I was doing some gardening yesterday when news broke that Blake Griffin needed surgery. Actually, I was on a ladder fixing the cover on my Inverter unit A/C when my phone went off in my pocket. It was coach Nick wanting to know If I could work out the playoff impact of Griffin being out four to six weeks.
“Sure,” I said. “Just let me get off my ladder.”
I’ve developed quite a few nifty stats tools, so let’s not let them go to waste. First, I used my Live Playoff Odds to examine their playoff position before Blake got injured:
The Clippers, even after Sunday’s debacle, still woke up this morning as favorites for the sixth seed at 49 projected wins and within striking distance of the dogfight for the 4th seed with Houston, Dallas and the lurking Spurs.
How much of a problem does losing Blake cause the Clippers? It’s safe to say he is a pretty good player:
(Quick note: The ratings compare the player to his opponents at his position and rates him 0 to 100 based on the percentage of players in the league the player is better than.)
Blake is a world class, high usage, scoring and passing big man. His rebounding is below par and his defense is average but he is good enough at scoring to put him at star level. His overall rating of 75 out of a 100 actually undervalues his contribution. The reason? When you lose a high usage, efficient scorer, the effect is the exact opposite of what happens when you cut Josh Smith. Defenses can now cover everyone else on the team that much tighter. However, I suspect Chris Paul (who is an offensive efficiency machine) will offset this somewhat.
As good as Blake is, according to the efficiency numbers, he is really the number 3 of the Clips Big Three (Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan are 1 and 2). The real problem is that he’s the one that plays the most minutes and the alternatives (Hawes and Davis with a little Udoh thrown in) are all very questionable.
What’s the bottom line? I did some quick math and I got:
If we assume Blake’s minutes get split between Jordan, Spencer Hawes, Glenn Davis and Epke Udoh as shown, then the Clippers are about 1.4 points worse per 48.
This assumes part of the minutes are going to Jordan (who’s very good) and to Udoh (who’s biggest selling point is that he’s not Davis or Hawes). If that’s not the case then it could be much, much worse.
Let’s do three simulations: For the first, we assume that Blake is out six weeks (20 games including Sunday’s loss to OKC) and plug that -1.4 into the simulation. As of this morning we get:
Not a whole lot of difference from the baseline. Why? A 1.4 point margin drop is about a 5% drop in Win/Loss percentage. Over a season that would be about 4 games. Over twenty games, that’s closer to one game.
The Clippers playoff odds drop about 2% here and it gets split between the Spurs and the Pelicans. The Thunder remain the same and the Suns fall. Functionally, this scenario is just a nose bleed for the Clippers.
Scenario 2 assumes a lot more minutes for Specer Hawes and Glen “Big Baby” Davis.
In this scenario, the Clippers might feel like they’re getting a colonoscopy. Their playoff odds drop 6% and the Spurs are uncomfortably close. Their old playoff nemesis Memphis lurks for a first round war on the road.
Among the rest of the teams, the Spurs aren’t helped here while the thunder get 2% better playoff odds. The Pelicans are the big winner in this scenario with a 5% jump in their playoff odds.
Scenario 3 assumes that Chris Paul cannot overcome the Jordan/Davis/Hawes/Udoh post rotation.
In this nightmare scenario, the Clippers hang on by a thread and pray that the Spurs and Thunder don’t start clicking and that the Suns stay unlucky.
So, which scenario do I think will happen? I’m thinking somewhere between Scenario 1 and Scenario 2. The sixth seed and an opening round versus the Trail Blazers on the road. With Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan doing their thing, there is absolutely no reason to think they drop out of the playoff race entirely, but making a deep run is pretty unlikely.
We’ll keep our eyes on how this development plays out, until then, I’ll be pruning my roses.