Don’t let the record fool you.
Like anything, a NBA record over x amount of time is useless without context. In this situation, the Los Angeles Clippers success has gotten some to begin thinking this team is in less need of superstar point guard than they were at the beginning of the season. Or when they traded Eric Gordon and company for the near-disgruntled New Orleans star a few years back.
Context is the key here. Since Chris Paul went down the Clippers have won ten of the available thirteen games. No matter who you’re playing that’s impressive. But there’s a ceiling to how impressive it is.
Of those thirteen games, ten game against Eastern Conference opponents. Three of the team teams faced had a record of .500 or above (IND, CHI, TOR). Still impressed? Even the Western Conference teams the Clippers faced (not including last night’s game against the Golden State Warriors) weren’t world-beaters. The Los Angeles Lakers, due to the decimation of their roster via injury, is a bottom-five team and the Dallas Mavericks don’t defend.
Even the numbers are skewed once context is added. Since Paul’s injury the Los Angeles Clippers have had the best offensive rating in the league. How is that possible as Paul had a large hand in everything that happened in this offense? It goes back to what was mentioned earlier: a pansy schedule. Pace matters. The lack of defense matters. The lack of competition matters. The Clippers can score with the best of them, but using that number as a means to suggest they’re better without Paul is… well, flawed.
Then last night the Clippers ran into reality parading as a buzz saw by the hands of Golden State, an elite Western Conference team. Blake Griffin played well, putting up his usual 27 points, but that wasn’t enough. There was bound to be a game where the shooters missed shots. Jamal Crawford was off. J.J. Redick was off. Willie Green, Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley couldn’t connect from the field.
And this is where Paul’s brilliance is needed.
The roster is set up to revolve around the play of Paul, Griffin, and, to an extent, Crawford. This is what Doc Rivers and company wanted in the offseason when they flipped the super trade asset in Eric Bledsoe for Redick and Dudley. They’d spread the floor out, creating space for Griffin to operate in the post and Paul on the perimeter. Any double team would likely result in a three. But when those shots stop falling, that’s when Paul puts things into his own hands. He makes things happen. We saw it against Golden State earlier in the season were he put up a rare 40-point outing. It’s why he’s widely regarded as a superstar and the best point guard in the NBA.
You know the perfect way to assess the Clippers play sans-Paul? Mention the confidence gained by Collison and Griffin, two important players who’ve upped their play when called upon. Mention how Paul’s injury couldn’t have come at a better time. Had he injured himself today, the Clippers would be in a world of trouble as the competition they’ll be facing up until the All-Star break is top notch. But his injury happening before an East-heavy road trip isn’t too bad. Also the health of the team should be mentioned. For the first time J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley are all healthy at the same time this season, all three being intricate pieces on both sides of the ball.
That’s how you speak on Los Angeles as they succeeded without Paul.
When playing the bottom dweller’s, the Clippers will be able to overachieve without Paul. But against the best teams in the league, especially come playoff time, if Paul isn’t there the result will be similar to last night’s.
Don’t let the record fool you.