Chris Paul is out 6-8 weeks after spraining his left thumb in a game against the Thunder on Monday. Paul will undergo surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb and his return cannot come soon enough for the Clippers.
The Clippers have won 7 straight games and are #4 in the Western Conference as they start their stretch without CP3. Blake Griffin hasn’t played since December 18th and is nearing a potential return, but there’s been more news about him producing a White Men Can’t Jump remake than playing actual basketball. Griffin’s return will help – he leads the team in scoring and is 2nd in rebounds and assists – but CP3 has been the one making things work this season.
Earlier this season I noted that CP3 was an MVP candidate, but the insane seasons of James Harden and Russell Westbrook have only continued to over -shadow his work this year. Paul is averaging 17.5 points, 9.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.25 steals a game. The list of guys who have averaged 17/9/5/2 in a season is Magic Johnson (2x), Russell Westbrook last season and Chris Paul in ’08-’09.
He’s 6th in PER, 1st in steals, 4th in assists, 3rd in steals. He’s 9th among guards in rebounding. He’s 3rd in offensive rating, 10th in defensive rating, 7th in win shares, 2nd in box plus/minus and 7th in VORP.
This is going to kill the Clippers. If Paul is back in 6 weeks that would be March 1st against the Rockets. (Assuming he comes back quickly and can be effective with a brace or soft cast on his left hand.) Between now and then the Clippers play 11 of 16 on the road. Over that stretch they play the Celtics, Hawks, Raptors, Jazz and Spurs as well as the Wariors – three times.
The Clippers are only 2.5 games out of 3rd right now with the Jazz, Grizzlies and Thunder are all within 4 games of the Clippers. There’s a real possibility that by the time Chris Paul returns the Clippers are 7th in the West. They’re going to go from home court in the 1st round to starting the playoffs on the road against the Spurs or Rockets. Winning the Western Conference is already an impossible task. Without a home playoff series its even less possible-er.
So what do they do? If CP3 and Blake are both healthy, the Clippers are right up there with the Spurs and Rockets, but what if they lose again, completely healthy? The Clippers don’t have any draft picks in the upcoming draft. They have their first rounder in 2018 and second rounder in 2019. Paul and Griffin are both unrestricted free agents after next season. Paul will be 33 by then. They’ve got this season and next with this core to make it work and this season just took a big hit.