There is no team in the league that has had worse luck with injuries than the Portland Trail Blazers. Sure, the Clippers have been a team that can bemoan Kaman and Baron’s time on the sideline, and in the past it’s been bad, but the Blazers have lost expansive swathes of playing time from Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Marcus Camby (the latest), and Joel “Vanilla Gorilla” Pryzbilla, just to name a few. They still have young stud Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Rudy Fernandez, LaMarcus Aldridge and the stalwart point guard Andre Miller. It’s a testament to the talent that Kevin Pritchard corralled, that even with all of these injuries the team can just keep winning (6-4 in their last 10).
And while they will grumble about the loss of the superstar Brandon Roy, the team might be better off without him this year, considering the shape of his knees, the way he was playing and, most importantly, his frequent scuttlebutts with Andre Miller. Both players are playmakers, but Roy had already begun to fall off from his normal high efficiency. He was averaging a career low 14.9 PER, due to his career low shooting percentage (39.9 percent), rebounding (3.0) and assists (3.3). Wesley Matthews isn’t averaging much better numbers than that (15.1 PER, 15.8 points, 43.4 percent shooting, 3.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists), but he removes the controversy with Miller and can play better defense because his knees allow it.
As for the Clippers, the spotlight remains on Blake Griffin, so much so that he has had to move his spot in the locker room just so that DeAndre and Ike can get to their lockers. He doesn’t seem to like this as much, and from listening to his interviews, I can tell you Blake doesn’t interview like he did with me over the summer.
Lots to read around the league about the Clippers:
• Ramona Shelburne thinks that that the Clipper Curse (something I never believed in) is over.
• Coach Anthony Macri of Hoops World takes a peak into the evolution of Blake and the positive learning experience of the “red-shirt year” (read more here):
One of the first things one notices in today’s Blake Griffin is the way he operates mostly up on his toes. He is considerably lighter on his feet, particularly in face-the-basket and transition situations. As a collegian, Griffin tended to be more heavy-footed, relying on pure strength and power. However, by leaning out a little bit and spending more time on the balls of his feet, he has increased his explosiveness, becoming quicker and more agile. While he simply overpowered smaller players in college, he now can overpower smaller players and out-quick larger players. This is a huge advantage.
Perhaps as a result of his footwork, Griffin’s most glaring deficiency in college was that he seldom changed speed and direction with the ball in his hands. A proverbial bull in the china shop, he consistently powered at top speed in one direction. However, he has obviously worked on his ability to shift gears on drives, employing a variety of stop-and-start moves, that accentuate his explosive athleticism. His ability to change directions is still in its early stages, though he is using more crossovers and spins in places other than the post. In general, his body control is very good, and he has always displayed a good sense of balance. These strengths have only gotten better in his time off.
The one bit of praise that I might disagree with is this:
Defensively, Griffin’s pairing with Deandre Jordan in the Clippers’ front court has only made him better. He is more active than he was at Oklahoma, shuttling over for help blocks and using his hands and leverage to become a more pesky post defender. He runs the floor on the defensive end much better than he did in college, and in general seems to focus on every possession, which was not something he always did just over a year ago. It’s easy to trace these mental gains to a year spent watching from the bench.
Free throw shooting is the most glaring statistical weakness (although even that’s been improving), but I find that Blake’s defense has been his biggest actual weakness. I know this is a comparative piece, looking at his OU play and his Clipper play, but I wouldn’t call Blake a pesky defender. Not yet at least. I still think that even though he gets back on defense, he takes mental breaks, particularly in transition, and lets other players get good looks. He has the court vision and awareness, he just needs the focus to improve. I’ve already seen steps, he’s no longer given a defensive replacement, but there is plenty more work to do there. He could be a very good defender.
• John Krolik writes about the easy points that Blake gives the team here:
The term “hustle player” is used to describe players like Dennis Rodman, Joakim Noah or Anderson Varejao — the kind of role players teams need to be successful. Because of that, praising Griffin’s hustle may seem like something of a backhanded compliment, but effort is just as important a part of Griffin’s game as his athleticism or skill.
The goal of every defense in the NBA is to keep opposing players from scoring at the basket: Griffin is able to score at the rim over and over again because he uses his athleticism and work ethic to create opportunities at the rim before the opposing defense can set up against him.
