Should Blake Griffin sit out the rest of the season?

By on March 12, 2016
(photo USA TODAY Sports  Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

(photo USA TODAY Sports Jayne Kamin-Oncea)

Currently sitting at the fourth spot in the ever-competitive Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers have been exceeding expectations without one of their superstars. Now the question that always pops up whenever a team thrives without their supposedly best player comes to mind: Are they a better team without him? The answer to this problem may differ depending on which angle you choose to look at it.

If you turn back the clock to late December, no one would have dared to phrase this question. However, their stellar play since Blake went down have got people wondering. They have gone 24-8 post-Griffin, after starting out the season with an extremely mediocre record of 17-13 (which by then appeared even more disastrous considering their so-called rivals Golden state went 29-1 their first 30 games.)

So how did they turn it around sans their power forward? You’d think they would do it with depth considering it was widely believed they had the the best moves this off-season, acquiring players such as Josh Smith, Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson, hoping it would be possible to plug one of them into the starting lineup and having the others come off the bench along with their 2-time Sixth man of the year Jamal Crawford. As we all know that experiment quickly came to an end and two of them are not even on the roster, as Doc Rivers didn’t feel like they provided any real value to the team even with Blake Griffin being out (which says a lot). Paul Pierce has been given the starting nod at power forward, but he has been inconsistent at best and straight up terrible at worst, as he does not provide much outside of some spacing on the offensive end, and their latest addition Jeff Green has yet to show he can be counted on from a game-to-game basis. A perfect example of this is his 14 point game in a loss against the Nuggets, which was sandwiched between two scoreless games against Phoenix and Sacramento).

We can clearly rule out that the trade moves for a Blake-replacement have paid off for Los Angeles, but despite their failures, they would still have home court-advantage if the playoffs started today. And the big reason for this? Their “new” Big Three. Outside of the forward positions, the Clippers have been getting heavy contributions from their starting five. Amidst all the talks about Steph Curry, Chris Paul remains a top-tier point guard, masterfully orchestrating the Clippers offense to move after his commands. As a matter of fact he has been even more aggressive than before, averaging 20 points on 15.4 shots a game, both being the most since he came to Los Angeles. Deandre Jordan keeps being a positive constant for the team, dominating the glass and being the high-flying threat that he is on the pick-and-roll and fast breaks. The newest member of the Big Three is also the one that have impressed the most, sharpshooter J.J. Redick. Currently leading the league in three-point percentage at 47.8%, he continues to try proving that he belongs in the list of the best two-guards in the league. His constant cutting and running around picks on the offensive end makes him a player that defenders can’t leave alone. Combine that with his vastly excellent efficiency (shooting 47.5/47.8/87.6 as of March 8) and that makes him one of the most important ingredients for a team chasing a championship. His defense is also one of the most underrated parts of his game, which leads me to my second point; The Clippers have risen to become a top 5-defensive team this season after starting out the season in the middle of the pack.

This brings us back to the original question; Is Blake Griffin expendable in the Clippers chase of raising a championship banner? And should he sit out this season for chemistry purposes? The problem that this question poses is that there are so many factors in play here. First of all, the Clippers are known for having a slow start to the season. Since the Chris Paul-trade, the trend has been them taking their time and progressively getting better, and peaking around mid-March. Along with their trade moves (Paul Pierce, Mbah A Moute, Wes Johnson, Cole Aldrich, and former Clippers Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson were all new players at the start of the season), they were bound to have a rocky start to this season as they got everyone acclimated to one another and built team chemistry. This would explain why their record with Griffin looks as bad as it is, and why they flourished as the season came underway.

Another aspect is the fact that they’ve adopted a new style since Blake went down. You will often see the team playing small-ball with 4 shooters around DJ, which have them playing faster basketball and helps them with spacing on the offensive end (they attempt over 3 more three-pointers a game without Griffin). Will Blake’s comeback mess up the chemistry that the team has built up during the season?

In all honesty, I feel like all the worries about Blake’s return are unwarranted. Not only does he provide them with another threat on the offensive end, but he gives them a much-needed rebounding presence. The Clippers are in the bottom10 in rebounding this season, and Blake’s career 9.6 rebounds a game will help to at least close the gap between them and the best teams in the league. He is also an excellent passer, so the ball movement should not stop when he gets on the floor (on the contrary, they actually averaged more assists back when he played earlier this season, per Basketball Reference).

To conclude, provided he’s healthy, Blake Griffin should definitely try to join the team as early as possible, and will be needed to push this Los Angeles team over the top in the postseason. Sure, stats would say that the individual play of the Clippers players have gone up since his injury. But he brings so much to the table that it is hard to believe that they as a team would be better off without him. His impressive ball handling and passing, his diverse offensive repertoire and his rebounding is something that is hard for a single player to replicate. Having to beat two historically good teams in their conference, the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, they will need every single weapon they have in their possession to have any hopes of hoisting the ultimate prize: The Larry O’Brien trophy.

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