Every Clipper will have to step up during Blake Griffin’s absence.
The Big Picture:
So, with the “if they stay healthy” tag now lying in the gutter with other discarded preseason qualifiers like “if DeMarcus Cousins stops being a child”, the Clippers again focus their attention on excelling without Blake Griffin.
It’s been well publicized that their record while missing a star, particularly Griffin, has been surprisingly stout. Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and company demonstrated for a long stretch last season that they can each shoulder an extra load to compensate for their missing forward. Blake’s injury certainly could linger, but the projected three-to-six-week absence is no death knell. Hopefully, the Clippers need only hold serve through MLK Day before reintegrating #32 for a stretch run at a top-three playoff seed. In the meantime, tonight’s matchup against a squad flush with athletic big men will force them to acclimate quickly.
Many in Denver may be disappointed by their current 12-16 mark, but that leaves the Nuggets just a short hike from playoff position in a Western Conference with an atypically mortal middle class. Mike Malone’s squad may lack starpower, but they boast enviable depth and a few unpolished gems. In addition to recent first-round picks Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Juancho Hernangomez, and Jusuf Nurkic, they’ve unearthed a keeper in multi-faceted big man Nikola Jokic, who some famously reported as being untouchable during last year’s Blake Griffin-to-Denver rumor frenzy. All those players boast pedigree — some have also managed real production — and not one has turned 23. Throw in a wrecking ball like Kenneth Faried and objects of Clipper affection Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, and the Nuggets can bring real danger on any night.
Comparison of Key Metrics: The Nuggets come into tonight a hair’s width above the bottom five in defensive efficiency, but they’ve been OK against opposing guards, holding them to roughly 45 points per game, 12th-best in the NBA. With Blake Griffin out, the Clippers will need Chris Paul and JJ Redick to up their scoring output.
The Schedule: Next up is a primetime on TNT tip against the Spurs on Thursday night, with the Mavericks coming hot on their heels Friday. Then it’s a Christmas date with the Hated Lakers.
Starting Nod: According to the L.A. Times’ Brad Turner, Austin Rivers, who has three starts so far this season, has been listed as Blake Griffin’s replacement in the starting lineup.
Rue the Mudiay: 2015 seventh-overall pick Emmanuel Mudiay was widely heralded as a draft-day steal, but the 20-year-old point guard has struggled in his short year-and-some in the league. His inability to shoot (career: 36.5% FG, 31.5% 3PT) hampers all of his other efforts, and his overall inefficiency may be reason #1 for Denver’s underwhelming record. Denver’s roster needs a point guard, and Mudiay has yet to provide them with one.
Gallo Regression: Reason #2 may be this man: Danilo Gallinari. After a career year in 2015-16, the Italian forward has slipped in PER from a sparkly 19.04 to a pedestrian 14.91. He’s playing almost exactly the same number of minutes (34.7 to 34.6) and converting equally well from the field (58.2 to 58.4 True Shooting %), so does the problem lie with a decreased offensive role? His usage rate is down nearly 4%.
Defense in Decline? The Clippers have fallen from their lofty perch atop the NBA’s defensive efficiency leaderboard to sixth with a 101.9 mark. Last year, the Clippers were 0.7 points per 100 possessions worse defensively during Blake Griffin’s quad-and-fist-related absence. Going small with a three-guard lineup likely means less Luc Mbah a Moute on opposing wing scorers, something that bears watching.
For the Nuggets’ point of view, head over to Denver Stiffs.