Who's The Guy?
Dynamic CP3 crucial for playoff runs
With all sincere respect to Blake Griffin -- whose exceptionally strong play in 2014 has kept the Clippers humming in Chris Paul's absence, established him as arguably the NBA's best all-around power forward not named "LeBron" or "James," and even sparked a few "MVP candidate" whispers -- the answer remains Chris Paul. The answer also isn't likely to change between now and however long his season lasts.
CP3 isn't just the Clippers' best, most accomplished player. He's often the best player on the floor whenever they play. In an evenly matched series, a transcendent talent typically breaks the tie. Plus, he's the Clippers' unquestioned leader, the player whose cues are taken most frequently, whose personality shapes the collective.
It's certainly admirable how folks like Griffin and Jamal Crawford took the leadership reins while CP3 was sidelined, but the postseason is an entirely different animal. That's the time when a team's most inspirational voice guides the way, and for the Clippers, Paul's rings the loudest.
More importantly, the playoffs offer anywhere from 4-7 games to scout opponents, sniff out weaknesses and throw the kitchen sink at a game plan. That familiarity requires players to make in-game adjustments on the fly, sometimes before even a coach of Doc Rivers' capabilities can solve the puzzle.
With that in mind, there's no point guard in the NBA better than Paul at keeping a game on a string and his dribble alive while waiting for the proper offensive action or a defensive lapse to exploit. This genius, particularly in today's predominately guard-driven NBA, can't be overestimated.
Clips need second star to emerge
To quote Mom, "Here's the thing..."
While Chris Paul wasn't uniformly perfect during last year's postseason one-and-done for the Clippers, he was awfully good. He shot 53 percent over six games and had 38 dimes against only nine turnovers (five of which came in one game). His PER for the series was 29.1, versus 26.1 in the regular season, and though the Clips weren't good with him on the court (minus-12.1 points per 100 possessions), they were apocalyptic when he sat (minus-24.6).
Blake Griffin, on the other hand, shot only 45 percent, down from 54 percent in the regular season. His PER fell from 22.4 to 16.3, and on a per-minute basis basically all his important figures dropped. Just as telling, the Clippers were basically the same squad whether he was playing or sitting.
Some of that was due to a high ankle sprain suffered before Game 5, but he wasn't lighting it up before the injury, either.
Questions linger about Griffin's ability to be a superstar in ways that translate to wins in critical games, as opposed to winning critical nightly highlight packages. I've never bought in, but what Griffin did to push the Clippers to a 12-6 mark in the 18 games CP3 missed with a shoulder problem (27.5 PPG, 8.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 55 percent from the floor, 10.8 free throws per game) shows that he's capable of carrying a team in high-leverage situations.
The Clippers will (barring injury) be boosted by the presence of J.J. Redick. DeAndre Jordan needs to be a force. Jamal Crawford has to be dynamic. But teams don't win in the postseason unless superstars are superstars. CP3 will be CP3. Meaning for the Clippers to advance deep -- they were my preseason pick for the Finals -- Griffin has to ... wait for it ... elevate.