It’s going to sound funny to type the upcoming sentence… it always does when you write a seemingly negative (or in this case honest) piece about one of the best players in the league. But Christopher Emmanuel Paul is over-rated. I’m shocked I’m writing it myself. Don’t believe??? Hear me out.
The narrative that has been repeated ad nauseam this season/playoffs follows: CP3, basketball Jesus, descended upon Los Angeles and transformed the Clippers from laughing stock to contenders overnight. It sounds great. It’s sports analyst fodder and makes a nice story. The only problem: this is NBA fiction.
Blake Griffin showed up on the LAC scene two years ago [[we don’t count the knee season]] and within one month turned this team around. To show what happened to Staples ugly duckling to lob-city swan of basketball we are going to examine 4 distinct Clipper Eras.
1. Pre-Blake Era
There is not much to say about this period without plagiarizing Bill Simmon’s epic Open Letter To Blake Griffin article detailing the history of the worst franchise in North American Pro Sports. Their owner was a blatant racist and classist assfuck. [[very warranted, minors need to know the kind of person this is appropriate for]] They wouldn’t fire a coach who lost the team seasons ago and then blamed their star player (Davis). He was somewhat fairly discouraged by management, his coach and their failure to resign Brand who he’d actually come to play with. Davis will never, ever get credit for leading the young banged up Clips to a 10 game improvement (29-53) after being hurt the previous season (19-63) while Blake sat in street clothes.
2. Griffin Dunks On The Entire NBA
Few rookies have ever had a more dramatic NBA take off then Blake Griffin. It was simply stunning. What no one seems to remember is that it wasn’t just dunks. Within a month Blake Griffin had transformed the Clippers into the young team no one wanted to face. Blake flat out embarrassed established stars in their primes while leading his position or floating amongst the cream in important categories (Boards/FG%). Baron Davis was looking like Boom Dizzle again. Eric Gordon was approaching the best shooting guard in the league conversation. Eric Bledsoe was looking to be one of the most talented young points in the game.
Beyond the highlights the Clippers were kicking ass and taking names. Their only early bright spot win was over the Thunder but with a month under their belts things started changing with a Dec. 1 win over the 15-2 league leading Spurs. It didn’t stop. They posted quality wins over the Bulls, Nuggets, Heat, Lakers, Pacers for a 2 month 16-13 record. From Dec 17 to Jan. 31, the Clippers were one of the hottest teams in hoops going 14-7. (more on this, keep reading)
In December Griffin put up 23 PPG on 53% shooting and 13.5 RPG. In January he put up 26 PPG on 51% shooting and 13.4 boards. Eric Gordon (on The Pest’s fantasy team) was killing it too. In December 23 PPG on 47% shooting, 43% from three, with 4.2 dimes and 3.5 boards. In January he posted 25 PPG on 49% shooting, 44% from three with 4.4 dimes and 3 boards. He was very arguably the best shooting guard in the entire NBA over that period and painstakingly elite.
The Cippers had arrived. Fact.
3. Post Arrival
So what happened? Why did they finish just 32-50 instead of scaring the bejeebus out of some title favorite? The Clips had gone 12-5 over their past 16 games when Eric Gordon got injured and was due to miss 2 months. They went 2-2 over their next 4 games and the front office made controversial decision to tank the season by trading Baron Davis for Mo Williams, Jamario Moon and a first round pick. [[that pick turned out to be a number 1 pick, which turned out to be Kyrie Irving. With Blake and Gordon, this might not have been a championship that passed LAC by, but a dynasty]].
Mo has always been a good complementary player, and would replace some of Gordon’s shooting… would being the key word. LAC traded for him while he himself was rehabbing an injury! The team was obviously weaker without Davis, Williams or Gordon feeding Griffin. This was followed by injuries to Kaman and began to flounder in one of the greatest mandated tank jobs a front office has ever performed.
The crazy thing is they didn’t even have the pick they gave Cleveland lottery protected. This tank was only because they wanted to shed Baron Davis’ enormous contract that badly. Why? To build around their awesome team that had most definitely arrived. More on this plan later. On to this season.
4. CP3 ‘Turns Around’ The Clippers
AKA, CP3 arrives to a stacked Clippers team and an entire international sports community seemingly forgets, again, that when you put a decent PG beside elite players and deep bench you’re going to be successful. The same thing happened in New York, twice, in the same season. First Jeremy Lin made all of D’Antoni’s schemes work by virtue of actually running said schemes through a legit PG. Then Baron Davis, older, far more out of shape and practice, did it again while Melo had the best month of any scorer to pull the Knicks into the playoffs.
There isn’t much more to say about the CP3 saved the Clippers hoo haa that hasn’t been said. Obviously Chris Paul is a great player who makes them better, but if this legend is to be true the Billups injury should not have even been a bump for this team. Only it was more then a bump as they have never really been the same since. Chris Paul is not the Clippers in the sense that Lebron was the Cavaliers. Not even close. He’s one player on a very stacked and talented team. It’s actually quite debateable if he did make them better. Observe:
5. Bizzaro Clippers Era #1 – CP3 goes to LA
I listened to announcers say “just think what this Clippers team would be like had Chris Paul gone to the Lakers” countless times these playoffs. So yes, let’s consider that scenario. Now, we ‘are’ going to assume the Clips make the same pickups, and injuries don’t apply here which is valid since it’s an entirely different season for everyone involved. Who knows, perhaps Blake’s lower leg is snapped clean off, but for the sake of argument let’s run with it.
