When Chris Paul separated his AC Joint on January 3rd, the Clippers were off to a solid start for the season at 23-12. Paul had been a major factor in the Clippers’ success, leading the league in assists at 11.2 per game. With Paul down for 4-6 weeks, the path ahead looked bleak for Lob City.
Fast forward five weeks and the Clippers won 12 of 18 games without #3 at the helm. Over the course of those 18 games, the Clippers actually faced a more difficult schedule (measured by expected winning percentage, for full explanation see stattrackblog.com/NBAglossary). How did they manage that? The graphic above shows heatmaps of the Clippers’ main players with and without Chris Paul playing. The data is calculated as the difference from the player’s average for each statistic shown. For example, Blake Griffin is averaging 23.9 points per game on the season. With Chris Paul playing, he’s averaging 22.1 points per game and without Paul, 27.2. Therefore, for the heatmap, Griffin’s factor for points is a -1.8 with Paul in the lineup and a 3.5 without Paul.
The heatmap is ordered with the darkest shade of blue as the highest positive factor and the whitest shade as the lowest factor. The heatmap shows the more important role that Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison play when Paul is out of the lineup. In addition, the role of Griffin changes significantly with his rebound totals decreasing and usage rate (USGR) increasing. The Clippers allowed more points without Paul but also scored more points, giving them a higher differential. There’s no mistaking how good of a player Chris Paul is and how essential he will be to this team in the playoffs. Yet, the team adapted and performed well without Paul. Do they need him?
Data courtesy basketball-reference.com