After the MVP showdown between James Harden and Russell Westbrook, there’s no question the Clippers-Jazz 1st round playoff series is the most interesting in the NBA. From the future of Doc Rivers, to free-agents-to-be like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Gordan Hayward, there’s a lot at stake.
For the sake of argument, let’s agree the Clippers won’t let Chris Paul leave – he’s by far their best player, despite his age and injury history – and they jettison Doc Rivers (or at least strip him of GM duties).
But Griffin (only 28!) and Hayward (27) could be on the move. There’s some speculation that Griffin returns to his roots in Oklahoma to play with Russell Westbrook. But Griffin loves LA, too. Hayward is a small-town guy who seems to like Utah, but perhaps the lure of his former coach Brad Stevens in Boston will be too much.
The question: If you’re a team looking at both players – and yes, Griffin is a power forward, while Hayward is a small forward – which player are you targeting more?
There’s an argument that perhaps Griffin is being mis-used in LA. Or he’s just in a bad spot with the Clippers, where having him play alongside a 7-footer (DeAndre Jordan) who clogs the lane, isn’t working. (These are the same people who advocate trading Jordan, but good luck getting someone to take on his $43 million over the next two years before he can opt-out.)
There’s no need to defend Hayward. In fact, this was his 7th year in the NBA, and he’s improved every season. This season, he set career highs in points, rebounds, field goal shooting and 3-point shooting since becoming a full-time starter. How’s this for a leap: Hayward was 58th in PER last year; he shot up to 27th this season, the best of his career.
Meanwhile, Griffin has been sliding in PER the last three years:
What’s really hurt Griffin’s stock is how rapidly the PF position has changed. Three years ago, only nine of the Top 20 PFs in the NBA made 1+ three-pointers a game. This year, it’s up to 12. DeMarcus Cousins has adjusted, and it shooting a lot of 3-pointers. Serge Ibaka has adjusted. And the European players are major factors (Saric, Porzingis).
Griffin has improved 3-point shooting – he made 38 of them this year, vs 35 combined in the last five years. But teams will give him all the 3-pointers he wants. But he’s also injury prone (three years running), and even if you want to dismiss punching out a team trainer as a one-time thing … it still happened.
I can see the likes of Boston, Chicago, Portland, Indiana (where he and his wife are from), Miami, Dallas all being interested in Hayward and throwing significant money at hime. Or, in the case of Portland, tossing sign-and-trade ideas at Hayward. I don’t see nearly as many teams chasing Blake Griffin.