LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
PACE: #10 96.0
OFFENSE: #23 101.8
DEFENSE: #19 106.3
Last season the Clippers limited themselves to be the “same old” Clippers the franchise has been over the last few years: poor! Midway December, the destiny of the Clippers was already set, as with 5-21 record, the team was way out of the playoff picture.
However, the Clippers enjoyed a nice month of January by going 9-5 and beating some of the best teams of the league like Miami, Denver or the Lakers. The problem was their lack of consistency or being consistently inconsistent.
Offensively, the Clippers were a force on the paint. Blake Griffin was obviously the biggest reason for this, but they were indeed a good interior offensive team: only the Grizzlies scored more points in the paint per game than the Clippers (Clippers averaged 45.5 ppg), and their shot distribution clearly indicated their tendency to go inside as 32.7% of their shots were at rim (#7 in the league), while hitting 65.4% of those shots. On the defensive end of the floor, the Clippers fouled too much and were #5 (it’s a bad sign) in FT rate allowed with 32.4%.
Now talking about the upcoming season, it’s impossible not to start with the mega trade that the Clippers did to get Chris Paul. Eric Gordon is a good player who has the potential to be a perennial all star player and next year’s Minnesota pick can potentially be the first draft pick of the draft, but when you have the chance to get a guy like CP3, you simply can’t pass the opportunity.
Paul is a rare talent in the history of the league. He is the kind of player who will make every teammate into a better player. I can recall just of a few players in the history in the league that has the same ability, the last ones being Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Steve Nash.
After suffering a tough knee injury in the previous season, CP3 was durable last season as he played 80 games while averaging 36 minutes per game, so Paul has already played a full season after hurting his knee.
It will be quite curious to see how CP3 will combine with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, not because I have any kind of doubt about the chemistry, but because traditionally the Hornets were always a mid range jump shooting team when CP3 was there. His best partner in New Orleans, David West, loved to shoot mid range jumpers while the pick and pop play with CP3 was the bread and butter of the Hornets in the last years. Now with Blake Griffin, the dynamic will change a little bit because Griffin is infinitely a better athlete than West, so we can expect a lot of alley hoops between the two players.
Blake Griffin is already one of the best players of the league and he averaged 22.5 ppg and 12.1 rpg as a rookie! 44% of his shots last season were at the rim and still Griffin converted 67.7% of his attempts in that area! He still needs to work on a jump shot, but with CP3 around him, he will be what Amare Stoudemire was for Steve Nash in Phoenix: an offensive machine!
DeAndre Jordan will be the Hornets’ Tyson Chandler version for CP3. He will get his points from dunks and from offensive boards situations, but his main task will be to give some breath to Griffin on the defensive end. He is a good post defender, but as a help defender, he needs to improve considerably to be near of what Tyson Chandler is right now. Nevertheless, Jordan is only 23 years old, so he has potential and won’t need to rush anything on the offensive end.
Lost in the CP3 trade was the signing of Caron Butler. Maybe he was a bit overpaid considering his age and injury track record, but Butler is still a solid player in both ends of the floor. Inserted in a good system, Butler shot 43.1% behind the arc in Dallas last season, as he can shoot the ball in spot ups opportunities.
Probably the most fascinating combination of the Clippers roster for this season will be the Billups-CP3 tandem. CP3 is a terrific defensive player, but his size is problematic when against bigger players so in theory, putting another PG on the court at the same time than him would be a wrong idea. However, Billups isn’t a prototypal Point Guard as he is big and strong so he can guard obviously PG’s and also SG’s. This combination somehow reminds me the duo Kidd-Barea for the Mavs last season and in this case, Billups is the “Jason Kidd”, as he will guard the opposing shooting guard.
I have to confess that I’m not a Billups fan in his last 2/3 seasons because he has the tendency to shoot too many treys early on the shot clock and he really took over the notion of 6 seconds or less D’Antoni mentality for the Knicks last season by attempting 6 treys per game! Like CP3, Billups has a great character so the days of passivity and no desire from the Clippers organization are simply gone!
One of the potential problems for the Clippers is their lack of depth behind a strong starting unit. Mo Williams will likely be the 6th man coming off the bench and the Clippers have a nice 3-guard rotation with a great dose of variety. On the frontcourt, the Clippers are trying to get more players to backup Griffin and Jordan, so let’s see what they will acquire in the future because even though Griffin and Jordan are young players, they cannot play 48 minutes and the drop off of quality is huge! With a good backup big man the Clippers would be dead serious.
The conversation for who’s the best team in Los Angeles is legit right now. However, I have some concerns about the coaching skills of Vinny Del Negro. A good testament of this was to watch the Bulls last season in the first season after Del Negro. Boozer started the season injured, so it was basically the same Bulls’ team that Del Negro had, but the results were way different as Tom Thibodeau was/is an instant factor! The Playoffs will be the minimum required for the Clippers, as the competition looks to be weaker in the West this season, but in the Clippers mindset, they want more than just a postseason presence!