Help a Brotha' Out
The Los Angeles Clippers entered last season with high expectations. "Lob City" became a national phenomenon from the moment Blake Griffin was caught on video excitedly re-naming Los Angeles upon the acquisition of All-star point guard, Chris Paul.
The Clippers were no longer supposed to be Los Angeles' ugly duckling. They were meant to consistently compete in an extremely deep Western Conference. An inner city rivalry was born.
Since the Clippers moved to Los Angeles in 1985, no one really took notice. Mention the NBA and Los Angeles in the same sentence and the Clippers might not be uttered for the length of the conversation. Basketball in Los Angeles was owned, operated and run exclusively by the Lakers over the last 25 years.
Not anymore. The Clippers played the Lakers even last season and have retooled their roster this offseason in an effort to perhaps surpass their prior success and convince Chris Paul to sign long-term after the completion of his current contract, which ends next year.
A successful campaign requires the right personnel. Have the Clippers done enough this offseason to contend? Will a bevy of veterans take the team to another level? Lets take a look inside each position.
Starter: Chris Paul
He requires no introduction. The starting point guard and floor general of Team USA, Paul has already cemented his name atop the list of top point guards in the world.
He is best known for his ability to create opportunities for his teammates while expertly managing the game on both ends of the floor. He has led the NBA in steals-per-game four of the last five seasons. He has finished in the top five in assists-per-game the last five seasons, placing first twice.
Chris is the top point guard in the game because he has no true weakness. His improved three-point shooting has expanded his game while his knack for the game-winning 15-foot jumper has added the clutch factor to his repertoire.
He places his team squarely on his shoulders and makes certain his teammates are on the same page. He elevated the overall game of his All-star teammate, Blake Griffin in one shortened season. The sky's the limit for CP3.
Backup: Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe was nabbed by the Clippers in a draft day trade as they were excited about his ability to accelerate at a pace unparalleled. His point guard skills, however, required honing and coaching.
Entering the NBA as a raw talent at the age of 19, Bledsoe didn't see much action, especially playing behind Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams last season. When Chauncey went down, Bledsoe was given ample opportunity to flaunt his game.
Still only 22 years of age, Bledsoe shows signs of immaturity at times, however, he is lightning quick and can take the ball coast-to-coast while opponents can only admire from a distance. He stepped up his game in the postseason, hounding opposing guards on defense, forcing turnovers, grabbing loose balls and scoring in crucial situations.
In only 17 minutes per contest, he managed to average eight points, two assists and two-and-a-half rebounds. He shot fifty-eight-percent from the field and forty-three-percent from three-point range.
With Mo Williams gone and Chauncey slated for shooting guard duties, Bledsoe will serve as primary backup to Chris Paul.
Starter: Jamal Crawford
One of the top offseason acquisitions of the Clippers, Crawford will provide an instant offensive boost to a squad that lost that punch when they shipped Mo Williams to Utah. A low-risk/high-reward signing, Crawford inked a four-year deal, however, the final two years have only $1.5 million guaranteed. At 32, he realizes this will almost assuredly be his final lucrative contract and he has an opportunity to play alongside the top point guard in the game. Crawford had been called upon to handle the ball in late-game situations throughout his career, however, Paul will now put Jamal in a position to be successful off the ball.
He has never had a high field-goal percentage (shooting 41% for his career), however, opposing defenses zero in on him because of his ability to get hot in a hurry. Standing at 6'5'', he gives the Clippers a taller and more athletic look at the two guard from a year ago. He has averaged 17 or more points per game eight times in his career, which is exactly what the Clippers required.
Backup: Chauncey Billups
Billups re-signed with the Clippers on a one-year deal after suffering a brutal Achilles injury after only twenty games last season. He averaged 15 points and four assists per game, playing only thirty minutes per contest before undergoing season-ending surgery. He is slated to be the starter, however, erring on the side of caution due to his intense rehabbing, Crawford holds that spot for now.
Although Chauncey only shot 36% from the field last season, his ability to get to the line and hit clutch three-point shots injected a confidence into this young Clippers squad that came roaring out of the gates to begin last season. Chemistry is built over time, however, the shared relationship between Billups and Chris Paul extends throughout the locker-room and allows the Clippers to form a unique bond on and off the court.
