Comparing Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers at Every Position
Fire and brimstone aside, this year's edition of the "Hallway Series" has all the makings of the most intense and most competitive one yet—new stars, old grudges, championship aspirations, weighty expectations, coaches on the hot seat and even Metta World Peace.
The City of Angels will get a taste of the ante'd up rivalry when these two teams meet for a preseason powwow on October 24th, though the real antagonism is set to tip off on November 2nd, during the first regular season meeting between the two Staples Center co-tenants.
But which of LA's squads has the advantage, be it head-to-head or over the long haul?
Let's find out.
Point Guard: Steve Nash vs. Chris Paul
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The most entertaining tussle-within-the-tussle will be at point guard between Steve Nash and Chris Paul.
Nash, who arrived in LA this summer via trade after eight seasons with the rival Phoenix Suns, remains one of the NBA's most efficient floor generals even at the age of 38. A master of the pick-and-roll, his abilities should only be accentuated alongside such fine finishers as Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
Moreover, Nash ranks among the most efficient shooters in basketball regardless of position. He's always a threat to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free-throw line. Thanks to a smooth stroke that, like a fine wine, only seems to get better with age.
He's easily the best point guard to wear purple and gold since Magic Johnson and, ironically enough, wouldn't have wound up a Laker had commissioner David Stern not nixed the original Chris Paul trade.
Not that the Lakers (or any team in its right mind, for that matter) would forgo the opportunity to employ a once-in-a-generation-type player like Paul.
Paul's the best point guard in the game today, hands down. He, too, is a premier pick-and-roll operator. Thanks to his ability to shoot from distance, finish with a floater or find his open teammates while on the move.
All of which is tied directly to his fantastic "feel" for the game and his ability to make the right decisions in just about any situation.
Like Nash, CP3 manipulates the ball like its tethered to his hand, changing speeds with ease and effectiveness that's fun to watch. His shooting has improved dramatically over the years, and the move to LA proved to be a boon to his on-court leadership in productivity in the clutch.
Paul will always be small for an NBA player and injuries to his knees have sapped him of some of his athleticism, though he's still a superior defender to Nash by leaps and bounds.
Nash, on the other hand, is smart, savvy and gives proper effort but lacks the lateral quickness, strength and thieving hands that have made CP3 a four-time All-Defensive team selection.
If basketball were a one-way game, then Nash might have a case (albeit still a losing one) against his new neighbor.
But defense is crucial to the cause. As such, Paul gets the nod here.
Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Chauncey Billups
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No offense to Mr. Big Shot, but it's difficult not to hand this one to Kobe Bryant from the get-go.
Say what you will about Kobe's supposed ballhoggery or declining game, but the guy remains arguably the top player at his position at the age of 34. Heck, he nearly led the league in scoring last season, even after coming into the 2011-12 campaign with a bum shooting wrist!
His inability to dominate games on a nightly basis won't matter so much anymore now that he's paired with a competent point guard in Nash, who can and will help ease Kobe's burden—if the Black Mamba is amenable to it.
And, to be sure, those All-Defensive nods that Kobe keeps piling up are hardly reflective of his actual performance on that end of the floor nowadays.
But, after pioneering the practice of flying to Germany for miracle blood-spinning, at least, his health isn't quite the concern it once was.
The same can't be said for Chauncey Billups, who with his 36th birthday fast approaching, is attempting to return from a torn Achilles' he suffered last season. Few have ever returned from such a devastating injury to any positive effect and even fewer at Billups' age.
On the bright side, Billups says he's "way ahead of schedule" in his rehab. If he can return to being some measure of the player he was prior to the injury (i.e. a dead-eye three-point shooter and an invaluable voice on the floor and in the locker room), the Clippers will be tough once again.
That being said, it's tough to count on Chauncey to be that player again given the nature of his injury and his already-declining game as a mid-range scorer, passer and defender. Even if he were to recover completely, he'd still be well behind a younger, fitter Kobe head-to-head.
Edge: The Black Mamba
Small Forward: Metta World Peace vs. Caron Butler
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Small forward may be the closest matchup of all between the Lakers and the Clippers, if only because the two players matched up are both in such steep decline.
