Blake Griffin is going to have it different.
That’s what the Wednesday night trade of Chris Paul to Griffin’s Clippers represents. There’s been a precedent set in this league, where great players have their youths squandered on poor teams, suffering without help. The most notable has been Kevin Garnett, and after him, LeBron James, whose departure from Cleveland can be clearly linked to Garnett’s departure from Minnesota. Griffin has avoided that fate. There’s risk with Chris Paul with his knee, risk with Chris Paul because of his opt-out for 2012-2013 (which he’s agreed to opt-in for right now, reportedly), and risk with his free agency in two years in 2013. But the fact remains that Blake Griffin will play with one of the top five best players in the NBA, the best player at his position. (Derrick Rose isn’t a point guard. He’s a Derrick Rose.)
The impact of this cannot be overstated. How often are the primes of players wasted? Should Griffin (missed his rookie season with knee injury) and Paul (missed most of season two years ago and has an issue with his meniscus in one knee) stay healthy, this is a team-up that can stay together for ten years. That’s ten years where Griffin can grow into the best version of himself beside a player that can make him the best he possibly can be. That’s exceptionally rare. For comparison, here are the point guards various stars played with in their second seasons:
Carmelo Anthony: Andre Miller -Good pro, but not a star.
LeBron James: Jeff McInnis – Yeah.
Kevin Garnett: Shane Heal – Uh-huh.
Amar’e Stoudemire: Howard Eisley (OK, so he wound up with Steve Nash. And look what happened.)
And yes, it’s actually his third year in the league after his injury but the point remains the same. Most players toil in vain. And maybe it’s a market scenario. But this is the Clippers. Someone who plays for the Clippers has had something go right (super-double-jinx with a cherry on top). And the big winner is fans. They get to see Griffin with a real chance to make he most of his career from the start.
As a point of reference, the Clippers last year were 23rd in the league in points-per-possession in the pick-and-roll. The Hornets were 16th. And this is with David West out for several months and not being a roll-man, Emeka Okafor who isn’t a great roll-man, and Jason Smith, who isn’t anything.
Defense is where the impact will get lost. But Griffin’s not going to have to cover as much on the perimeter pick and roll defense, he can stick his man. Paul gets hung up on screens because of his size, but he also fights through them and can contain. Paul’s a ballhawk, which will increase Griffin’s break-out transition opportunities.
That’s the key here, and what will get lost with the trade of Eric Gordon. Gordon was never going to make Griffin everything he can be. Paul can. Gordon was never going to actually help Griffin score outside of being a diversion. Paul will create opportunities for him. Griffin gets to play with a top player, in his prime, and if they win at all, Paul will re-sign and he’ll have a title shot every year. That’s so rare in a league that’s defined by the fruitless pursuit of greatness by young players having to pay their dues on mediocre squads wasted by short-sighted or short-changed GMs. Paul saw it, with a team that was constructed well but couldn’t be held together falling apart after a run in 2008. But Griffin won’t know of it. He’ll just know what it’s like to play with the best pure point guard in the league.
Griffin has been special since the moment he stepped on the floor. He changed the landscape last year. But this? This unearths his true potential. Griffin may become great before any of us are really ready.