Blake Griffin Is Carrying the Clippers

With Chris Paul on the shelf, Griffin has taken charge of late, expanding his game and keeping the Clippers afloat in the West.

Earlier this season, Blake Griffin had a run of eight games with at least 20 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. In those games, the Los Angeles Clippers went 7-1.

In late December, though, Griffin exited the Clippers lineup in order to undergo a minor procedure on his right knee. After the surgery and subsequent recovery, Griffin was out a total of 18 games. For about a month, it was Chris Paul who stepped up his game in order to fill the void left by Griffin.

Then, in a January 16th contest with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul went out with an apparent thumb injury. After tests, it was determined that Paul suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb, which required surgery and six-to-eight weeks away from the hardwood.

Ultimately, that meant three games without both Griffin and Paul, but once Griffin returned, it was his time to pick up slack in Paul's absence. And, boy, has he done just that.

On the Mend

After the three-game stretch without Griffin or Paul, a span in which the Clips went 1-2, Griffin returned to the floor. Understandably, he was limited in his first two contests back. The Clippers lost to the 76ers by 11 and the Warriors by 46 in those games before unleashing Griffin.

The Clippers are still losing, though. They're just 2-3 since the Warriors ran them out of Oracle. People are panicking. But wait -- their losses have come at the hands of the Warriors, Celtics and Raptors -- three of the top eight teams in the NBA, according to our power rankings.

Absent Paul, one of the NBA's top point guards and the heart and soul of their team, can you blame them?

One person without blame is Griffin, because, since shaking off the cobwebs, he has gone on a tear over the last week.

Hitting His Stride

Despite the team's lack of wins of late, Griffin's recent play has been a blessing in disguise and quite possibly a sign of good things to come. Here are his per-game averages, comparing his last five games to his overall numbers.

Griffin Points Field Goal Percentage Rebounds Assists
Season 21.9 49.1% 8.8 4.8
Last 5 Games 28.2 54.3% 8.8 5.4

While Griffin has enjoyed an overall successful season to this point, he's been spectacular in the last five games, tying a career-high streak (five) for games of at least 23 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists.

Efficiency Over Volume

In the last week, he owns a 29.5% usage rate, which is just .5% higher than his season average. He's also taking less than three more field goal attempts per game, which tells us that Griffin's surge is due to increased efficiency, not a jump in volume.

From the table above, we can see that Griffin has been converting from the field at a greater rate, and a substantial part of that has come via the three-point shot. From beyond the arc, Griffin is hitting 0.8 threes per game on 57.1% shooting during the past five games, likened to marks of 0.3 and 30.0% for the year. Therefore, we've seen Griffin's effective field goal and true shooting percentages go from 49.9% and 55.6%, respectively, to 56.4% and 62.4% in his recent sample size.

Griffin is also facilitating more, most likely out of necessity. With Paul and his 49.8% assist percentage on the bench, Griffin has assembled an assist-to-turnover of 2.70 over the last five games. His assist percentage has gone from 24.0% on the season to 26.7% in that five-game same span, and he's turning it over less -- a 6.7% turnover rate over the last five, compared to his 9.1% turnover rate for the totality of the season.

In Summary

Griffin is expanding his game, and it will be particularly encouraging if it continues once Paul returns, which looks like it'll happen in early March.

The Clippers should be back to full strength for the home stretch and into the playoffs.

Griffin is rounding into form at just the right time, and with an improved Griffin alongside Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick, maybe the Clips can make some noise in the Western Conference playoffs.