Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Joe Kaiser, Ohm Youngmisuk and Renee Miller.
Chris Paul has reportedly been cleared to return from his thumb surgery and might do so as soon as Thursday evening against the Golden State Warriors. Should fantasy owners insert him into starting lineups immediately in all formats and how will his return affect the production of Blake Griffin?
Renee Miller: If I own Chris Paul, I'm slotting him in as soon as he's reportedly in the lineup, which sounds like Thursday vs. Golden State. Paul, before the thumb injury, was the league's third-ranked player in player efficiency rating (27.36), 15th in usage rate (25.8), fourth in assist ratio, and boasted a true shooting percentage of 61.1. Those are elite numbers, plus he averaged 2.3 steals per game.
The fact that his production this year has come with Blake Griffin off the court for the most part is somewhat of a concern. Paul has averaged about five fewer fantasy points per game with Griffin on the court over the past couple seasons. While that causes me some hesitation about using him in DFS, depending on his salary, his consistency and upside in season-long leagues make him a must-play.
If for some reason you are absolutely loaded at guard, or playing DFS, consider reserving Paul for competitive Western Conference rivalries. He actually averages a couple of fantasy points more vs. competitive teams in the west over the past three seasons.
In terms of Griffin's game splits, he averages exactly the same numbers with and without Chris Paul playing. It's surprising that over the past 2.5 seasons, he's only had seven games without Paul, so note the small sample size here. That said, what makes Paul so great is that he makes everyone around him better. I have no concerns about Griffin with respect to Paul returning to the court tonight.
Ohm Youngmisuk: If he is activated and coach Doc Rivers says he's starting, I am firing up CP3. The Clippers have three games left in this fantasy week. While it might take Paul time to build confidence in his surgically repaired left thumb, he should be able to rack up assists and hit some 3s without much problem.
Perhaps Doc plays it safe and doesn't have Paul on the floor a ton just to prevent his thumb taking another hit. But if it's a close game, I would expect Paul to play because the Clippers need their quarterback back with the Warriors, Spurs and Hornets on the slate by Sunday. Blake Griffin has been outstanding this month, averaging 25.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists. I would expect his assists number to go down with Paul back but the points and rebounds could still be there until Paul fully regains confidence in his thumb to drive without hesitation.
Joe Kaiser: Paul is a top-10 player when fully healthy, and he affects the game so much that even if he plays only 20-25 minutes on Thursday, he still has an excellent chance of putting up better numbers than a typical top-100 point guard. I'd put him in the lineup Thursday in almost any scenario. Really, the only way I would sit Paul is if my team is completely loaded at point guard and can afford to play the waiting game with CP3 for a game or two.
As for Paul's impact on Griffin, I'd expect it to hurt the power forward but only slightly. These two have played together for a long time and are great with or without one another, but here are some interesting numbers to digest:
With Paul on the court this season, Griffin has had a 29.8 usage rate and a 53.5 true shooting percentage, per nbawowy.com.
When Paul is off the court this season, Griffin's usage is virtually the same (29.9) but his true shooting percentage is much higher (59.1)