The Los Angeles Clippers had a bright, sunny and clear forecast in the days leading up to the start of the regular season on October 31. Chris Paul was locked into a max contract in the early months of the 2013 offseason. Blake Griffin was making substantial progress in developing his offensive game. DeAndre Jordan was busy strengthening his defensive skills. Offensive weapons were added – J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley – to the Clips’ depth. And Doc Rivers made his way to the opposite side of the country to mold the team into legitimate title contenders.
Not all has gone as planned for the Clippers so far this season, despite their current top standing in the Pacific Division. On top of that, the early season forecast quickly warped into a 180° forecast that called for dark and gloomy days on January 3, as Chris Paul collided with the Mavericks’ Monta Ellis and fell to the floor, grimacing in pain and holding his right shoulder. A later MRI confirmed that CP3 separated his shoulder, and despite not requiring surgery, the injury would sideline the All-Star up to six weeks.
It would be an understatement to say Chris Paul is the glue for the Clippers. His impact on both ends of the court and to his teammates is invaluable. Prior to last week’s injury, Paul had been playing arguably his best basketball of his career. He was putting up remarkable, MVP-like numbers – 19.6 PPG and 11.2 APG – that were separating himself among the other elite point guards in the NBA. Now? The team isn’t nearly as dangerous… and Stephen Curry has passed CP3 in All-Star voting.
While Blake Griffin has additionally been playing the best basketball of his career recently and has covered up the absence of CP3 for the short-term, the fact is that the loss of the Clippers’ point man for up to six weeks is huge. It will be the Clips’ biggest challenge this season by far, as each player – especially Griffin and Darren Collison – will have to step-up in a monumental way.
The fans and the Clippers themselves have had a week to witness a preview of what the next possible six weeks will be like without Chris Paul in the lineup. The Clips were steamrolled by the Spurs, but gained back some momentum with an easy win against the East’s second worst team, the Magic. On Wednesday, they squeaked by with a win against the Celtics.
Therefore, the question is how will the Clips fare against elite and competitive teams, like San Antonio, without Paul. Let’s take a look at the five areas the Clippers will miss the most and will have to find ways to fill in with CP3 sidelined.
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The Clippers’ offense may become stagnate at times in Chris Paul’s absence – as it did during their first outing without CP3 against San Antonio – but the Clips employ a wide variety of offensive weapons to cover for Paul. Therefore, the defense is the main concern without Paul, specifically on the perimeter. When the Clippers already give up 99.7 points per game (13th in the NBA), loosing arguably your best all-around defender for up to six weeks is going to be a challenge.
CP3 is an outstanding defender and an excellent thief (five-time NBA steals leader), as his selection for the All-Defensive First Team on three separate occasions – 2009, 2012 and 2013 – are proof of that. According to Synergy Sports, CP3’s defense gives up just 0.76 points per possession and allows only 34.1 percent of opponent’s attempts to score. Meanwhile, Darren Collison gives up 0.84 points per possession while allowing 37.1 percent of opponent’s attempts to score. The downgrade in defense will be covered up when the Clippers face below .500 teams, but when they meet up with teams with star or elite point guards – such as Golden State, Denver and Portland – this will be a weakness that opponents will expose and take advantage of.
Chris Paul has grown into one of the most effective leaders in the league. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, which is a side effect from his competitive nature, but knows where to draw the line. His attitude is infectious to his teammates, as he not only controls the pace of the game, but he controls the night-to-night emotion the Clippers play with.
CP3 has the experience at many levels of the game, which he can draw from to lead his team. Not only is he a leader that can envision the endpoint for the team, but he additionally knows how to motivate and empower his teammates to come together to reach that envisioned goal. Darren Collison simply is not the leader the Clippers will need in competitive games or crucial moments, and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have had Chris Paul as the leader on the court for three years now. Therefore, they haven’t had to step up as the outright leader and thus lack the experience to do so.