Why Blake Griffin, Not Chris Paul, Is Key to LA Clippers Title Push

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2013

Feb 3, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics power forward Brandon Bass (30) defends Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (right) during the first half at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Griffin is the best power forward in basketball. This statement would’ve been ludicrous just one year ago. Now, it’s at best agreed upon by a majority of NBA coaches, general managers and writers, and at worst a platform for legitimate dialogue.

Only eight players in the entire league have a higher PER, only eight have attempted more free throws and only nine have made more baskets. Obviously, Chris Paul is the team's best player, and it's no coincidence that the Clippers have gone 7-7 since he hurt his knee in a mid-January contest against the Memphis Grizzlies. But Paul was great last season, too.

Griffin's evolution on both ends of the court has changed this team's expectations and its ability to compete in a seven-game series against any team in the entire league. His numbers across the board may be down, but that can mostly be attributed to Los Angeles' incredible depth, and the contributions this team sees from all over the court.

There's no doubting his overall improvement. Griffin's free-throw shooting is at 65.6 percent (up 13.5 percent from last year's nightmare), and he's grown in myriad ways from the dunking freak who merely entertained us two years ago.

The Clippers offense is 9.2 points per 100 possessions better with Griffin on the court, but the defense is 7.0 points per 100 possessions worse, according to NBA.com/Stats. (This defensive statistic shouldn’t be analyzed too rashly, especially when you factor in that the Clippers bench has pummeled opposing reserve units into submission all season long. Nearly every Clipper bench player has a better individual defensive rating than the starters.)

On offense he's a one-man destroyer, now more well-rounded and able to make his teammates better than anyone thought possible this early in his career. When Griffin is on the court without Paul, his assists per 36 minutes jump from 3.5 to 5.2, according to NBA.com/Statscube. He's assumed more playmaking responsibility than ever before, recognizing when a double-team is coming, and kicking out passes to wide open teammates with the precise timing of an eight-year veteran.

As a result, a ton of Los Angeles’ action has been run through Griffin on the left elbow. Here's an example. 

On this play we see Griffin calmly dribble his way out of a double-team in the corner, then throwing a beautiful cross-court pass to Matt Barnes for a wide open three-pointer. 

Later on in the same game, Griffin takes a defensive rebound coast to coast before finding a teammate on the wing. His ball-handling abilities in the open court are basically unparalleled at the power forward position. 

Griffin's interior passing has also been a revelation. On this play he anticipates that Nick Collison will rotate to cover for a slow Serge Ibaka, and throws a quick lob to DeAndre Jordan.

Scoring the ball, he's the 22nd most efficient player in the post and the 18th most efficient rolling big in a pick-and-roll, according to Synergy. Those rankings are incredibly impressive when you take his high usage into account.

It's gotten to the point where Griffin can catch the ball in the post, take one dribble, go into his move and score as if the defender doesn't exist. Chris Paul might be the best point guard in the NBA, but Griffin is the most irreplaceable talent the Clippers have.

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