Tough road ahead for the Clippers without Chris Paul
Last season was a record breaking one for the Los Clippers but their post-season was much shorter than their fans, front office or even the players had expected.
Ever since Chris Paul made it to the Clippers, their record has steadily improved each season but no player and franchise would be satisfied with only a first and second round exit to show in the Playoffs in the improvement column.
So with several good off-season acquisitions, the Clippers were poised to be serious title contenders for the first time this season since Chris Paul made it to the lesser known Los Angeles team.
Before they faced the Dallas Mavericks, the Clippers had a healthy record of 22-12 (.647). But on this play as Paul was going around a screen, like he has millions of times before in his career, he landed awkwardly on his right shoulder.
It was finally announced on the night after the game that Paul had a separated right shoulder. On further examination it was known that the six time NBA All-Star guard has been diagnosed with a Grade 3 AC joint separation in his right shoulder.
He would not undergo surgery and will be out for at least 5-6 weeks.
This comes as a huge blow for the Clippers as they are headed for a crucial and tough East coast road trip where they play 7 games in 10 nights starting 17th January. Other than a visit by the Miami Heat the home schedule looks relatively easy, something a deep roster team coached by Doc Rivers could handle.
So how are the Clippers going to respond to the injury?
Is their season done?
Their season is far from done and here’s why.
It isn’t going to be easy replacing a player who averages 19.6 points and a league high 11.2 assists per game. Chris Paul accounts for 45.1 points per game for the Clippers.
Backup not only mean the bench players but also the rest of the starting line-up. The Clippers have one of the best benches in the league.
Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes have been most effective off the bench with occasional stints on the floor but also still effective is veteran forward Antawn Jamison.
Crawford comes most handy as a substitute for Paul in crunch moments when the team needs to go to a clutch shooter.
Matt Barnes is a turn off and turn on shooter but contributes more on the defensive end of the floor than on offense.
Paul is an assists guy, great passer and has amazing court vision. No wonder the Clippers have filled the roster with shooters.
Off-season signings Jared Dudley and J.J. Reddick have taken turns in lighting up from long range and have been consistent scorers starting at Small Forward and Shooting Guard respectively.
Blake Griffin has improved his mid-range jumper and although he has been very selective about his post plays, it has been improving each season.
DeAndre Jordan has been a huge presence on the defensive end ever since Doc Rivers arrived to coach the team. His contributions on the offensive end are limited but effective nonetheless.
The only weak link in the backup seems to be Paul’s replacement at the point guard Darren Collison. Although he averages 16.2 points per game, in an offense heavily dependent on playmaking with lobs and passes to open shooters, averaging 3.9 assists per game is not going to be enough to replace even half of Paul’s work.
Clippers have been making positive moves
“Once Chris [Paul] went down we needed guards and in my opinion, multiple guards,” he said. “We’ve already signed one and we’ll probably sign another here in the next day. It’s just what we had to do.”
Head Coach and Senior Vice President of basketball operations for the Clippers Doc Rivers refers to the Clippers’s signing of point guard Darius Morris to a 10 day contract as Collison made it to the starting line-up. His statement suggests and indicates more moves are in store for the franchise.
“Just so everyone knows he was great. He was really, really great,” Rivers said. “Stephen was everything I needed him to be, great attitude, great in the locker room, which is something that we needed from a veteran player.”
Although a great player and champion, post Paul’s injury Stephen Jackson was the misfit in a roster which needed guards as Rivers mentions above.
Maalik Wayns was another player who was waived by the Clippers this Sunday making room on the roster for more guards.
There will suddenly be a lot of pressure on Griffin who is an incredible passer for his position and size. The road ahead seems to be against few easy teams in the East but the question also arises of how effective can Paul be when he returns? There is reason to fear especially after the unsuccessful returns of Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook.
Nobody in the league doubts the talent the Clippers roster has at its disposal even without Paul but does Collison have what it takes to utilize this roster to the full potential? That is the question fans across the league would be asking.
Collison holds the key to the path the Clippers sans Paul.
How will it turn out when we reach April? Do the Clippers still have what it takes to contend for home court, come Playoff time?
I certainly believe so.