The sky is falling in Clipperland!
No, wait -- that's still the Lakers' sky. But things haven't been pretty for the Clips either with Chris Paul hurt. After reeling off an impressive three-game win streak after he initially started missing playing time, they've fallen hard, losing six of eight since he re-aggravated the his bruised knee. The presses don't need to stop because a team without its best player is doing poorly, but much of the talk surrounding the Clippers this season had praised a strong bench squad. Why hasn't the team's depth shown through without Paul?
Here's a five-step plan to understanding what's going on with a team that was briefly tops in the Western Conference:
1. Go read Clips Nation
Steve Perrin notes that although Chris Paul is the one hurt, the group really suffering is the bench -- previously one of the team's strong suits.
The entire team is out of sorts without him right now. Green and Barnes are in shooting slumps, Crawford is trying to do too much, Odom seems to lack purpose. But even when Paul returns, the question remains of how best to use Hill. We've seen precious little of the Bledsoe-Crawford-Barnes-Hill-Odom unit that presumably will be the second team when everyone is healthy, but the Clippers had something that was working with Turiaf, and it's reasonable to question whether they should tinker with success.
2. Look at the defense
The Clippers have gotten known for being Lob City, but as much fun as Chris Paul running pick-and-rolls with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is, a large amount of the team's success has been defensive. They're one of only six squads holding defenses to under a point per possession on the year, with a 99.2 defensive efficiency rating.
That hasn't held up with Paul out: in the eight games since Paul re-aggravated his knee injury, the Clippers have had a defensive efficiency of 105.7 -- a number that would be among the league's worst if extended out over the whole season. Sure, we're dealing with some small sample size theater, and that span has included the team's best offense in Oklahoma City -- they scored a ridiculous 109 points on 91 possessions -- but its also included the leagues worst in Washington -- who managed 98 points on 95 possessions, significantly above what they're typically capable of.
I wouldn't attribute all of this to Paul, but it certainly doesn't help to not have him in the lineup. He leads the league in steals and is generally a nasty little bugger for opposing point guards to deal with. He's gone, and also the other guys on the court have had some defensive struggles.
3. Pity Grant Hill
At 40, he doesn't appear to have it anymore. He's had a really amazing run with about eight career rejuvenations at this point, but there's not much left in the tank. As Perrin notes, Hill's PER of 6.2 is well below anybody else on the team, and they've struggled since his return. He only gets 16 minutes a game, but those 16 minutes were going to Eric Bledsoe before his return, and with Paul hurt, they're going to him. That shouldn't continue when Paul is back.
4. Take a few grains of salt
The Clippers are losing, but not badly. Only two of their losses in this stretch since Paul's initial injury have been by double digits. One was against the Thunder, which nobody can hold against them, and two came down to the last possession.
5. Remember how freakin' good Chris Paul is
LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the likely top two MVP candidates, but let's go to the land of silly hypotheticals: I don't think OKC and Miami would regress as hard as the Clippers have without Paul. L.A.'s bench has been great, Griffin still doesn't get the credit he deserves for his relatively complete game, but CP3 is, well, everything to this team. He turns them from a team with some young stars to a contender. We wrote a few weeks back about how knee bruises have a tendency to turn into bigger, scarier things. May the basketball gods make this not the case with Chris Paul.