Los Angeles Clippers Report Card: Early-Season Grades for 4 Key Players

Errol Krupiarz@@WiseGuyErrolContributor IJanuary 9, 2012

Los Angeles Clippers Report Card: Early-Season Grades for 4 Key Players

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    Two weeks into this NBA season, the new-look Los Angeles Clippers are tied with the Lakers atop the Pacific division with a modest 4-2 mark. 

    There have been a few clear deficiencies with this team—free throws, rebounding and team defense in particular—but for the most part, “Lob City” is off to a good start.

    Let’s take a look at how four key players have performed so far.

Blake Griffin

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    There have been no signs of a sophomore slump from No. 32.

    Despite all the hoopla over L.A.’s free-agent acquisitions, the big man out of Oklahoma has been the most productive and consistent player on the roster. Griffin has played at least 32 minutes and scored at least 20 points in all six contests this year.

    His combination of size, superb athleticism and offensive skills makes Griffin one of the most dynamic players in the league. He’s the Clippers’ go-to guy in the half-court set and can also keep up with CP3 on the fast break.

    There are, however, a few things that Griffin could improve on if he wants to be an MVP-type player in this league. Most notably, he’s got to get better from the charity stripe. Griffin is at 61.5 percent from the line so far in 2012, down slightly from last season.

    Also, for a man his size, Griffin should be able to make more of an impact on defense. He only has three blocks on the year and could be more assertive on D.

    GRADE: B-

Chris Paul

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    So far through six games, Chris Paul is averaging a career-low 15.2 points per—but scoring is not where his value lies with this team.

    It’s Paul’s other contributions to the Clippers that makes him so important to Vinny Del Negro’s squad. Paul’s job is to take advantage of all the talent around him and put his teammates in the best position to succeed.

    Early on, he has done just that.

    L.A. is fifth in the league in scoring (99.7 PPG) and third in field-goal percentage (47.9), thanks to many easy highlight dunks and open shots created by Paul’s court vision and ability to penetrate the defense and find the open man.

    He’s an outstanding ball-handler and passer (9.3 assists per game) and terrific defender (league-leading 2.8 steals per game).  

    So far, CP3 has been as advertised.

    GRADE: A-

DeAndre Jordan

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    In my opinion, DeAndre Jordan’s performance this season will determine the fate of this Clippers team more than any other player on the roster.

    We all knew that Jordan was going to play a big role on this team after L.A. decided not to bring back Chris Kaman at the center position. Jordan is primed for a breakout year in 2012, but we haven’t really seen it yet—at least not so far.

    Sure, DeAndre leads the league in blocks (3.0 per game) and has had a handful of YouTube-worthy slams and rejections, but don’t let that fool you. He’s got practically no post game on offense and is a pathetic free-throw shooter (47.2 percent this year, 41.8 for his career).

    It’s so bad that the Warriors went into “Hack-A-Shaq” mode in the season opener, intentionally sending Jordan to the line several possessions in a row—a strategy I’m sure we’ll see more often from opponents this season.

    And sure, all those blocks are nice, but for a man his size (6’11”), Jordan should be averaging more than 7.0 rebounds per game.

    GRADE: C

Caron Butler

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    Quick—besides Blake Griffin, who has taken the most shots for the Los Angeles Clippers so far this year?

    Often the most overlooked addition to this team, Caron Butler has started all six games this year and has solidified the small forward position.

    Butler has always been a good scorer—his career 16.5 points per game average shows that—but many people wondered how the 31-year-old veteran would be able to perform coming off of a season in which he missed 53 games because of a knee injury.

    So far, so good.

    Butler has scored in double-figures in every game, with his best performance coming on Sunday as he dropped 20 points in a victory against the Milwaukee Bucks

    He’s also a more than capable defender and will be asked to spend a lot of time covering some of the West’s elite scorers, such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.

    GRADE: B+