Blake Griffin returned to action earlier this month after missing more than half the regular season with a quadriceps injury and a fractured right hand, suffered in a scuffle with the team’s assistant equipment manager.
During the 45-game Griffin-less stretch, the Clippers went 30-15, outscoring opponents by 6.8 points per 100 possessions, the third best mark in the league. They also beat four of the top eight teams in the NBA: San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Miami. Despite the optimistic figures sans Griffin, a player many consider to be one of the 10 best in the league, Coach Doc Rivers did his best to squelch the notion the team is better off without the five-time all-star.
Doc Rivers: "Anybody who thinks we’re better without Blake has sort of lost their mind."
— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) February 11, 2016
The coach is certainly correct about this.
The Clippers are one of the three worst teams in the league this season at scoring in the paint, producing just 37.6 points per contest in the area. Since Griffin returned, the team is finding more opportunities beneath the basket, scoring 43 points per contest in the paint over the last six games and seeing an uptick in second-chance points. Griffin shoots above league average both from the restricted area and in the paint, and Los Angeles is getting 5.7 percent more of its points from the paint since he rejoined the active roster. Conversely, precisely 4.1 percent fewer of the team’s field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc over the past six games compared to Los Angeles’s season average. Put another way: While the team is hoisting 27.2 three-pointers per 100 possessions this season, that average has dropped to 23.9 over the past six games, on account of how many looks Los Angeles is getting near the rim.
This reintegration cuts both ways: Defensively, the Clippers are allowing 38.3 points in the paint over the past six games, the fifth lowest average over that stretch. While Griffin was out, Los Angeles allowed 41.3 points in the paint and surrendered 14 second-chance points per contest, one of the highest marks in the league.
Griffin remains a perennial nightmare to handle in isolation situations, as evidenced below by him putting Zaza Pachulia on skates with a crossover combination, hesitation dribble and drive to the rim.
He’s too strong for teams to send help late and hope to defend him at the rim; Griffin could write a dissertation on flight acrobatics.
Griffin’s unquestionably one of the most talented passing big men in the league, making the heavy pick-and-roll framework that Rivers employs so effective: If Chris Paul finds Griffin sweeping to the rim, he can hurt the defense in a multitude of ways. Since his return, the team’s assist percentage drops 18.1 percentage points when Griffin sits. In the sequence below, he sneaks into the paint for an easy entry pass and then finds DeAndre Jordan for one of his patented alley-oops.
Considering Griffin’s scoring prowess, it’s rare that opponents lose track of his whereabouts on court. Should opposing defenders attempt to trap Paul on pick-and-roll plays, the Clippers are deft enough with their ball movement to swing the ball and find the open man, as is shown by the sequence below, in which Griffin follows his pick-and-roll motion all the way through and is given an easy bucket.
The team will need Griffin to start connecting on a higher percentage of his midrange looks to help offensive spacing moving into the playoffs. He’s only connected on 35.3 percent of his looks from 15 to 19 feet since he returned, but Los Angeles is lethal when opposing defenders have to keep tabs on him away from the basket.
When Griffin went down, he had one of the highest usage rates in the league. After recalibrating the offense for three months, Rivers has reintroduced him to the rotation and the move is already paying dividends on both ends of the floor. With Los Angeles staring down a postseason run that could lead to the dissolving of its core, Griffin is providing a healthy dose of optimism for Rivers, at least thus far. The Clippers are turning over the ball less, finding a higher portion of assisted buckets and holding teams to low point totals.
“With Blake, there’s endless possibilities,” Paul correctly told Sports Illustrated.