Few offseasons see as many stars change uniforms while under contract as did the summer of 2017.
But the now Chris Paul-less Los Angeles Clippers, unlike the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and New York Knicks, not only landed on their feet after losing their best player—in some ways they solved roster problems that have plagued the squad since the inception of Lob City.
The Clippers won 51 games a year ago. Here’s why, barring serious long-term injury to some key cogs, they can equal or best that number in 2017-18.
Remember that magical 18-game run from 2013-14 that helped propel Griffin to third place in that season’s MVP voting? Without Paul during the heart of the season, Griffin averaged an efficient 27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.4 turnovers while leading the team to a 12-6 mark.
His playmaking ability has only expanded since. Last year, Griffin averaged 23.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 2.7 turnovers per 36 minutes while Paul was off the floor.
Griffin has always elevated his playmaking without Paul on the floor. Count on more of the same next season.
It feels like a lifetime since the Clippers have had a small forward who can defend capably and be a threat on offense.
Now they have two—Danilo Gallinari is an underrated defender on the wing, though he appeared to have lost a step on that end in the past year, and is dynamic with the ball in his hands and off the catch; and Sam Dekker showed plenty of three-and-D ability in 2016-17, his first real season (he got into three games with the Rockets a year prior). Both players also double as the first small-ball power forwards the Clippers have had since the undersize, shooting 4 has become in vogue.
They’re also rich in guys who produce in the game’s most efficient scoring method. Three players on their roster—Griffin, Gallinari, and Lou Williams—were in the top 15 in made free throws per minute last season.
Oh, and they also might have found their first decent backup point guard since the long-ago departure of Eric Bledsoe
Though the loss of defensive ace (and offensive near-zero) Luc Mbah a Moute hurts, they otherwise improved on that end of the hardwood.
Patrick Beverley, a part of the return in the Paul trade, could never replace the future Hall of Famer’s production at point guard or ability to belittle teammates into a joyless pulp. But one area in which he can fill Paul’s shoes is on the defensive end; he made his first All-Defensive first team a season ago, and has long been a thorn in the sides of the league’s best lead guards. Austin Rivers will likely be inserted into the starting lineup at shooting guard, and as fun as it is to laugh at his unrealistic perceptions of his abilities, he offers a notable defensive improvement over the departed J.J. Redick.
Throw in the aforementioned wing competence of Gallinari and Dekker, the improved D of Griffin over the course of his career, and the consistent rim protection of center DeAndre Jordan, and you’ve got a sizable group of above-average defenders that could help make defense the 2017-18 Clippers’ calling card.
Will the Clippers absolutely reach the 51-win plateau? Of course not. So much of their success hinges on the health of Griffin, and the five-time All-Star has missed 83 games in the last three years.
Still, compared to how other teams fared in dealing their respective franchise cornerstones, the Clips made out like bandits. So much so, that if Griffin can stay on the floor, they could themselves sniffing the echelon of the new-look Oklahoma City Thunder, the stalwart San Antonio Spurs, and the team to which they traded their star.