Los Angeles Clippers: 7 Ways L.A. Can Make It Deep into the Playoffs

James ToljCorrespondent IIJanuary 4, 2012

Los Angeles Clippers: 7 Ways L.A. Can Make It Deep into the Playoffs

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    Even after a 2-2 start, there aren't many people who doubt that the Los Angeles Clippers will make the NBA playoffs.

    But the team has a lot of hard work to do in order be among the elite teams in the NBA.

    Chris Paul hasn't disappointed, but the Clippers need him to play at astronomical levels, and the rest of the starters could help Blake Griffin more on the offensive end.

    Vinny Del Negro hasn't figured out a perfect rotation yet either, and he should be working day and night to infuse the team with a rough and tough defensive mindset.

    Oh yeah, and the team's poor showing at the free throw line needs to be fixed. 

Don't Settle for Jump Shots

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    I understand that Blake Griffin is steadily improving his jump shot. In his rookie year (aka second year in the NBA), Griffin showed off his repertoire off fade-aways and bank shots. This season, he has been able to knock down 20 footers with some consistency as well, and that is all fine.

    What falls on coach Vinny Del Negro's shoulders is to give Griffin, and the whole team for that matter, a better sense of when to take those shots.

    Griffin can get a jump shot off whenever he wants to. He can simply rise above the defender, but there is no reason to take a jump shot early in clock. Teams often try to lull Griffin into a jumper by backing off of him. 

    That isn't because he is terrible at shooting. It is because he is deadly when in the paint.

    If Del Negro wants to do something to improve an already solid offense, he will pound into his team to drive to the basket first, and if nothing is open, then kick the ball out for a shot. There are numerous capable three-point shooters on the team, and when the opposition starts to collapse in the paint, Griffin will be able to rack up a ton of assists.

Let Chris Paul Attack

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    Chris Paul has started the year off pretty well. He is shooting above his career averages in three-point and field goal percentage, and he is on par with his career assist per game average with 9.8 (9.9 over his career).

    But if the Los Angeles Clippers want to make a run deep into the playoffs, then Paul will need to become even more aggressive.

    Paul is averaging a respectable 15.5 points per game this season, but he could easily average more. He is the kind of player that lets the game come to him. He doesn't take many contested three-pointers (which is good), and he only really attacks defenses when his team is in need of a score. There is no question that Paul is a pass-first, team-first point guard. 

    It could do wonders for the team if he was a little more selfish though. As evidenced by the Clippers' recent matchup against the Portland Trailblazers, Paul can take over the game with his scoring as well as passing. He banked in a clutch three and then hit the game-clinching layup taking the Clippers to victory.

    There is nothing wrong with Paul's game. He wins games by doing more than just scoring, and he only averaged over 20 points a contest twice in his career. Paul isn't going to win a scoring championship, but when he starts to attack defenses that are playing tight on Blake Griffin, his electrifying ability to finish under the rim will give the Clippers a giant boost.

Take Some of the Load off of Blake Griffin

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    Blake Griffin is going to lead the Los Angeles Clippers in scoring this season. He is too good not to, but with the players Griffin is starting alongside, he shouldn't have to lead the team night in and night out.

    The team's three giant additions this season, Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul and Caron Butler have each cracked the starting lineup.

    The trio has played well (for the most part), but they could contribute more. I have already outlined Paul's productivity.

    Butler is shooting .447 from the field and averaging 14.5 points per game. It wouldn't hurt to give Butler the ball more often, but when he is playing off of Griffin, he needs to get better at knocking down three-pointers. He has a .300 percent average from deep this season.

    Billups, in the two games he has played in thus far is averaging the second most points on the team (16.0). But behind Randy Foye and Brian Cook, Billups is also has the worst shooting percentage on the team. While one has to love Billup's early production, he needs to be more efficient.

