The Clippers Two-Thirds of the Way In - What Have We Learned?

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: Chris Paul #3 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers confer during hte game with the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center on December 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Bulls won 114-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

When I answer questions for other blogs in the process of doing Q&A's I have to take a step back and look at the big picture. But we tend to get bogged down in the details here at Clips Nation, stuff like DeAndre Jordan getting the first play called for him in six straight games or Eric Bledsoe's minutes from game-to-game.

As we enter the final third of the season, Citizen Raffo sent me some questions at a higher level. I'm just going to plow through them, answering at a gut level without putting too much thought into them. Feel free to support or contradict my positions in the comments.

Raffo asked a LOT of questions, and I'm going to answer them all, but in installments. This is Part One.

Raffo: So here we are, 44 games into our 66 game 2011-12 season. Forty-four games with Chris Paul. Where are the Clippers just now. Overall, have they met expectations?

Perrin: It's fair to say that the Clippers exceeded my expectations in the first third of the season -- at which point I adjusted my expectations and now they are falling short. If I try to put myself in the mindset from the beginning of the season, my position if I recall correctly was that the Clippers were a lock to make the playoffs, but would have to come together very quickly to be a top 4 seed in the playoffs. Well, they're sitting at the 4 spot after 44 games, so I guess they've done pretty well over all. I will say this much -- the Western Conference is completely different than I expected it would be. Teams like Houston, Phoenix, Utah, Minnesota and even Golden State (and Portland for a while) are much better than I thought they'd be, making the West 12 or 13 teams deep. So you're just not seeing the great records in the West you have in recent seasons; as of now, only two teams have won two-thirds of their games (and the Spurs just barely) -- last season the top 4 seeds all won two-thirds of their games. But with the West deep, and the lockout schedule more heavily weighted with games against West teams, you just won't see the same records in the West you have in recent years. As of now, Houston is in the playoffs just two games above .500.

Raffo: How do you feel about Chris Paul? Has he met your expectations? Superceded them? Has he disappointed?

Perrin: Similar answer as for the first. Paul far exceed my expectations early -- I mean, I'd seen him, but I think he has the kind of game that you don't truly appreciate unless you watch him day in and day out. So since he was so much better than I ever knew, of course I re-calibrated, raised my expectations to astronomical levels, and now I think CP3 sucks. JK.

Paul's season PER is 26.5, nearly three points higher than his final two seasons in New Orleans and currently fourth in the league. So, I guess that's pretty good. I mean, it's OK. Realistically, other than his tendency to defer a little too much early in ball games, I don't know what more the Clippers (or Clips Nation) could ask of Chris Paul.

Raffo: What about Blake Griffin? Do you think he earned his all-star berth? Is he just a spectacular athlete? Is he something more? What about the combination of Paul and Griffin?

Perrin: The All-Star start is what it is. Fans vote for the All-Stars, they vote for the players they want to see, and who the heck is going to argue with the choice of Blake Griffin in that format? You can quibble over who the best power forward in the West is, and strong cases can be made for Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge. But this isn't A.C. Green starting over Tom Chambers in 1990 we're talking about here -- Griffin was more than justifiable in the starting lineup.

He's certainly more than just a spectacular athlete. Anybody who ever saw Stromile Swift play knows that you can be a spectacular athlete and still be ineffective in the NBA. Griffin couldn't produce the numbers he does if he were just a spectacular athlete. Paul's PER is fourth -- Griffin's is ninth. So that ain't bad.

I struggle sometimes to describe what it is that Griffin is missing. He obviously has the athleticism; he also has a very high skill level. There is no one in the league at his size with his ballhandling ability, for instance. His body control and basic coordination is unmatched. The move he made Sunday against Houston is a perfect example.

Blake Griffin's Spin Cycle (March 18, 2012) (via NBAorbit)

That's just crazy. Who makes that move? At that size? You can't practice that -- it just happens. But what he lacks is technique. What I'd like to see are a lot more moves of the variety that you CAN practice. A simple drop step into a jump hook, for instance. Griffin never quite looks the same twice on his moves around the basket. Call it a go to move or whatever, but with time in the gym I'm sure he'll get there. He's just turned 23 and has played a total of 125 NBA games, after all.

Paul and Griffin together is the one thing I'd honestly say I'm disappointed with. I'm just not seeing the Stockton-Malone, Magic-Worthy, Nash-Stoudemire kind of connection, the synergy that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Blake's best moments on the pick and roll last year were on quick dives to the rim -- think EJ coming around the screen and hitting him with the one handed bounce pass. Paul likes to control the flow a little more, to hang onto the ball and let the play develop as he comes around the screen, and frankly it seems to put throw Griffin off his rhythm a bit. Griffin winds up drifting along on the perimeter way too frequently. That was perfect for David West -- it's completely wrong for Griffin. Paul and DeAndre seem to have a better connection at this point -- continuing the Hornets analogy, D.J. is doing a pretty reasonable Tyson Chandler impersonation. But it doesn't make sense for Griffin to try to be David West.

I assume the synergy will continue to develop. But as of now, the sum of the parts is terrific -- but that's all it is.

Raffo: There was a recent article in Grantland (by Chris Ryan) that questioned Griffin's on-court demeanor, that other teams celebrate his failures, that he might actually be a "dick". He certainly whines a great deal, flops, and stares down refs. Care to comment?

Perrin: The Grantland piece wasn't that different than Beckley Mason's "Boo, the Clippers" piece a few weeks ago. Here's the thing. People will always find something to complain about, particularly in highly successful, highly visible players. Griffin has risen so far so fast in the basketball hierarchy, it's inevitable that some people will want to see him fall. I use the example of Tim Duncan -- Mr. Fundamental, and widely regarded as one of the real class acts in the NBA -- and that "Who me?" look he pulls after every foul call makes me want to slap him with a fish. It just irks the hell out of me. And I'm not the only one, it seems. Joey Crawford for one seemed to get sick of it as well.

Whining? I don't see Griffin whining significantly more than any other NBA player. Flopping? I'm not crazy about it, but those of us who have watched his career closely know that Griffin has gotten more calls since adopting the 'head snap' than he ever did before. It's really difficult to condemn a player for doing something that works. People should probably blame the refs on that one. Staring down refs? Meh. It's better than yelling and screaming I guess.

When Blake gets caught up in all of that and fails to hustle back on defense, that's when I get upset -- but other than that, I'm not sure what Ryan and Mason have to complain about, or more specifically why they would single out Blake Griffin for these criticisms. Re-read Ryan's article and substitute LeBron James or even Kevin Love for Blake Griffin. It pretty much works just as well. Could Blake be a better citizen on the court? Sure, I suppose so. But he could be a hell of a lot worse too.

Is Blake a dick? Well, the best players pretty much always have been. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, John Stockton, Charles Barkley ... the dick list goes on and on. Nice guys probably don't have the temperament to be the best at something. I'm way too nice on the basketball court, and I never even played in the NBA. So the correlation?

Look for Part Two in this series, coming soon.

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