If Golden State has taught their fiercest rivals anything, it is to build your team around its young talent's flaws through the draft. Oh, and try to get one, if not two, of the best shooters in the league. For the first time in Clippers history, fans might get to have their cake and eat it too. But it will cost us the greatest thing that's happened to LA in the past five years: the cold, hard, technical skill of Christopher Emmanuel Paul.
In a season where Stephen Curry might solve basketball, Chris Paul believes himself to be the better player, the better leader, and when the chips are truly down, the better point guard. Not to throw dirt on Curry, but in the Clippers' three narrow losses this season to the Warriors, Paul has scored nearly 28 points per game while shooting 57% from the field and 47% from three. The tape don't lie: it's obvious that against stiff competition, the guy has shown up big time.
Point taken, Chris. But next time, do not agree to film a commercial with you heading DOWN the escalator and Curry cruising upward to snatch your throne. Somehow though, the eye test and a gut check are telling me that Chris is still the best combination of skill and fire in the point guard arena today, if only because he's the underdog. That's right - the most homicidally competitive guard since Kobe Bryant is being usurped. Yikes.
But with Paul's competitive attitude and graceful play also comes a thornier side. DeAndre Jordan, if not for the relative weakness of the Mavericks' roster, would have left last summer for a Dallas team prepared to offer him something he could never have in Clipperland: freedom from Paul's wrath. Of course, DJ reneged and pledged allegiance to the bannerless side of Staples Center, sweeping much of this under the rug. No need to fret, right? Right!
And yet, Paul continues to carry on in his petulant, demanding way with barely any open resistance or complaining. Why should anyone complain? THIS IS A MAN WHO HAS LED THE LEAGUE IN OFFENSIVE RATING, BOASTS A HISTORIC ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO, AND IS A TOP THREE POINT GUARD OF ALL TIME. HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MAKING AND/OR REJUVENATING THE CAREERS OF TYSON CHANDLER, DAVID WEST, JARRETT JACK, DEANDRE JORDAN, JJ REDICK, AND STEVE BALLMER. In short (hehe), he is a force to be reckoned with.
Sure, he might hog the ball at the end of crucial games, but don't you want a 31 year-old point guard trying to hit a mid-range jumper in isolation at the end of a playoff game this year? Perhaps you do. While the case can be made that Paul's skills are slowly flagging, you would be hard-pressed to find a more complete point guard on BOTH sides of the ball since he entered the league, and maybe ever.
But that was then, and this is now. Paul will soon begin his slow descent, and while his game may age beautifully (just ask that sexy jumper), the trials and tribulations in today's Western Conference may prove too much for the old man and his even older knees. It is high time that the Clippers re-inject some youth into their decrepit lineup. Could Kyrie Irving follow Steph Curry's example and reach a level of decency on defense while Paul's natural ability there will only fade as time goes on? Maybe. But first, we must examine the offensive implications of this proposed blockbuster deal.
Consider a 24 year-old Curry-lite that's somehow currently LEADING THE LEAGUE IN ISO scoring while playing next to two ball-dominant stars. A player who could be your go-to scorer and has never missed a free throw in overtime for his career. Perhaps that's the guy to pair with a super-athletic power forward still trying to find his apex, and capable of scoring, passing, and handling the ball in the playoffs so well that he averaged 28/8/8 against the Spursian juggernaut in last year's playoffs. For those who had trouble understanding, I just said that Blake might pair better with Irving than with Paul from here on out. Fight me
"All he does is dunk. He is a mediocre rebounder for his position, as well as nothing special defensively. He's not a top 10 player."- about Griffin
"All he can do is cross someone over. He is a mediocre passer for his position, as well as nothing special defensively. He's not a top 10 player." - about Irving
Safe to say that both Griffin and Irving have their weaknesses as players. Who doesn't? Match them up and you notice that Irving is a below average passer at the 1 while Blake is an above average passer at the 4. Irving excels at all forms of scoring except from the post, where Griffin ideally operates. Here are their shot charts for the past season:
2015 NBA Season Shot Charts for Kyrie Irving (left) and Blake Griffin (right). Sourced from Vorped.com
Notice that Blake and Irving flourish in VERY different spots. Griffin could focus more on the paint and left block while Irving could save his body specializing in the mid-range and from three, where he is less likely to take a nasty fall damage his ornate chassis.
We all adore the Blake-CP3 pick and pop, the V-pick and roll with DJ+Blake, and the original Lob City play of Blake rolling on the left side with the threat of CP3's patented corner of the free-throw line jumper looming. These plays have numbers backing them up, not to mention the intrinsic value they have on the offense by drawing attention away from a sneaky shooter like JJ and the league-leader in Field Goal percentage DJ.
But imagine an off the dribble 3-point shooter with enough free reign that he starts a panic every possession and immediately demands a blitz on the pick and roll. Then picture him running that pick and roll with a forward capable of passing, shooting, or driving hard at the rim. Imagine a four-on-three against scrambling defenders trying to sort out a lurking center, a curling shooter, and a cutting forward. No, I haven't been describing our mortal enemies, but that IS what you can expect out of the Clippers' starting lineup by 2020.
2020? Why wait until the year of perfect vision when we have a shot at shocking the world right now a la the Mavs 2011 or the Pistons of ‘04, the great teams that never got their due until they crashed their way onto the big stage and made their mark on history just by staying competitive year after year with aging veterans?
Like most difficult questions, the answer lies in a bit of information we haven't yet considered: Blake's impending free agency. Is he more likely to stay in LA with an aging point guard at the helm, the Warriors in full control of the game itself, and limited room to improve the team? Or would he stamp down his 2017 contract right now if a 25 year-old-in-his-prime-for-the-next-decade Kyrie was sent his way? Maybe that's just sensationalist writing.
Or maybe the best way to beat the best is simply to outlast them. Ask anyone who's ever won a playoff series ever. Coming back again and again for the next ten years as opposed to the next five means something. Let Irving grow in the West alongside stars his own age, taste the Warrior poison four times a year instead of two, grow from that experience, and morph into the Tony Parker - Steph Curry combo we all know he was born to be.