Griffin is more than a great hustle player — he’s a great player who hustles.
According to Synergysports.com, Griffin has made 139 of 212 shots on plays where he gets the ball after making an off-ball cut, grabs an offensive rebound or gets the ball in transition. That means Griffin generates approximately 3.5 baskets per game without the Clippers’ having to feed him the ball in the post, set him up in isolation or involve him in the pick-and-roll — and that doesn’t even include the value of the free throws Griffin draws in those situations.
To show you just how much “free” offense Griffin has generated this season, here are the equivalent numbers for some of the other top forwards and centers in the league:
Dwight Howard: 92-of-123
Amare Stoudemire: 87-of-167
Pau Gasol: 129-of-191
Kevin Love: 131-of-252
LeBron James: 104-of-172 (79 of the 104 made baskets have come in transition)
As you can see, only Love generates anywhere near as much “free” offense as Griffin, and it has taken him 40 more attempts than Griffin to even get close.
• Mike Prada at SB Nation gives a look at why Eric Gordon needs more pub (more here):
As it turns out, it’s Gordon, and not Griffin, that leads the Clippers in scoring. He’s currently averaging just under 24 points a game, putting him eighth in the entire league, ahead of guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony. But if anything, that obscures just how good a scorer Gordon has been this season. Gordon is currently posting a true shooting percentage (which takes threes and free throws into account) of 58.3 percent and an assist percentage of 22.1, all while ending 27.1 percent of his team’s possessions. In layman’s terms, he is scoring while getting his teammates involved and without wasting too many possessions, all while shouldering the kind of scoring load superstars shoulder.
The ability to do all of that is more difficult than you think. For comparison’s sake, here is a list of players who have posted seasons with a TS% above 58, a usage rate above 25% and an assist percentage above 20 in the past three years.
Manu Ginobili (all three years)
LeBron James (twice)
Chris Paul (once)
Deron Williams (once)
Eric Gordon (this year)
That’s it. Kevin Durant, arguably the best “pure scorer” in basketball, hasn’t ever pulled it off. Kobe Bryant only did it once, and that was back in 2006/07. Dwyane Wade, arguably the best or second-best scoring guard of this era (along with Kobe), also hasn’t ever done it. In fact, if you go back to 2004/05, when the new hand-checking rules were put in place, the only new players that you can add to this list are Paul Pierce (twice), Bryant (once), Kevin Garnett (once), Gilbert Arenas (once) and Tony Parker (once). That’s elite company, and yet Gordon gets little love for it.
Now, the Clips just need to handle their business up in Portland so that they can have their first 4 game win streak of the year.
Keys to the Game:
– The New LaMarcus Aldridge. In the wake of injuries to Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and now Marcus Camby, Aldridge has been stepping up his game. He’s currently enjoying the most productive year of his career (21.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and a career high 20.72 PER) now that he is the primary offensive weapon. The last match-up with the Blazers, the Clippers held LaMarcus to 4 points on 2 for 10 shooting in only 23 minutes due to foul trouble. That’s the trick again. Blake’s not a great defender, so his rambunctious offense will be the key to subduing Aldridge, who will have to cover Blake for large portions of the game due to big man injuries.
– I really hope that the three point defense from the Minnesota game (Wolves shot 1 for 16) carries over, but the two games between the Blazers doesn’t indicate that. The Blazers shot a combined 15 for 33 from the three point line (45.5 percent). Sure, it’s something that we may be accustomed to seeing DeAndre shoot from the free throw line, which isn’t particularly intimidating, but for a team to shoot that from three, it has to be stopped.
– Pace and turnovers. While the Wolves played high paced and a high turnover game, the Blazers are the mirror opposite. They play at the league’s second slowest pace (91.4 possessions per game) and they have the third lowest turnover ratio (22.7 percent), so the Clippers have to adjust their game. One of the reasons they lost the last game in Portland was due to turnovers late in the game, so they’ll have to care for the ball in the way they did against the Heat and Lakers (22 turnovers combined in those two games, fewer than the total they had in last night’s game).
– Chris Kaman left ankle, out
– Craig Smith herniated disc, out
– Brian Cook right ankle, doubtful
– Brandon Roy knees, out
– Marcus Camby left knee, out
– Greg Oden left knee, out
– Elliot Williams right knee, out