Are the Clippers better or worse this season without Chris Paul? If I were to cut right to the chase, and I am, the Clippers ultimately were never successful in the playoffs mainly because of re-occurring injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin. No matter how well the team performed in the regular season, the two superstars were either never 100 percent healthy or on the shelf during the Clippers playoff runs.
Without one of them, the team had no chance to advance to the Finals. The injury curse has followed Paul to Houston where he’s been rehabbing a left knee injury since Oct. 18 and is expected to miss about a month. During the offseason, the Clippers acquired a handful of players, featuring point guard Patrick Beverley for Paul.
So far this season, Beverley is averaging 13.2 PPG, better than his career average of 9.4. Beverley is now taking on a more prominent role as a playmaker. It’s been head coach Doc Rivers responsibility to create a system that can succeed without Paul with the help of Jerry West who was hired as a consultant during the offseason.
Without Paul, the Clippers are deeper with more ball-handlers, which is what Rivers has desired. Three of the new ball-handlers added this season are Lou Williams, Beverly, and Danilo Gallinari. All three are also masters of the pick-and-roll style of play and know how to move the ball, which is how Rivers likes his team to play the game.
Ball movement was a bit suspect at times while Paul was leading the charge.
“With this team, at any given time, we’ll have four or five guys who can put the ball on the floor that can make a play, that can impact the game on both ends of the floor,” Griffin said about the new-look Clippers.
If Rivers decides to play small during some games, with Griffin at the 5, Gallinari at the 4, and three guards sharing the floor, he could have five players on the floor who can shoot and pass. The Clippers were basically a one-dimensional team when Paul was leading the charge. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were relied on to slam-dunk the ball which eliminated Griffin’s playmaking skills.
Miloš Teodosi?, a newly-acquired point guard, will also channel Paul’s skills. He has great court vision is one of the best passers in the league. With all of these new players, Rivers could essentially structure his rotations to have at least two capable playmakers on the floor at all times.
Defense is the big question mark for the Clippers without Paul. Teodosi?, Williams, Gallinari, and Griffin are not known to be great defenders, so they have to rely on Jordan, Beverley and Austin Rivers to take up the slack. For the most part, the Clippers will need to beat teams with its offense.
And of course the other big problem is injuries. Griffin, Gallinari, and Beverley have missed a combined 206 of 738 possible games (28 percent) over the past three seasons. That translates to missing 23 games per season.
Again, the Western Conference is extremely competitive this season so another serious injury to Griffin like in the past years, could prove to be detrimental to the team’s chances of going deep in the postseason. Paul’s departure seemed to be a risky move for the Clippers, but if the team stays healthy and the chemistry builds. the possibilities are limitless.
Maybe this is the season that the Clippers can finally overcome their injury woes, a.k.a. “The Curse of The Donald.”
Steven LIeberman is a veteran sports/arts/entertainment journalist. Lieberman has covered entertainment and professional sports, Including the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, for the past 14 years. Among his entertainment work, Lieberman covers concerts, theatre and events.