Daniel Ikuta grew up in California where tennis was his first love … but the Clippers were second. He’s now based in Japan, where he’s teaching. Ikuta examines both the direct and ancillary effects replacing Marcus Camby’s presence with Blake Griffin might have on the 2010-11 season:
Before he was traded to the Portland Trailblazers midseason, Marcus Camby was arguably the Los Angeles Clippers’ best player. He led the team in a variety of statistical measures, from box score mainstays like per-game rebounds and blocks, to more advanced calculations like PER and Defensive Rating. Though it was unlikely that he’d be part of the team beyond the 2009-10 season, the notoriously brittle Camby played in 51 of a possible 52 games, keeping the Clippers near .500 and earning a contract extension with the Trailblazers.
Without Camby, the Clippers went 8-22, suffering their two largest losing streaks of the season. Of course, there were other contributing factors to the team’s post all-star break tailspin, chief among them the firing of head coach Mike Dunleavy and the news that prized rookie Blake Griffin would require season-ending surgery. However, those glancing into the Clippers’ 2010-11 crystal ball have to be wondering: how much will Marcus Camby’s absence affect the team?
Marcus Camby with the Clippers
Not surprisingly, advanced statistics see Marcus Camby as one of the more valuable members of the 2009-10 Clippers (“advanced statistics” here refers to any numbers one wouldn’t find in a box score). As mentioned above, he led the team in Player Efficiency Rating (developed by John Hollinger, PER encompasses a player’s statistical contributions in one number) and Defensive Rating (an estimation of a player’s defensive ability, by Dean Oliver). Camby managed to do so by leading the NBA in Rebound Percentage, or the amount of available rebounds that a player secures. Meanwhile, he also led the team in Block Percentage, was second in Offensive Rating (also by Dean Oliver), and was third in Steal Percentage.
So, in order to replace Camby, the Clippers would need to find a rebounding machine who’s efficient on offense and can block shots and create turnovers on defense.
2009 No. 1 overall pick and still-rookie Blake Griffin should, if he stays healthy, play a similar number of minutes to the 31.3 per game that Camby averaged last year as a Clipper. But talented as he is, compiling the numbers of Camby’s 2009-10 campaign may be a bit much to ask of a 21-year-old rookie coming off knee surgery. Part of the problem is that Griffin is not nearly the same type of player Camby is. Put another way, the Clippers didn’t draft Griffin to be Defensive Player of the Year down the road. He will play a different role for the Clippers, meaning his contributions to the team will differ as well.
Marcus Camby prevented the opponent from scoring in many ways. He blocked 4.6 percent of opponent field goal attempts and stole the ball on 2.2 percent of opponent possessions, good for 9th and 20th in the league, respectively. When a shot went up, he gathered 32.9 percent of the available defensive rebounds, the best mark in the league. Overall, the Clippers allowed 6.0 points less per 100 possessions when Camby was on the court.
Although at the college level Griffin managed respectable block and steal percentages of 3.6 and 1.9, respectively, he’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate those numbers in the NBA in his first year. On the other hand, there’s a chance his gaudy 32.4 defensive rebound percentage holds up: recent collegians Kevin Love and DeJuan Blair saw their rates drop by only a couple of percentage points in their rookie seasons.
Trying to match the defensive output of a 14-year veteran and former DPOY as a rookie is certainly an uphill battle, unless your name is Tim Duncan. But the responsibility can certainly be shared by other Clippers, most notably Chris Kaman. As pointed out by Jon Nichols, there is a slight diminishing returns effect on blocks; that is, players occasionally “steal” blocks and/or block opportunities from teammates. This effect can plainly be seen with Camby and Kaman: both players’ block rates dropped over 2 percent from 2007-08 to 2008-09. Thus, one would expect Kaman’s block rate to rise again in 2010-11, somewhat mitigating Camby’s loss.
Despite a very good offensive rating, Camby’s miniscule Usage Percentage (the amount of team plays used by the player; five players on the court yield an average of 20) of 13.0 diminishes his value at the offensive end. While Griffin won’t use 31.7 percent of possessions like he did in college, he’ll certainly contribute his fair share. And that can only be good for players like Baron Davis and Chris Kaman, who respectively ranked 26th and 27th in usage percentage last year. For perspective, both Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire had lower usage percentages. The hope, at least among Clipper fans, is that decreased usages for Davis and Kaman will help efficiency, as it has with Jason Kidd (to use a recent example). It doesn’t hurt that the player taking possessions away averaged 25 points per 36 minutes on 65 percent shooting two years ago in college.
As expected, figuring out how much the Clippers will miss Camby invariably requires figuring out how good Blake Griffin will be. Whereas the defense may suffer, the offense should benefit from the increased attention and usage Griffin provides. Moreover, Griffin is hardly the only offseason addition; there are several new players, and a new coaching staff to boot. Deciphering how the different pieces will fit into the new system is something perhaps not even advanced statistics can handle.