Austin Rivers: Austin Rivers is having the best season of his career, and has been absolutely on fire since the Golden State game. Including that game, he has scored 15.4 points per game over his last five contests, and shot 59% from three on more than five attempts a game. Those are crazy numbers, especially for a player who has made his name more on the defensive end the past couple years. While he certainly won’t be that hot all season, he is putting up career highs in field goal and three point percentage, and simply looks improved on the offensive end. Austin has been fantastic, and is proving all the skeptics wrong one game at a time.
Raymond Felton: Ray hasn’t been particularly strong in recent games, but I just wanted to give him a shout out for his overall contributions to the Clippers so far this season. When you look at his stats, nothing leaps off the page. He doesn’t score, assist, or steal much—nor does he even play that many minutes. But he has shot the ball well from deep, and has provided a steady presence on both sides of the court. His defensive tenacity has symbolized the reserves’ surprising strength on that end, and his ball-handling ability has taken usage away from Rivers and Jamal Crawford, who both tend towards shot-jacking. The Clippers don’t get off to the start they did without Felton’s contributions, and his presence will be even more important with Blake out.
Chris Paul: Remember, this is relative. Chris Paul has not been a bad player by any means over the past couple weeks. But he hasn’t been as superb as usual, and that drop-off is part of the reason the Clippers haven’t looked as sharp as they did during their blazing hot start to the season. Paul has maintained his terrific playmaking skills, but is averaging just 17 points a game and shooting only 34% from three in the Clippers last six games. Unfortunately, his free throw attempts have plummeted as well in recent weeks, costing him heavily in efficiency. With Blake Griffin out, the Clippers will need Paul to score a lot, and to score at an efficient rate. That means reversing the trends of the last two weeks.
Blake Griffin’s injury: I already covered some of the implications of this here. Essentially, the Clippers are losing their 2nd best player for at least a month. The Clippers are going to be good and win most of their games even without him, but this doesn’t help at all with their push to try to catch the Spurs (and now the Rockets) in the Western Conference standings. Blake is exciting, he is a terrific player, and the Clippers are worse without him in the lineup, no questions asked. It also means that…
Paul Pierce is going to get minutes: In fact, Paul Pierce is starting the Clips first game without Blake against Denver. Look, I have nothing against Pierce. He is a first-ballot Hall of Fame player who is reputed to be great in the locker room, and he seems like a cool guy. His on-court production, on the other hand, simply isn’t there at this point in his career. Pierce was awful last season in extended minutes, and has been no better so far this year (albeit in a tiny sample size). There is no indication Pierce is an NBA-level player anymore, yet he is going to be in the rotation for the Clippers. The Clips have options to replace him this year, even more than they did last season. Wes Johnson and Alan Anderson are around his size and better players. Doc could also play Austin Rivers or Ray Felton more in small lineups, or go big with Brandon Bass. Regardless, there is no need to play Pierce whatsoever. But play he will.