    DeAndre Jordan, who is by far the team's best defender and enforcer in the paint, has a lot of raw offensive talent as well. He isn't a great shooter, but he can score on more than just dunks if he gets the ball down low.

Utilize the Bench

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    Vinny Del Negro is still trying to work out his player's minutes, but it isn't all his fault that the bench hasn't been producing very much.

    Other than Mo Williams, who has started two games while Chauncey Billups has sat out, the bench hasn't been doing much of anything.

    Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes, two players that started a number of games for the Los Angeles Clippers last season, have yet to get going.

    Foye is averaging 17.5 minutes per game, but he is shooting just .318 percent from the field and averaging 4.8 points per game.

    Gomes is averaging 16.3 minutes and averaging an impressive .462 percentage from the field, but he is only scoring 3.3 points per game. 

    Gomes and Foye will get better given time, but Coach Del Negro could utilize the youth of rookie Trey Thompkins over Brian Cook. Cook is a three-point threat, but giving Thompkins some of Cook's minutes could prove invaluable later in the season. Cook can stay as a backup, but Tompkin's defensive and scoring potential shouldn't be overlooked.

    When Eric Bledsoe fully recovers from his knee injury (which will be soon), Del Negro will be able to use him to bring some firepower off of the bench as well. It won't be easy for Coach Del Negro to split up time among the plethora of guards though.

    Williams is always consistent, but he might be better served alongside of Chris Paul in the starting lineup. And if Williams becomes a starter for good, Billups could be used to improve the bench unit as a whole.

Bring Chauncey Billups in off the Bench

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    Like Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups is a floor general. His experience and calm are an asset to any team, but it would be difficult to ask him to come off the bench.

    However, it might be best for the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Billups and Paul play similar roles, and they both are fantastic with the ball in their hands controlling the team. If Billups came off the bench, not only would he be able to play his natural position and not have to share the ball with Paul (although they will be on the floor at the same time on occasion regardless), but also he would be able to run the second unit slightly better than Mo Williams.

    Williams can pass, but he is less of a floor general and more of a scorer.

    Billups' expertise at running the game will make things easier for his teammates. He would find the right player to pass the ball to and give them the best chance to score.

    While Billups will still be a potent threat as a starter, he could help the whole team improve if he came in off the bench.

Play Better Defense

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    The most important piece to the Los Angeles Clippers becoming a great team is improving their defense.

    When a team isn't able to score (and all teams go through bad stretches were they can't), defense can keep the score close. If a team doesn't play good defense, then blowout losses can become the norm.

    With Blake Griffin and the NBA's leading shot blocker, DeAndre Jordan, one would think the Clippers defense is among the best in the league. Well, you would be wrong if you did.

    The Clippers are tied with the Sacramento Kings for the second worst defense in the NBA. The Clippers give up 100.8 points per game, and they allow teams to shoot .469 percent from the field.

    If Griffin get more help on the offensive end, he might have more energy on defense. The perimeter defense needs to get much better as well. This comes down to Vinny Del Negro. 

    Del Negro won't become Gregg Popovich overnight, but he needs to learn how to instill some toughness on defense.

Get Better at Free Throws

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    This may seem obvious. Some players just are never going to be good at the free throw line, but DeAndre Jordan has potential.

    And this is an issue that needs addressing because Jordan is the worst free throw shooter on the Los Angeles Clippers, and the team ranks 29th out of 30 teams with a .652 percentage.

    Jordan knows how important it is to improve. An article in the Los Angeles Times by Broderick Turner says that Jordan often stays after practice to work on his free throws with Ryan Gomez and Randy Foye staying to give the young center advice.

    However, this may be a job for a professional (I'm not saying he needs to go Rick Barry underhand style). Jordan has a decent looking stroke. It is not as if he has a horrible awkward release or that his hands are too big to shoot the ball effectively.

    It might be a good idea to bring in someone that can help Jordan improve his .423 average, and while they are at it, Blake Griffin and his .667 average can listen in.