Stat: Chris Paul’s 2012 assist rate of 46.00 is his lowest number since his rookie year in 2006, and more than fifteen points fewer than the mark he set last year in his final season in New Orleans.
Take: Since a 19-9 start that had the new-look Los Angeles Clippers the talk of the NBA, the team’s settled back into the franchise’s woebegone ways. Beginning with a tough overtime loss in San Antonio on February 18, the Clippers have lost 12 of their last 22 games to fall just 2 1/2 games ahead of ninth place, outside-looking-in Denver.
So what’s the problem for LA’s other team? Why the great start followed by this volatile seemingly never-ending stretch? It sounds strange to say for a squad led by a maestro like Paul and talent like Griffin, but the Clippers just can’t score. And Paul’s advanced assist numbers help tell the story.
Since the All-Star break Los Angeles has scored just 95.6 points per game, down 1.5 points from their season average. In that time, the Clippers have gone 9-10, adjusting to life without the injured Chauncey Billups, watching Caron Butler endure the worst slump of his career, and – perhaps as a result – playing through loud and public whispers that a coaching change was imminent.
It doesn’t make sense that Paul’s assist rate would take such a drastic fall in making the transition from Hornet to Clipper. When players are fully healthy and playing to their career norms, LAC boasts a roster more wrought with weapons than Paul ever had in New Orleans. That just it, though – these guys aren’t healthy and they aren’t playing the way they normally do, and it shows especially when examining the locations of Paul’s assists.
Paul’s number of assists at the rim, from fewer than 10′ out, and three point range are in line with his career averages. Meaning, then, that Paul and his teammates struggle to create and finish offense from 10′-15′ and 16′-23′. The numbers support this – Paul gets just .3 assists from the former distance and 1.8 from the latter, each mark a far cry from those that have been so consistent the last few seasons.
This is hardly ground-breaking stuff, but obviously the loss of Billups and rapid decline of Butler factor in big here. Each is known as a knock-down shooter from areas the Clippers currently struggle to score, and their “presence” on the floor would no doubt help Los Angeles’ offense revert back to it’s slow but efficient ways of January. The trade deadline acquisition of Nick Young is sure to help ease the absence of Billups, and one suspects something has to eventually give with Butler’s woes because he’s simply a better talent than he’s shown over the last month of the season.
The Clippers need to find ways to score other than in the paint, behind the three-point line, and off of isolations from their two stars, and nothing better indicates that than Paul’s falling and changing advanced assist statistics. The premise that the majority of a team’s shots should be of the highest percentage, most worth, and from its best players is a great and successful one for most teams, but it’s not working for Los Angeles, and they need to find a way to rectify it before they find themselves sitting at home in April, May, and June.