This is a problem.
It’s proven that the NBA is a league of stars. The teams that win have stars and utilize them to their best of abilities. And yet, Blake Griffin has become a small pawn in the chess game that Vinny Del Negro and the Los Angeles Clippers are playing.
In the regular season things were solid. They had the best season in the franchises history with Blake playing a career-low in minutes (32.5 per game), points per game (18), field goal attempts per game (13.4) and rebounds (8.3). The depth the Clippers have lightened the load in the regular season, but it’s known far and wide that depth doesn’t win you championships, stars do.
Usually things change in the playoffs. The rotation gets shortened and your star players roles and minutes increase. Entering game 6 of the playoffs, this hasn’t happened with Blake. He’s second behind Chris Paul in field-goal attempts per game (11.8), but that’s only .4 higher than the next person which is Jamal Crawford. He’s third in minutes (28.8) behind Jamal and Paul. Blake’s only averaging one more point per game than Crawford also. This isn’t the formula for winning a playoff series, or on a bigger scale, a championship. In the Griffin-CP3 era the Clippers are 40-29 when Griffin attempts more than 15 shots per game. They’re 3-1 in the playoffs over that same stretch, but for some reason VDN opts for the depth to win games over his bonafide star.
But when he has been getting shots in the series versus the Memphis Grizzlies, they aren’t coming consistently. Here’s a chart that shows the shot discrepancy from the first half to the second for Blake Griffin.
Now Blake’s hampered with an ankle injury that’ll have him at something less than 100 percent health-wise heading into this elimination game. The depth that everyone raved about is coming back to hamper the Clips. The bench that showed up in the regular season has been quite non-existent in all but the first two games of the season. And instead of spending more time allowing Blake Griffin to consistently attack the likes of Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur they’re letting the wealth be shared.
In Tim Duncan‘s worst post-season he averaged 11.5 shots per game. Dwight Howard, who isn’t an offensive savant, has shot at least 10 shot per game in the playoffs since joining the league. Even Carlos Boozer averaged 16.5 attempts per game when playing alongside Deron Williams in Utah. Last season Kevin Garnett averaged 16 shots per game playing alongside Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen which is a better surrounding cast then the top four players that Griffin is playing alongside.
Point is, for the Clippers to be the team they’ve been trying to be since 1984, they’ll need their star to be more assertive. And honestly, it may be far too late. Memphis is rolling. Randolph is partying like it’s 2011 and the Clippers don’t possess the bigs to contain Marc Gasol. Blake’s no Serge Ibaka; he doesn’t have a problem creating his own shot. At the same time, some have to understand that he isn’t Pau Gasol circa 2008-10; he isn’t just dominant in the post, but a 20.4 career average isn’t a smokescreen nor is it done by “just dunking” as some love to say about Griffin. He shot 46% from the post, 65% as the pick-and-roll man and 74.5% as the cutting man. There are ways to get Blake in spots to where he becomes an effective player instead of just getting him the ball and moving out the way (shot 33% in isolation this season).
In a way this all leads back to Vinny Del Negro’s abilities to coach a contending team. Just getting the Clippers to the playoffs isn’t good enough anymore and it may cost him his job. If by some miracle this team can walk out of the FedEx Forum a victor, he’ll need to make sure his star is on the floor and extremely active on the floor because Chris Paul can’t do it by himself, but I’m sure Paul’s production and an extremely active/involved Blake Griffin can get this team to the Western Conference finals. Anything further than that is a bonus, but this team will go as far as Blake takes them, or VDN allows him to take them.