Metta World Peace can thank the Lakers' lack of financial flexibility and dearth of options on the wing for his starting nod. The 32-year-old endured the worst statistical season of his career in 2011-12, registering personal worsts in scoring, shooting and player efficiency, among other things.
In his defense, the Basketball Player Formerly Known as Ron Artest may well be bound for a bounce-back year. His body will be in shape from the get-go, unlike last season, when time away from team doctors and trainers during the lockout left him overweight and unable to handle a nerve problem in his back.
He's no longer as quick on his feet as he once was, but his strength (particularly in his upper body) should allow him to pester opposing wings as he has throughout his time in the NBA. And if he can continue to play as well as he did down the stretch last season, he'll be something considerably more valuable than an expensive way to dispose of cap space.
Caron Butler, meanwhile, is slightly younger than MWP and more productive on the surface but has plenty of issues of his own about which the Clippers need be concerned.
Tuff Juice can hit threes and was privy to taking them from the corner in bunches during his debut season with the Clips, but he doesn't offer much else at this point. His rebounding, assist and free throw numbers have all declined considerably, and though he's still a solid defender on the wing, he's not nearly the thief he once was.
There's a chance (albeit an outside one) that Butler's starting spot will be usurped by Grant Hill at some point. Either way, the Clippers have the advantage at small forward over World Peace until he can prove that he's something more than a placeholder.
Edge: Tuff Juice
Power Forward: Pau Gasol vs. Blake Griffin
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If putting people on posters were the only measure of a power forward's ability, then Blake Griffin would be head and shoulders above Pau Gasol at the position. In fact, Gasol's already done his part to help Griffin decorate bedroom walls across America.
Of course, there's more to playing power forward than just dunking and showboating, and while Griffin has all the tools to be the best of his kind in LA (if not on the planet), he still has a ways to go to catch up to Pau.
Even at the tender age of 32, Gasol can count himself among the top-five power forwards in basketball. He hasn't, isn't and will never be the most physically imposing front-court player, but what he lacks in strength and athleticism, he more than makes up for in sheer skill.
His game is predicated on smarts and savvy, along with a smooth shooting stroke that comes in handy on the pick-and-roll and an occasionally accurate three-point shot. He's a joy to watch as a passer in the high post and can be a pest on the other end of the floor, thanks to his cartoonishly long arms.
Gasol's long arms happen to come in handy against a bruiser like Griffin. Yes, Griffin can fill highlight reels, handle and distribute the ball, crash the defensive boards and score more effectively in the post than most give him credit for, but his shooting stroke is a significant concern—especially at the free-throw line where he shot a woeful 52.1 percent last season. His performance in areas of the game that require maximum focus and effort (i.e. offensive rebounding and defending) also remains sub-par.
The kid plays hard, but he doesn't always play smart, and until he does, Pau will take the cake against Blake.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. DeAndre Jordan
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If Dwight Howard weren't still weeks (if not months) away from playing after undergoing major back surgery, this slide wouldn't even exist.
Howard—a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and perennial All-NBA and All-Defensive performer—saves punks like DeAndre Jordan for snack time. He probably would've been the DPOY last year if not for injuries, voter fatigue and the effects of the ongoing "Dwightmare" with the Magic, even though his effort on the defensive end wasn't quite as consistent like the usual.
That's just how dominant a player Dwight is—he's the best center on the planet and one of the most valuable players in basketball, even when his head and his heart aren't in it for the long haul. Imagine how much better he'll be once he gets on the court in LA, where he'll presumably return to giving a 110-percent effort every night after forcing his way out of Orlando.
Of course, health remains a concern, and in that regard, DJ has a case. He's managed to avoid injury the last two seasons, during which he's blossomed into an above-average shot-blocker, devastating dunker and surprisingly effective rebounder.
That being said, he's still rather rough around the edges, especially for a guy reeling in an eight-figure salary. He's largely a liability on offense from beyond three feet. He shoots free throws so poorly that topping 50 percent last season was seen as an improvement. He is regularly throttled by opposing centers man-to-man and tends to be a bit slow with the help defensively.
Even Dwight at 70-80 percent is far superior to DeAndre. Get Superman back to full strength, and DJ might as well start heading for the Hollywood Hills right now.
