The reconstructed 2011-2012 Los Angeles Clippers have been one of the best success stories in recent NBA history. The franchise was once the NBA's poster team for failure with four .500-or-better seasons since moving to California in 1978 and only four playoff appearances in that same span.
The addition of guards Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups and forward Caron Butler have brought a noticeable winning attitude to the otherwise young Clippers and has L.A.'s other team as all but a lock for a top-four seed in the Western Conference.
Seemingly overnight the Clippers became the popular sleeper pick by analysts and fans alike to make a run at the Western Conference crown. But don't be fooled: 2012 will not be the season we see the Clippers representing the West in the NBA Finals.
The Clippers currently have the NBA's seventh-best record at 39-24, but are 24-16 since Chauncey Billups went down for the season with an Achilles injury on Feb. 6th. While that's still a solid record, Billups's absence as the starting shooting guard has been evident.
The Clippers have experimented with Randy Foye and recently acquired Nick Young as starters, but either player doesn't offer Billups veteran leadership or confidence with the basketball late in games.
Needless to say that neither Foye nor Young are as reliable long-range shooters as Billups nor have his playoff experience. To his credit Foye has been hot lately, averaging 15.0 ppg on .448 shooting from the three-point range in April. This season will be both Foye's and Young's first trip to the NBA postseason, so it remains to be seen if they are up to the task. The immediate assumption would be simply, no.
Another point worth noting is Blake Griffin's decline in play of late and the Clippers dependence on the three pointers. Griffin is a highlight waiting to happen and has a world of talent, but he is also a horrendous free-throw shooter with no reliable post moves.
Griffin's main weapon for now is his athleticism. Teams have already begun to hammer Griffin on his attempts at putting them on a poster, and NBA playoff-intensity basketball is a whole other league of physicality.
He has the 6'10", 245 lb frame to sustain the contact, but he will need to convert more than his current .517 clip from the charity stripe or be prepared to sit in crunch time when teams implement the hack-a-Griffin strategy. Collectively, the Clippers are only shooting .679 from the line. That's not good enough to get it done in the postseason.
Also, the Clippers attempt the fifth-most three pointers in the NBA. They do shoot a respectable .356 from long range (good for 12th in the NBA), but as the old adage goes, live by the three, die by the three. Missed three pointers lead to long rebounds, which lead to fast break opportunities for opponents.
One of the Clippers' best assets is their shot blocking from DeAndre Jordan and Kenyon Martin, but when an opponent has fast break opportunities off of errant long-jump shots the shot blockers are taken out of the equation. Memphis, OKC and San Antonio, each potential matchups for the Clippers, are all solid fast break teams.
Another area where the Clippers are lacking is overall depth. Mo Williams, Young and Kenyon Martin are all solid pros, but after them the quality of the Clippers bench takes a steep drop in talent. The Clippers send opponents to the free-throw line the third most in the NBA (25.5 FTAs per game) with most of those fouls coming from their front court.
Martin and Reggie Evans are the Clippers' only true backup bigs, and neither offer the offense of Griffin or athleticism of D. Jordan.
Mo Williams has been a nice source of scoring punch off the bench, but at 6'1" he is a liability, defensively. Eric Bledsoe is still learning to run a team as a backup point guard and Nick Young has arguably the worst shot selection in professional basketball.
Collectively, the Clippers bench shoots .401 from field field, 29th in the NBA. Most teams in the league see a bit of a dip in production with their bench in the game but the Clippers more so than others.
Chris Paul is one of the most fierce competitors in the NBA. His will to win is undeniable, as he displayed in the first round last season against the Lakers when he was with the Hornets. The Clipper's youth, athleticism and CP3's leadership and may be enough to get them out of the first round this season, but that's where the Cinderella slipper will fall off.
The Clippers have had a spectacular 2011-2012 season under developmental coach Vinny Del Negro. But they still need an offseason and a more experienced head coach (Stan Van Gundy?) to be true contenders.