When Chris Paul made it known that he wouldn’t re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers this summer and was subsequently traded to the Houston Rockets, the team had two paths they could have gone down. They could have hit the reset button, allowed Blake Griffin to sign with another team, and tried to bottom out for what’s looking like a top-heavy 2018 draft. The other path would have been to make a huge push on re-signing Griffin and attempting to remain competitive in a Western Conference that only got stronger.
The Clippers opted to take the second path and it appears to be paying off in a huge and somewhat surprising way. Griffin reportedly was set to meet with other teams during free agency, but as soon as teams were able to meet with prospective targets, he canceled his other meetings and almost immediately decided to remain with the only team he’s ever known.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen glimpses of Griffin’s potential without playing alongside Paul during instances in which the star point guard was injured. Obviously, Griffin did benefit from playing alongside Paul, as do most players when playing with an elite playmaker. But Griffin looked closer to an MVP candidate without Paul than he did with him. This season, his first without Paul since his rookie year, he’s putting his name right in the middle of the MVP race.
In four games so far this season, Griffin has led the Clippers to an undefeated record and the top of the Western Conference. With the San Antonio Spurs’ loss Friday night to the Orlando Magic, the Clippers sit alone in first place. Griffin’s 26.3 points per game are a career-high. He’s shooting 53.6 percent from the field and pulling down 9.3 rebounds.
But perhaps the two biggest aspects of Griffin’s game that are standing out are his playmaking and his shooting. Griffin has always been one of the better passing big men in the league. He actually averaged 5.3 assists per game during the 2014-2015 season, the last in which he was named to the All-Star team. His 4.5 assists so far this season are a team-high. He is thriving with the ball in his hands and has essentially taken over the point guard role for the Clippers.
His biggest area of improvement, however, is his shooting, particularly from the outside. Since he’s come into the league, Griffin has worked to perfect his mid-range game. He’s also looked to shoot more from the three-point line each season and his work on that is very visible. He looks much more comfortable shooting the three ball, to the point where he’s pulling up and letting it fly off the dribble. He hit the game-winning three in Portland on Thursday night and he’s shooting a career-high 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Although Griffin has become one of the best all-around players in the league, he’s still able to throw one down every now and then, as both Julius Randle and Rudy Gobert have already found out this season.
With the reigning champion Golden State Warriors retaining all their key free agents while adding to the roster, and teams like the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder loading up, the Clippers got lost in the shuffle when talking about the best teams in the West. Behind Griffin’s MVP level effort thus far, they are looking like one of the surprises of the season. If they can keep up this level of play throughout the season, especially as they start to face more elite teams, then we just might be talking about them come playoff time. And Griffin just might be one of the favorites for MVP.
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