That is now his full-time responsibility.
This is a scenario for Griffin to showcase his stardom. If the Clippers are going to be a playoff team with this roster, it’ll be the result of Griffin being healthy and playing the best basketball of his career.
Clippers fans have to hope that losing Paul eventually becomes an example of taking a step back to take a bigger step forward. For now, they need the absolute most out of their centerpiece and best all-around player.