Change was a major theme for the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason. They parted ways with key pieces in Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute, who both joined the Houston Rockets, while J. J. Redick left for Philadelphia. The Clippers gained solid assets in Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, and paid the big bucks to bring in small forward Danilo Gallinari from the Denver Nuggets. There was also the addition of one of the best passing guards that few had heard of in Milos Teodosic.
With the Clippers in need of someone to take over as the on-court leader of this revamped line-up, Blake Griffin is in prime position to do so. The early signs are positive as the 28-year-old, who has made an impressive start to the season, looks to be relishing the increased responsibility.
Starting five tailored for Blake
Los Angeles made wholesale changes to their roster as they look to get over the semi-final hump in the postseason.
The 30-year-old rookie Teodosic replaced Paul and looks to be a handy pick up, although his foot injury is a setback. Beverley comes in and has been pivotal for the Clippers in their opening two outings. The Chicago native will play at the shooting guard position as a lock-down defender and showed his effectiveness in that role when he subdued Lonzo Ball to ruin the high-profile draftee's NBA debut. The 29-year-old will clearly give the Clippers more fight than Paul ever could. Gallinari, meanwhile, will replace Mbah a Moute with the Italian providing some additional scoring on the wings. DeAndre Jordan will once again play as the center.
With a starting five of Teodosic (upon his return), Beverley, Gallinari, Griffin and Jordan, it's evident that Griffin will get plenty of touches, as has been the case in the Clippers' opening two wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns. Griffin has filled up the stat sheet thus far; in the season opener against the Lakers the power forward netted 29 points from 12-23 shooting, adding 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals. Whilst against the Suns, the five-time All-Star was even more efficient with 29 points from 7-13 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists.
Griffin has well and truly taken his game to the next level and with the keys to the offense at his disposal, we will see his full arsenal on display. The addition of the 3-point shot has helped Griffin immensely as he can punish defenses who fail to close down on him. He hit 3 of 6 from downtown against the Lakers and followed up with 3 of 5 against the Suns.
Conversely, if the defense closes down on him, he has a good enough handle to take the rock to the basket and finish comfortably with both hands. We will also see Griffin as the primary ball handler for the Clippers playing in a point forward type role, similar to the job LeBron James does for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Clippers' main man clearly has the versatility to pull these various facets of the game off, and he could be a sleeper for the MVP award if he continues his promising start to the season.
The return of fun
The Los Angeles Clippers were renowned as a team that was fun on the court, but off it there was plenty of tension between teammates and even the coaching staff. Most of that could be attributed to Paul, whose drill-sergeant mentality didn’t fit the style or culture of the Clippers locker room.
With the pieces the Clippers brought in to replace those outgoing, Doc Rivers and Co. are still in the playoff picture even with the likes of Minnesota and Denver strengthening their rosters. Griffin is the right person to build around and the key will be to maintain his elite level performances throughout the season. With the Clippers less reliant on guard play, they will need the first overall pick from 2009 to carry the load nightly if we are to see at least one Los Angeles team in the Western Conference playoffs.
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