Last year, Paul was No. 4 and Griffin was No. 14, meaning both received a one-spot increase this spring. The top of the rankings is the hardest part to climb, so it speaks volumes as to how the public perception of both players, and the Clippers organization, has evolved over the past two seasons.
When I asked Paul about Griffin’s ranking at practice today, he said: “I don’t know who does the rankings or anything like that, but there’s a lot of players in this league, so to be 13th is pretty good.”
At the time, ESPN hadn’t announced Paul’s ranking, so I didn’t ask him.
Later, I asked Griffin if he had an opinion or any thoughts about his 13th ranking and he said: “Not really. Rankings are rankings. I have really nothing to say about that, to be honest.”
While Paul and Griffin’s per-game stats are down from last season to this season, a result of both guys playing less minutes to be fresh for the playoffs, the league-wide opinions of the two players has improved as the Clippers have enjoyed more on-court success, reaching the 50-win plateau for the first time in franchise history and winning the Pacific Division.
Paul has asserted himself as the third candidate in the MVP race, behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant, and Griffin has developed leaps and bounds – literally – from last year to this year in terms of his ability to pass out of double teams, read defenses, and general understanding of NBA defense (i.e. helping off his man, pick-and-roll defense, one-on-one low post defense, etc.).
To get to No. 3, Paul surpassed Dwight Howard, who was No. 3 last year and is now No. 11. Griffin leapfrogged Derrick Rose (No. 23), Kevin Love (No. 27), Andrew Bynum (Not ranked in top 30), Dirk Nowitzki (No. 15), Rajon Rondo (No. 22), and Deron Williams (No. 17), who all ranked ahead of him last season, to get to No. 13.
In a vacuum, ranking don’t really matter. They’re just the subjective opinion of a couple hundred ESPN writers and bloggers. It’s not definitive by any means, and most of these people don’t have a vote in any awards race.
Still, these rankings are fun and light-hearted. For the most part, it’s how smart fans see the league and its players, given a few spots here or there. The players may brush off the rankings and act as if it they don’t mean anything, but in the past many guys have tweeted about them, and they’ve even upset a few players, too.
The fact that these critics and analysts unanimously believed both Paul and Griffin are better than last year, if only by a little bit, is an upward trend the Clippers can only be proud of.