Sixth Man: Antawn Jamison vs. Lamar Odom
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The bench is where the Clippers can really make hay against the Lakers, starting with Lamar Odom.
Odom is eminently familiar with his "new" digs, having started his career at the Staples Center in a Clippers uniform and later won two titles and a Sixth Man of the Year award in purple and gold. He also happens to be just the type of player the Clips needed to lead their bench mob—a tall, versatile forward who can handle the ball, shoot and score a bit, provide depth up front and get after it on defense from time to time.
Not that all is necessarily peachy keen in L.O.'s camp. He's coming off an abysmal year in 2011-12, during which he registered career-lows across the board and saw his player efficiency rating plummet by more than half.
Some of Odom's decline can be attributed to extenuating circumstances—a lack of fitness stemming from a tragic summer of 2011, an abrupt split from Laker Land at the start of training camp, difficulty adjusting to his surroundings in Dallas, and so on.
But part of Odom's issues might just be the result of age, and with his 33rd birthday coming up in early November, it's tough to expect L.O. to get back to being the super sub he was just a couple years ago.
That being said, Odom still owns the advantage over Antawn Jamison, the man the Lakers have tapped to essentially fill the void that Lamar left behind last December.
To his credit, Jamison can still score with the best of 'em, even at the age of 36, and hardly ever turns the ball over.
Nonetheless, some of his offensive skills—namely, his pick-and-roll finishing and his mid-range game—are in steep decline. His defensive abilities, be it man-to-man or help, have long been abysmal and don't figure to improve as he gets older.
Jamison's a bargain at the veteran's minimum, and the Lakers weren't exactly wrong to dump Odom, seeing as how the trade exception for which the Mavericks acquired him has since been filled by Steve Nash. But when measured against Jamison, the younger and more versatile Odom still comes out on top.
Battle of the Benches
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The front office did well to restock the rest of the reserves in the wake of GM Neil Olshey's departure to Portland, bringing in a slew of skilled veterans to boost the team's cause.
Jamal Crawford and Willie Green are both microwave scorers who can fill it up in a hurry. Grant Hill has fashioned himself into a three-point threat and a lock-down perimeter defender. Matt Barnes brings a toughness and tenacity to his fourth stint with a California-based NBA franchise. Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins should bring some toughness and depth to what had been a perilously thin front court.
Throw in Eric Bledsoe, a gifted young point guard, in support of Chris Paul, and the Clips may yet have one of the top three benches in all of basketball.
As for the Lakers...ehhh, not so much. GM Mitch Kupchak did well to replenish the Lakers' second unit on the cheap while swinging a pair of blockbuster moves.
Beyond 'Tawn, head coach Mike Brown will have plenty of specialists to turn to—Jodie Meeks, the long-range gunner, Jordan Hill, the high-energy rebounder, Devin Ebanks, the Trevor Ariza doppelganger, and Steve Blake, the...ummm...something—but no single player he can count to produce consistently.
Hence, if the two teams were to scrimmage without their starters, the Clips would likely come out on top by a significant margin.
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Luckily for the Lakers, they won't have to worry about going to battle with just their slim reserves. Their starters—arguably the best in basketball—give them a clear advantage opposite the Clippers.
On the whole, the 2012-13 edition of the Lakers should be vastly improved over the unit that took the season series from the Clippers in 2011-12.
In the span of about five weeks, they managed to replace Derek Fisher and Ramon Sessions with Steve Nash at the point and Andrew Bynum with Dwight Howard in the middle. What's more is Mitch Kupchak added pieces to a bench that was the league's least productive last season; it should be at least marginally better this time around.
The Clippers, for their part, also have the makings of a markedly better team. Chris Paul will have the benefit of a full training camp during which he could gel with his teammates, including a handful of new faces on the pine.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan should take a few steps forward this season as well, even if only because their youth and potential would suggest as much. Assuming, of course, they put in the requisite sweat equity to better actualize those gifts.
Still, though, the hops and skips the Clippers took this summer are not to be ignored. They pale in comparison to the leaps and bounds by which the Lakers upgraded over that same span.
The Clips may have the makings of a dangerous team in the Western Conference, but the fact that the Lakers have their eyes refocused on a much bigger prize tells you all you need to know about which team will likely win between these two if and when they should meet for meaningful marbles.