Depth: Willie Green
Career Stats: 9 PPG, 2 RPG, 1.5 APG
Starter: Caron Butler
Tough. Gritty. Hard-nosed. Butler embodies the true small forward as his shooting range extends beyond the three-point line, his defense is above average and he is a team—first player. Although his numbers decreased from years prior, his presence on the court and in the locker room are on par with that of former NBA Finals MVP, Chauncey Billups.
He proved to his teammates and coaching staff how tough he truly is after fracturing his hand in game one of the Clippers first round matchup with Memphis, only to return and start Game Three.
He will likely see a decrease in playing time in order to stay fresh for the postseason as the Clippers have increased depth at almost every position, including the three spot. The Clippers are hoping to see an increase in field-goal-percentage (41% in 2011-'12) and rebounding (3.7 per game) heading into this season.
Backup: Grant Hill
The consummate professional. Grant Hill was once deemed the next coming of Michael Jordan in his early years in Detroit. A series of foot and ankle injuries derailed his career after he signed a lucrative deal to join Orlando. Because of his limited time on the court over the length of his Magic career, his knees have held up quite well over the last few seasons, even as he approaches age 40.
His added presence to an already tight-knit unit and great locker-room will only help this team through the inevitable tough stretches every team faces throughout the course of a season.
His offensive game is not what it once was, but he can knock down the mid-range jumper with high consistency and his defense is above average, which will help the Clippers maintain their consistent play when they move to their second unit.
Starter: Blake Griffin
The $95 million man underwent surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his knee last month after he tore it at Team USA practice. Clippers fans always gasp for air when the topic of Blake's knee comes up. For so long, the 'Clipper Curse' had never failed to claim its victim.
Most thought Griffin was next in line after missing his entire rookie season to a knee injury, however, the two-time All-star silenced those cries with two great seasons. Donald Sterling opened his wallet for his prized possession this offseason, locking up his power forward for five years.
Blake's continued development is of top priority entering this season as his outside jump-shot and free throw percentage require some fine-tuning. If he can begin to knock down the 15-foot jumper with consistency, his game will soon become easy to play and very tough to defend.
High flying dunks and acrobatic finishes will only get him so far in his NBA career (22 PPG, 11.5 RPG & 3.5 APG), as he aims to increase his dominance and overall ability over the next few years.
Backup: Lamar Odom
Odom figures to be the top offseason move by the Clippers. Acquired in the Mo Williams trade, Lamar returns home to Los Angeles where he will be comfortable with his Kardashian and in familiar territory at Staples Center.
Odom was drafted by the Clippers and played out his contract before leaving the much maligned team for greener pastures. The two-time NBA Champion will anchor a very deep Clippers bench and lead the second unit as he is the most versatile player on the roster.
That was then, this is now. The Clippers are no longer the laughingstock of the league as they once were. Odom is rejuvenated and motivated to disprove his critics this season as he underperformed in his one season in Dallas. He will be asked to help dethrone the Lakers from Los Angeles supremacy as he will be a crucial part of this team, most likely playing upwards of 28 minutes per game.
Starter: DeAndre Jordan
The weakest link of the Clippers roster is at the center position. Jordan has the talent and athletic ability to become one of the top centers in the NBA. However, his inability to create off the dribble and his limited post game allows for defenses to play off him too often.
Yes, he makes them pay with the occasional alley-oop flush, but he was rendered ineffective in the playoffs as he faced Memphis big man Marc Gasol and Spurs star Tim Duncan.
His defense is also suspect as he cannot be relied upon to play one-on-one defense against the top centers in the league. His help defense, however, is phenomenal and one of the reasons he was ranked in the top ten in blocks.
His length and strength are his two best attributes and if he receives the attention necessary to expand his game, Jordan can become a tremendous asset now and in the future. That being said, his free throw percentage and offensive game need work.
Backup: Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf
Again, the weakest link of the Clippers depth is at the center position. Hollins is a career backup who cannot be relied upon on the offensive end. Though He did play his college ball at UCLA and he is definitely happy to be back in a familiar setting.
Turiaf just captured a ring with the Miami Heat and signed a one-year, veteran minimum deal to bolster the Clippers front-court depth. The French national is currently playing in the Olympics, which will only give him more time to refine his game.
His offensive game isn't something to boast about, however, his grittiness and defense are what makes him go. He will soon be a fan favorite for his nightly display of effort and energy.