Instead of warming the bench all season Eric Bledsoe gets starter’s minutes while being mentored on the floor and backed up by Chauncey Billups. I think it’s safe to say that the Bledsoe we saw destroying the Spurs in spurts off the bench just kills it and is possibly up for the MIP award (Anderson won it, I’m almost thinking lock).
Instead of starting guys like Randy Foye/Butler/Billups/Williams at the 2 all those guys are now back ups for the 1-3 spots given their natural positions. Eric Gordon continues being amazing at just about everything.
They still pick up Evans, K-Mart, Nick Young, Bobby Simmons and Ryan Gomes. What does this team become? Offensive. Power. House. And arguably quite a bit better than with Chris Paul. How can that be possible? There’s no way Bledsoe > CP3 right? You are right. However…
6. Can The Clips Be Better Without Chris Paul
CP3’s yearly team’s pace. 21rst, 23rd, 26th, 28th, 15th [[Mostly because Darren Collison was running so much point while CP3 was hurt, their slowest month was when CP3 played the most minutes, and fastest month, scoring considerably more PPG, when he was mostly out and injured]], 29th and 27th fastest paced teams in the league. I recall watching an interview they played during one of the Memphis games where Paul stated that the thing that drives him most crazy is his turnovers. There’s nothing he tries to limit more.
But at what expense? I’m somewhat reminded of perhaps Wilt Chamerlain’s most impressive record. Not his 100 point game. Not 50 PPG for a whole season. Not even leading the league in assists. But the fact that in 1205 regular season and playoff games Wilt Chamberlain never once fouled out. Impressive until you look closer. Teammates and opponents marvel at the feat but also talk about how this ended up costing Wilt and his teams many winnable games. The moment Wilt got 5 fouls he stopped playing D and became one of the least dominant post players in the league for fear of ending his streak.
Watching Chris Paul walk the ball up the court vs San Antonio, time after time, allowing the Spurs to set up their defensive schemes and dig in, made me wonder why his TO’s are so low. Watching Bledsoe push the offence putting the Spurs on their heels made me question Paul and why he runs the slowest teams in the NBA year after year. The team’s offence flowed better with Bledsoe the greenhorn who lived free and made mistakes. Which makes a lot of sense when you have arguably the best transition finisher in the NBA [[unarguably second best if you want to give Lebron the top spot]] and he’s surrounded by knock down shooters. All of that is before you consider a dynamic scorer like Gordon running down the court beside him. Observe Bledsoe push his speed, which is risky, but actually got results.
Their fourth ranked offensive efficiency looks great but is very questionable when compared with their 14’th ranked PPG of 97.5. This is fine, desirable even, if you’re a great defensive team. But the Clippers spent the majority of the year as one of the worst defensive teams in basketball. This is reflected by the Spurs averaging 103 PPG to their 91 and actually being out-scored by the Grizzlies who they very arguably should not have beaten. If your #1 unstoppable transition scorer is incredibly raw in the half court, your team is dubbed “Lob City” and you can’t play defence, then why are you playing this round holed offence with square pegged players?
Like Wilt’s free throws or running D’Antoni’s point guard oriented system with no point guard intentionally demanding that Blake Griffin do all his work in the half court is one of the biggest flaws this team has. Since CP3 has arrived the media and fans have spat on Griffin and lauded Paul’s leadership. But it seems like Paul’s inflexibility is a detriment to the team. Old fashioned stubbornness. When the Clippers were running San Antonio (and everyone) blew leads because they couldn’t stop it. They slowed it down though to get bounced from the second round they were already lucky to be in, averaging just over 90 PPG for the whole playoffs. In my humble opinion, he’s not making them better.
7. Bizzaro Clippers Era #2 – What If They Never Tanked?
And here’s where it gets really interesting. What if the Clippers never did trade Baron Davis to make room to chase Chris Paul? Was this a smart move or a Classic Clippers Cockup? We are going with the 3C option. If they keep Davis they don’t get Mo Williams coming off the bench for them, however they do get to amnesty Davis. Now, perhaps they win more games if they keep Davis but there’s more then one way to tank a season. They were already slumping without Gordon and had a middling record of 32 meaning they were lucky enough to beat out multiple teams with many more balls. Lets say they win the Lottery anyway, since that’s what happened. Their foundation now becomes these possible line up combinations/depth charts:
PG: Kyrie Irving/Eric Bledsoe/Randy Foye/Chauncey Billups
SG: Eric Gordon/Kyrie Irving/Chauncey Billups/Eric Bledsoe/Randy Foye
SF: Caron Butler/Eric Gordon/Nick Young/Bobby Simmons
PF: Blake Griffin/Kenyon Martin/Reggie Evans/Ryan Gomes/Brian Cook
C: Deandre Jordan/Reggie Evans/Blake Griffin/Kenyon Martin.
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the best team in the NBA… for the next decade. A little thin at center but that can be sorted out with veteran minimum contracts from every title chaser over that decade. It didn’t happen though. And maybe it doesn’t matter what the Clippers did. They landed the biggest free agent since Lebron James and ended up in very real danger of missing the playoffs. To steal Simmons oft repeated line, the Clippers have the stink on them. Chris Paul is now a Clipper. Note to fans/media: Chris Paul did not save this franchise, and over-rating him won’t get it off.