Clippers on Fire Since Griffin’s Return
Blake Griffin ended up missing 47 games for the Los Angeles Clippers during the regular season. In that time, the Clippers went 31-16 SU and 27-20 ATS. Were they actually better off without their star power forward? Some very sharp analysts thought so. They pointed at how Los Angeles had better floor spacing without Griffin, and how point guard Chris Paul was taking more and better shots as a result.
There’s no question that LA outperformed market expectations with Griffin on the sidelines. But since his return from the injured list, the Clippers have taken their game to another level. They’ve won all seven of their games with Griffin at 5-2 ATS, including the first two games of their Western Conference quarterfinal against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Gospel of Luc
The problem with looking at LA’s record without Griffin is that it takes his absence out of context. Other things were going on with the Clippers; all year long, head coach Doc Rivers has been juggling his personnel, trying to find the right fit of players to make a serious title run. Lance Stephenson (–1.6 BPM) and Josh Smith (–0.1 BPM) were jettisoned halfway through the season. Rivers gave those bench minutes to Pablo Prigioni (+0.4 BPM) and Cole Aldrich (+4.8 BPM) instead, with positive results.
Rivers also decided to put defensive specialist Luc Mbah a Moute (–3.0 OBPM, +1.5 DBPM) in the starting rotation in late November, after the Clippers had gone 7-7 SU and 5-9 ATS through their first 14 games. Mbah a Moute has been a quality “glue guy” with or without Griffin in the lineup. His presence allows JJ Redick (+3.5 OBPM, –2.7 DBPM) to concentrate on what he does best: shooting 3-pointers. Redick led all regular players this year at 47.5% from behind the arc.
Shoot Less, Win More
With an improved cast of players around him, Griffin has played at a higher level since his return. He was a plus-3.6 in 30 regular-season games before tearing his left quad; in the five games he played in April, Griffin was a plus-14.6. Then he went a combined plus-22 in the two victories over the Trail Blazers. Griffin is taking far fewer shot attempts than he did before the injury, allowing the Clippers to continue doing the things that were working so well while he was gone.
It still might not be enough to get Los Angeles through the Western playoffs and into the NBA Finals. There are three very good teams ahead of LA in the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder. But from a value perspective, the Clippers have transformed themselves into legitimate title contenders at a bargain price.