What Does Chris Paul's Injury Mean for the Los Angeles Clippers?
We've been here before.
Two years ago, it was Blake Griffin, a staph infection, and how the Clippers survived without him. Last year, it was Chris Paul, a hand fracture, and how the injury shook up the Western Conference Playoffs. And earlier this season, it was again Griffin, with a knee issue that had us question if the Clippers could keep it rolling without him.
Now, it's again CP3 with a thumb injury that will keep him out six-to-eight weeks following surgery. Depending on which end of the timetable you're looking at, that could mean the Clippers will be without their star floor general anywhere from 16 to 24 games.
How can the Clippers yet again survive such a substantial injury? More importantly, what can we expect from them for the rest of the regular season and beyond?
Lose One, Gain One?
For starters, Griffin is still within the parameters of his own timetable and is due back any time now. The most recent update is that he's running sprints and his knee looks healthy.
An optimist would say that head coach Doc Rivers will be without his star duo for only two to four more games. Simple logic tells us that Griffin could return in next Saturday's road game against the Golden State Warriors. After all, leading up to that the Clippers have a brutal road back-to-back followed by three days off.
When Griffin returns, it will be a welcome sight for Clippers fans.
In his 26 games this year, Griffin leads the team in points per game (21.2) and ranks second in rebounds (8.8) and assists per game (4.7). At 33.7, he also averages the most minutes per contest while owning the Clippers' highest usage rate, at 29%.
According to NBAwowy.com, Griffin's usage has actually decreased to 25.4% absent Paul on the floor this season. That's fairly odd, but it's also peculiar that his efficiency also increases without Paul leading the offensive charge. In 85 minutes without him, Griffin is scoring 1.16 points per possession on an effective field goal percentage of 51.7% -- 0.09 and 3.3 better in those two categories, respectively.
In terms of playmaking and offensive production, maybe the Clippers aren't doomed. Griffin can pick up some of the slack. But, what about the void at point guard?
In recent years, it's been guys like Jordan Farmar and Pablo Prigioni who have been expected to lead the offense in Paul's stead. Last year, Austin Rivers came into the fold as well. This year, things are a little more promising with both Rivers and Raymond Felton on hand.
Felton has proven a valuable asset for the team, with averages of 7.2 points, 2.3 assists, and 2.5 rebounds in 21.3 minutes a game. He's shooting a respectable 36.8% from deep and showed firsthand Monday night what he is able to do when called upon.
In 27 minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Felton shot a perfect 7-for-7 from the field for 15 points, to go with 6 assists and 3 rebounds. Sure, he's not going to give the Clippers that hot shooting every night, but Felton has shown that he's capable of producing in elevated minutes.
The same can be said for Rivers, who contributed 16 points and 6 assists himself in L.A.'s most recent victory. The fifth-year pro seems to be having a breakout year, with averages of 17.1 points, 3.4 assists, and 3.1 rebounds in the 11 games he's played at least 30 minutes in 2016-17. Rivers also knocked down 2.3 threes on 40.3% shooting from deep as the Clippers went 8-3 in those games.
As you can see from all the question marks, there's a lot of uncertainty around the situation. That's even more true for the immediate future. A lot of factors go into whether or not a team will make the playoffs and which seed they'll fall into.
One thing that isn't up for debate is whether the Clippers are in a good position right now. At 29-14, they're fourth in the West and have a 12-game lead over the Denver Nuggets, the current 8 seed, in the win column. According to our algorithms, they're a lock for the playoffs.
As of yesterday, the odds of that happening have probably creeped below 100%, but at least the Clippers have somewhat of a head start on the other playoff-contending teams in the Western Conference. They're going to need it.
If Paul's out six weeks, that places his return at February 28th, just before the Clippers game against the Houston Rockets on March 1st. If he's out eight weeks, that lands him at March 14th, a day prior to their home game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
If we look at the opposing teams that lie between those two timelines, and subtract Paul's nERD of 8.7 from the Clippers' team nERD of 69.3, we can do our best to project the Clippers' record over those two spans based on their opponents' nERD, which indicates expected point differential on a neutral court against an average team.
|Paul Out||6 Weeks||8 Weeks|
|Win-Loss Record Based on nERD||10-6||16-8|
No matter which timetable we're talking about, the Clippers will play at least six games against the Warriors, Spurs, Jazz and Raptors. With two more weeks, the Clippers would have to play one more against the Jazz and one against the Rockets at the beginning of March.
After six weeks, the Clippers' record would be 39-20 if things go according to nERD. After eight, it would be 45-22. That isn't bad, but that's only if they hold up to the standard that has been set with Paul to start out the season.
If not, things could be much worse. They could find themselves without home court in the first round of the playoffs and could possibly slip to the 6, 7, or 8 seed in the West.
One way or another, the Clippers should survive and live to see the playoffs. After all, they have been here before.