Everything was going right for the LA Clippers. They are on a seven-game winning streak, are in the thick of the title race and Blake Griffin is getting close to a return. Everything was going right, that is, until Chris Paul injured his thumb.
Paul was injured when he jammed his thumb against Russell Westbrook while defending a drive to the basket. X-rays were negative, so the team hoped that he had avoided a serious injury, but then an MRI on Tuesday morning revealed a torn ligament. This is most likely a grade 3 tear to the UCL (ulnar collateral ligament). Now the Clippers won’t have Paul for 6 to 8 weeks as he recovers from surgery to repair the damage. The optimal recovery time according to the Inside Injuries algorithm is at least eight weeks, so even if he returns to the court before then, he won’t be fully ready to go. His shot will be the main thing affected by the injury because the left hand provides stabilization. Dribbling and passing with his left hand will also be affected.
Paul is no stranger to hand injuries. In 2012 he had this same injury to his right thumb, and then during the playoffs last year he broke his hand against the Trail Blazers. The timing of this injury is much better than many of his past injuries, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt the Clippers. Two months is a long time to miss your starting point guard and superstar, especially when you’re pushing for a top playoff seed.
So who will benefit from his absence? Austin Rivers is the first guy to look for in standard leagues. The point guard could be looking at over 30 minutes a night, even when Blake Griffin returns. His shooting and playmaking ability will make him a valuable add in all leagues. Raymond Felton will also have a chance to take over some valuable minutes at point guard. It’s too soon to tell which of these players will be the best long-term add, but my bet right now is on Rivers.
When Blake Griffin returns, he will be their go-to guy and should have plenty of chances to score. He could return as soon as next week, but it will take some time for him to get back to full health, so be patient with him. Jamal Crawford is another guy who could see an increase in opportunity with Paul out of the lineup. Paul averages 12 shots per game, so someone will need to take over all of those attempts. A combination of Rivers/Felton, Blake Griffin (when he’s healthy) and Crawford will be the first players in line to pick up the slack.
The Clippers’ LA rivals, the Lakers, have an injury of their own to deal with. Luol Deng is out indefinitely due to a wrist injury he suffered a few nights ago. No one knew he was hurt until he was seen with a large wrap protecting the wrist. X-rays were negative, so the injury is being called a sprain. This can mean a lot of different things and vary in severity and recovery time. If it’s a minor sprain, the optimal recovery time can be as short as one week, but if it’s a more serious sprain that involves ligament damage, 14 weeks is the optimal recovery time. For now, there has been no mention of an MRI, which would indicate that they aren’t concerned he suffered ligament damage or a fracture that the x-ray didn’t pick up.
Deng missed a game earlier this month because of biceps tendinitis, but he had played in every other game until now. Brandon Ingram is first in line to take over Deng’s minutes, although we don’t know if that will be for just a few games or a much longer absence. Because Deng has a history of wrist injuries, I suspect he will miss at least two weeks. If he returns before them, his shooting ability will suffer; the wrist is very sensitive and is important for the finesse of a shot. It will also be painful to play through and he is risking re-injury.
Thomas Robinson could also be a valuable add if Deng has an extended absence. He hasn’t been playing much, but the door is now open for him to step up and see an increase in playing time. Larry Nance is approaching his one-month recovery time for a bone bruise to his left knee, but he’s not ready to play yet and hasn’t come close to completing a full practice. As long as he is out, Robinson may be their only other option at forward coming off of the bench.
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