The Critical Improvement Each L.A. Clipper Player Must Make in 2012-13
With expectations through the roof for the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers, LAC will have to demonstrate significant improvements throughout the roster if this team has any chance of competing with the best squads in the NBA.
A solid foundation of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has proven that the Clips are capable of hanging with the league's other dynamic duos, but the rest of the team will have to come to play if Lob City has any chance of knocking off a team like the Lakers or the Thunder.
Here are the most critical improvements each Clipper player needs to make this season.
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Critical Improvement: Offensive and Defensive Efficiency
Assessing Willie Green's value is especially challenging considering that he is likely to see sporadic minutes on the court this season.
In some ways, the front office brought in Green to compensate for the loss of sharp shooter Randy Foye. Given the depth in the backcourt however, it is unlikely that Green will play anywhere near the minutes that Foye enjoyed for Lob City last season.
For Green it will be all about efficiency.
Whether it is three-point corner shooting or strong on-ball defense, Green will have to make his presence felt in the few minutes that he will get on the hardwood this season.
Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf
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Critical Improvement: Defense and Rebounding Effectiveness
Look for Hollins and Turiaf to be foul machines against dominant centers like Dwight Howard this season.
Neither is likely to see more than five to ten minutes each night. Consequently, making their minutes count will also be important.
Turiaf was one of the best cheerleaders in the game for the Lakers a few years back. Hopefully he will return to form in 2012-13.
Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins
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Critical Improvement: Maximizing Practice Time
The two should hit the history books and study the development of the Clips' 2005-06 team.
Both Leslie and Thompkins have showed promise in college and in the brief minutes that they have played in the pros.
Utilizing the time that they have with veterans like Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups could go a long way in their careers.
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Critical Improvement: Health and Conditioning
Returning from a torn Achilles, guard Chauncey Billups will have to prove to himself and to his team that he is physically back from an injury that had him sit the majority of last season.
Billups was crucial for the Clippers in their hot start and added some nice stability alongside Chris Paul in the backcourt.
There is no question that Billups has the drive and mindset to return to form.
Mr. Big Shot has been rehabbing all summer and is supposedly ahead of schedule in his conditioning process.
How Father Time treats the 35-year-old Billups is yet to be seen.
Nevertheless, sustaining Billups' health will be of chief importance to the Clips' coaching and training staff this season.
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Critical Improvement: Scoring Consistency
With Chauncey Billups in the lineup at the start of the season, forward Caron Butler got off to a hot start.
Butler was time and time again the beneficiary of dribble penetration by Paul and Billups early in games last season.
As Butler went, so did the Clippers.
En route to their fast start last season, Butler averaged 15.6 points per game in the month of January. That month also saw the Clips post a solid 11-4 record with impressive victories over the Lakers, the Heat, the Grizzlies and the Thunder.
Caught in a shooting slump in March, Butler put up a paltry 9.3 PPG. Fittingly, the Clips were a pedestrian 11-9 that month.
How Butler starts the season could dictate how quickly the Clippers start out of the gates. If he can contribute fast and early, the Clippers could find themselves atop the Pacific Division by December.
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Critical Improvement: Conditioning
Having played for a miracle training staff in Phoenix for the last few seasons, Grant Hill will need to ensure that he is capable of playing at an elevated level at the age of 39.
At that age, day-to-day injuries have a knack of becoming chronic and nagging. While Hill might sit on some back-to-backs, it is likely that Del Negro will play him often for his defense and versatility.
Hill needs to make sure that his body will not betray him this season. He has had an injury-riddled past, but recent history does suggest that his body is up to the grind.
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Critical Improvement: Poise
Coming off of breakout playoff performances against the Grizzlies and the Spurs last spring, Eric Bledsoe demonstrated that he has the game and physical capabilities to be a dominant guard in the NBA.
For Bledsoe however, the challenges are really between the ears.
At times Bledsoe can play especially frenetic. His lighting quick speed can get him into trouble, as he penetrates into the teeth of the defense and often turns the ball over.
Bledsoe should take a page out of Billups' and Paul's books, and slow the game down.
Make no mistake of the Kentucky product's impact as a spark plug off the bench, but the potential for growth is enormous if Bledsoe can play with more poise and a higher basketball IQ.
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Critical Improvement: Confidence
DeAndre Jordan needs to play with more confidence and swagger in 2012-13.
Jordan has been the most dominant in the first quarter of ball games.
In opening periods, Jordan's swagger can be through the roof as he is often the recipient of brilliant lobs from Chris Paul. On the defensive end, Jordan can be one of the most menacing shot blockers in the entire league.
Consistency is a factor, however.
Jordan's confidence issues and free-throw shooting woes have made him a liability down the stretch.
The issue got so bad last season that Del Negro would often opt to go with the lanky Kenyon Martin instead of Jordan in a tight game.
DJ has the raw talent to become a serviceable center in this league. If Jordan is to prove that he is worthy of the massive contract that he signed just before last season, then he will need to play with an inspired game in 2012-13.
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Critical Improvement: Shooting Efficiency
Jamal Crawford's role on the Clips is yet to be defined.
On a team already loaded with backcourt talent, it is yet to be seen how Coach Del Negro will utilize the scoring and playmaking abilities of the combo guard.
Throughout his career, Crawford has been renowned for his volume scoring, his adept playmaking skills and his confidence to take the big shot.
Contrary to his reputation however, Crawford's numbers are rather suspicious.
A career 40.8 percent shooter and 34.8 percent shooter from downtown, Crawford is not the effective scorer that he has been made out to be. Coming off of a dismal year in Portland, the Clippers will need Crawford to bounce back to his 2009-10 form when he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Playing alongside Paul and Billups should yield better results for Crawford. His efficiency will be crucial to the team's success this season.
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Critical Improvement: Mindset
During his abridged time on the Mavericks, Odom seemed lethargic and depressed. His numbers were down across the board and he never really got it going.
A return to Hollywood could have Odom playing like he did for the Lakers when they won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
The Clippers need Odom to be that stealthy stretch four that is capable of playing three positions, facilitating the game and leading the young guys in the huddle.
Whether the Clippers acquired the 2011 Odom or the 2010 Odom will have significant implications on this team's ceiling.
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Critical Improvement: Defense and Free-Throw Shooting
After a torrid rookie campaign, Blake Griffin came back to earth during his second full season in the league.
Having shown improvements in playmaking skills and passing out of the double team, the onus will be on Griffin to take the leap to All-NBA superstar in 2012-13.
For Griffin, it has to start with defense and free-throw shooting.
Simply, Griffin is an awful on-ball and team defender.
On offense, Griffin needs to become a more steady free-throw shooter.
His 52.1 percent shooting clip last season was wholly unacceptable. Whether it is his mechanics or his mindset that need adjustment, Griffin needs to ensure that he finds some consistency at the charity stripe this season.
Even a clip above 70 percent would be reason enough for Clipper Nation to rejoice.
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Critical Improvement: TBD
It is pretty hard to find a significant deficiency in Chris Paul's game.
The All-NBA point guard is among the best in his position in every measurable statistic. His intangibles are off the board and his impact on the Clippers organization and franchise already makes him one of the most important Clippers of all-time.
Whether he is igniting the break or nailing the clutch shot, CP3 really does it all for Lob City.
With him on the court, the Clippers always have a chance to win any game. Without him, LAC is likely a fringe playoff team.
Perhaps some improved health and conditioning would benefit Paul. His suspect knees have caused issues for him and his teams in the past.
Coming off of a gold medal in the Olympics this summer, Paul will continue to chase that ever-elusive first championship ring.
Look for CP3 to come back as dominant as ever in 2012-13.