What Blake Griffin's Injury Means for the Los Angeles Clippers
Things out West are tough.
It's almost a guarantee that either the Thunder, Suns, or Pelicans are going to miss out on the postseason despite being top-16 teams based on our latest power rankings update and according to our updated-daily power rankings. That's just how the Western Conference is this year.
For a team near the top, though, the smallest misfortunes can cost dearly. The Clippers are currently 34-19 and own the fourth spot in our power rankings but, of course, will now be without the services of All-Star power forward Blake Griffin for four to six weeks with a staph infection in his right elbow.
What will this injury mean for the Clippers? Do they have the depth to sustain it? They beat up the unfortunate Mavericks last night, but can that trend continue?
Right now, the Clippers are sitting pretty with a 99.2 percent chance to make the postseason, per our math. They also have a 6.3 percent chance to win the title, fourth-highest in the NBA. They're also pegged to win roughly 51 games and lose 31. So how do things look without Blake?
Well, not that bad, really. Based on simulations without Griffin in the lineup, the drops are minimal.
According to our metrics, if Griffin were to miss four weeks, the Clippers should expect to lose only 0.83 more games than they would with him in the lineup, and if he was out six weeks, that would cost them 1.25 wins. Hardly anything, right?
With Blake out, their playoff odds drop from 99.2 percent to just 97.0 percent. Again, not much, but they're already 34-19. What about their NBA Title hopes? That declines from 6.3 percent to 5.5 percent. That would drop them from fourth to fifth in the current race, but most important is that they'd fall behind the Dallas Mavericks, whose odds currently sit at 5.9 percent.
1.25 wins doesn't sound like much over the final stretch of the year, but right now, they're on pace for 51.1 wins, tied with the Mavs for seventh-most in the league and fifth-most in the West, per our math. They're already sitting in sixth in the Western Conference standings, and this decline in wins could help San Antonio, currently projected for 49.3, leap them in the standings.
What Will Change
This year, Griffin's nERD is 7.7, which means that a team full of league-average players would go roughly eight games over .500 with Griffin in a starter's role. That ranks 19th in the league. Last year, Griffin finished with a nERD of 12.6, good for eighth in the NBA. Griffin's overall impact isn't quite on pace with last year -- when Chris Paul missed 20 games -- but he's undoubtedly integral for the Clippers.
In 701 minutes without Griffin this year, per basketball-reference.com, the Clippers are, unsurprisingly, worse on offense. Their effective field goal percentage with Griffin on the court (1,800 minutes) is .545. Without him, it's just .498. Their offensive rating drops from 117.2 to just 103.9, too. The Clippers currently boast an offensive efficiency of 113.0, per our math.
How does Griffin's absence affect the personnel, though? According to NBAwowy.com, Paul sees a drastic bump in usage rate. With Blake on the floor, Paul's usage rate is just 21.9 percent -- the same as Kevin Seraphin, for context. Without Blake, Pauls' usage rate skyrockets to 35.3 in 183 minutes of play. Only one player has a season-long usage rate that's higher: Russell Westbrook (37.6). Get ready to see a whole lot of Chris Paul, whose effective field goal percentage of .530 is the second-best of his career and his best since joining the Clippers.
But Paul isn't the only player to see a bump: Jamal Crawford sees a usage rate increase from 23.4 with Blake (second-highest on the team) to 33.7 without him. That's the same as DeMarcus Cousins (33.7), who's second in the league in usage.
In the frontcourt, we can expect to see higher rebound numbers from DeAndre Jordan -- like he evidenced with his 27 boards last night. Jordan's defensive rebounding rate without Griffin is 34.7 in 313 minutes compared to 29.9 with him -- in 1,466 minutes. His offensive rebounding rate jumps from 14.7 with Blake to 20.1 without him.
Filling in for Griffin will be some combination of Spencer Hawes and Glen Davis, both of whom have nERDs on the wrong side of zero (-0.9 for Hawes and -0.6 for Davis). Really, they're (slightly less than) replacement-level talents in the NBA, which is a big reason why the Clippers shouldn't expect to plummet in the standings too drastically.
With the increase for the efficient Chris Paul, even better rebounding outputs for Jordan, and a combination of forwards who really aren't taking too much away from the Clippers at the four, Los Angeles should be able to continue winning in the West. And that's saying a lot, as 11 of their next 14 games come against top-13 teams in our power rankings.