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Blake Griffin Feeling the Burden of Carrying the Team

Ed Crisostomo/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

During the 2014-15 NBA season, no team’s starters played more minutes than the Los Angeles Clippers (per Hoopstats.com). A lack of depth on last year’s squad no doubt influenced coach/GM Doc Rivers to swing for the fences this past summer, and landing big name pieces like Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, and Paul Pierce made the Clippers one of the paper champions of the offseason.

Well, those three players have a combined -15.7 net rating, per NBA.com, and with Chris Paul missing five of the team’s first 26 games, Blake Griffin has once again been burdened with the task of carrying this team on his back, especially on the offensive end. On the season, Griffin’s averaging 23.9 points per game, on a career-high 18.6 field goal attempts per game, with him upping his averages to 25.4 points on 19.4 attempts per game in contests without Paul.

Despite the Clippers winning nine of their last 11 games, December has clearly been Griffin’s least productive month of the season, relatively speaking of course, as the All-Star do-it-all forward is only putting up averages of  21.5 points on 45.7 percent shooting from the field. To put things in greater perspective, per Basketball Reference, Griffin’s net rating has dropped from +27 in October, to +9 in November, to -1 in December, with his true shooting percentage dropping off monthly from 67.3 percent in October, to 56.8 percent in November, to 49.6 percent in December. So, while Griffin’s still posting All-Star worthy numbers, his efficiency is dropping, which is a strong indication of fatigue.

Don’t worry, he’s still doing Blake things like this:

And even newer Blake things like this:

It’s not even like Griffin’s really struggling, which was made clear with his 34-point, seven-assist, five-rebound effort in Monday’s win on the road against Detroit. However, when you enter the level of stardom that Griffin has over the last three seasons or so, fans and pundits alike are going to notice when something’s off. And with Paul taking a step back so far this year, more than likely due to his lingering groin and rib injuries, the Clippers have needed Griffin to be stellar.

In the long run, I think it’ll help Griffin that he’s finally getting some help at the other forward position with Luc Mbah a Moute and Wesley Johnson stepping up, especially with those two being more than happy to devote most of their efforts to the defensive end. But Griffin – and Paul – is really going to need some combination of the three previously mentioned free agents to step up at some point in the season, and I’m thinking Smith might be the most important in terms of preserving the former slam dunk champion.

I think after seeing how successful the Houston Rockets were last season in playing Smith at the power forward position, Rivers and the Clippers were hoping to copy that to try and get past Golden State. To this point, the two-man lineup of Griffin and Smith are being outscored by 29.3 points per 100 possessions, however, in the smallest of small sample sizes (just under 12 minutes), the lineup of Smith, Griffin, Paul, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford have outscored opponents by 22 points per 100 possessions.

That’s not a large enough sample size to tell any kind of story, but at the very least it leaves room for optimism that Smith could be productive for this team if used in the right lineup, mainly one that doesn’t require him to initiate much offense. At the same time, I’d like to see Smith be more productive so that it could take pressure off of Griffin and maybe even allow him to rest, which I’m not sure is accomplished at all by pairing the two and having Griffin guard opposing centers.

It’s still early enough in the season that Rivers is allowed some time to figure out his rotations, and considering that the team is just one game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for third place in the West, despite both Paul and J.J. Redick missing games due to injuries, there’s plenty to be ecstatic about in Clipperland. All of that said, Rivers can’t afford to burn Griffin out this early in the season, and if he doesn’t find a way to get his playmaking big man some relief, this team probably won’t have to worry about how they match up with Golden State come playoff time.

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