How Good Can Los Angeles Clippers Be Once Blake Griffin Gets Back on Track?

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterNovember 21, 2012

November 14, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) turns the ball over against the defense of Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen (34) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

There's a lot to like about the way in which the Los Angeles Clippers have started the 2012-13 NBA season.

In the three weeks since the opening tip, the Clips have picked up convincing wins over the Memphis Grizzlies, the rival Los Angeles Lakers, the Atlanta Hawks, the defending-champion Miami Heat and, with Monday's 92-87 decision, the San Antonio Spurs...twice.

As in, the Spurs squad, with a roster nearly identical to the one that swept L.A. out of the playoffs this spring by an average of 11.5 points per game.

They've done it on the offensive end (third in the league in offensive efficiency, per Hoopdata) and on the defensive end (second).

They've done it with Chris Paul calling the shots in the starting lineup and with Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe bolstering the most prolific bench in basketball (and the latter emerging as the darling of the blogosphere).

They've done it with Lamar Odom still stuck in the mud and without the services of Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups.

Most impressive of all, they've sprinted to an 8-2 record (the best in the Western Conference) without Blake Griffin razzling and dazzling to the extent that he did during the first two of his young pro career. 

To date, Griffin is averaging 17.3 points (on 50.4 percent shooting) and 9.4 rebounds with 3.2 turnovers—career worsts. He's also played fewer minutes, taken fewer shots and gotten to the free-throw line less frequently than ever before.

There are reasonable explanations for those numbers, though.

For one, he's been dealing with a strained neck and a burst bursa sac in his right elbow for the last two weeks. Furthermore, with their depth and the way they've been blowing teams out, the Clippers haven't needed Blake to play big minutes, jack up shots and attack the basket with reckless abandon quite so much to succeed.

Beyond the perceived statistical struggles, though, Griffin actually appears to be improving as a player.

That outside shot on which Blake said he spent so much time on this summer? So far, it's been sharper than ever.

Per Hoopdata, Griffin has hit 48.5 percent of his shots between three and nine feet and 43 percent of his long twos, both of which are career-best marks.

Griffin's shot selection? Markedly better.

He's taken just two three-pointers this season and has all but eliminated midrange jumpers after shooting under 30 percent from both regions in 2011-12.

His passing? Blake's assist numbers haven't exactly ticked up. However, as Grantland's Brett Koremenos recently pointed out, Griffin's showing off his point guard skills to greater effect in 2012-13.

And for those of you concerned that the high-flying, 20-10-producing Griffin may be gone, never fear.

Over his last three games, Blake is averaging a robust 20.7 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 51.9 percent from the field. It would appear, then, as though Blake is feeling better.

Just in time, too.

The Clips will pay a visit to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday before finishing their four-game road trip against the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks.

Sweeping that swing will be no easy feat, but with Blake rounding back into form and the rest of the team already firing on all cylinders, the Clips' chances of pulling off such a feat look as good as they ever have.

And by ever, I mean EVER.  As in franchise history.

It's early, but this group appears poised to lift the Clippers to heights not seen since they were born into basketball as the Buffalo Braves in 1970.

And the bench is only going to get deeper. And Blake Griffin is only going to get better. And the Clippers—THE CLIPPERS— should only get better, to the point where talk of title contention will be more the norm than the exception.

In a related story, the Mayans called. They want their predictions back.