The Los Angeles Clippers recently acquired Chris Paul in trade that joins him and Blake Griffin to make one of the most exciting duos in the league today. They could combine to be the most effective point guard-big man combination in the league and two of the most electrifying teammates in recent history, but can they win together?
Chris Paul is the best point guard in the National Basketball Association when healthy, and the Clippers needed an upgrade at point. He is lightning quick with the basketball, is great at getting into the lane and creating his own shot, and is even better at making plays for his teammates. Paul is one of the last guys in the NBA that truly makes other players around him better. He helped David West become a two-time All-Star through constantly feeding the power forward in the post in New Orleans. Tyson Chandler, the offensively challenged, former center in N.O. and the current center of the Dallas Mavericks, averaged around 12 points per game with Paul as his quarterback. He now averages 9.2. Chris Paul could feasibly add five points to Blake Griffin’s 22 points per game average in the right offensive system.
And surprisingly, the Clippers took a step in the right direction last year without a player of Paul’s caliber on their roster. Eric Gordon, their shooting guard, flourished with the addition of Griffin scoring 20+ points per game playing alongside him. And Chris Kaman, the LA Clippers’ All-Star center, became expendable once Griffin touched the Staples Center floor. However, despite having considerable talent on the roster, the “other LA team” did not win many games. Kaman and Griffin rarely played together because of numerous minor and major injuries between them. Gordon’s scoring dropped in the 23 games when the three of them were on the basketball court together. Despite having good, young and talented players, the Clippers were not a good basketball team.
Similarly, the Hornets were not a very great team even with Chris Paul. New Orleans regularly reached the first round of the playoffs on the strength of Paul’s shoulders, however they faltered there because they were not a complete squad. The team lacked consistent scoring because only Paul and Mark West could score consistently. And, Mark West could not create his own shots with the basketball or move well enough to get easy buckets without it. He depended on Paul to create good opportunities for him through penetration or perfect entry passes in the post. The Hornets are severely flawed as a team despite having the best point guard in the league because they were good enough to reach the postseason, but not talented enough to advance past the first round. Paul, is a great basketball player, but he is diminutive compared to most other athletes. He is one of three pure point guards in the National basketball Association, and the other two are at the end of their careers. Paul, like the other two pure points Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, sees all angles on the court an delivers the ball with great accuracy and timing. In addition to being one of the last pass-first point guards in the NBA with great vision, is a dynamic athlete. He is as quick as anyone in the league with the basketball and his ball-handling skills are incomparable. He can score at will with his athleticism despite his size, but he chooses to make his teammates better with his passes. His dynamism carries his game which in turn, propels his team. Unfortunately, Chris Paul gets injured in nearly every season. The New Orleans Hornets have struggled in the regular season, because their best player, Paul, misses multiple games each year. It speaks to his talent that his team makes the playoffs consistently with limited minutes from him, but it also handicaps them.
Now, the Los Angeles Clippers have put themselves into the same situation as last year’s New Orleans Hornets because they have given up too much in order to land Paul. The Clippers traded Al-Farouq Aminu, Kaman, Gordon, and a first round pick with two second round picks in the NBA Draft. Aminu was the first round pick of last season. He had worked his way into the starting lineup with his length, rebounding, and ball-handling in the paint. Kaman is only 29 years old and was the most consistent scorer in the post before Blake arrived. And, Gordon was their most versatile scorer. He could knock down shots from the perimeter and penetrate and finish at the rim. The three of them averaged 40.3 points per game which was about 38 % of the team’s scoring average. They traded away the future of their team to pair Paul with Griffin. Granted, the pairing of these two players creates the most dynamic duo in the league, but the Clippers have simply traded for an upgraded version of the Hornets point guard – power forward combo.
Los Angeles added veteran guard Chauncey Billups and swing man Caron Butler to help bolster their roster, but they are seriously undermanned compared to most of the better teams in the league. Plus, Paul is returning for his first full season after a challenging knee injury, and Blake Griffin is notoriously injured. Chauncey is still productive, but is beginning to show his age (36 years old) and is becoming more injury-prone too. If everyone stays healthy, then the Clippers boast one of the most talented starting five in the NBA, but their chances of staying healthy is very slim.
The Los Angeles Clippers gambled away their future by making this trade. They will be more exciting. They could have a better record. But ultimately, they gave up too much to compete in the playoffs, and if one of the core players gets hurt the Clippers may struggle to reach the postseason. Regardless of how talented he is, the Los Angeles Clippers should not have taken this trade for Chris Paul.