Los Angeles Clippers: Breaking Down the NBA's Best Half-Court Offense
When basketball fans conjure up images of the current Los Angeles Clippers, they almost surely draw upon Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at their most vibrant. The alley-oop dunks that re-dubbed L.A. as "Lob City" are the most simple expressions of Paul and Griffin's unique chemistry, but not an entirely fair representation of the Clippers' slowdown, grinding offense. It's rather remarkable that the Clips were able to score so efficiently last season while running so little, but not entirely surprising when you take into account Paul's incredible ability to create.
Start with the Stars
Make no mistake: Paul and Griffin's relationship is still at the core of the Clipper offense, even if alley-oops don't provide a steady diet. Beckley Mason and Brett Koremenos described the Paul-Griffin relationship aptly on Hoopspeak:
Griffin has excellent hands and finishes at the rim better than any rollman in basketball, and Chris Paul is the best in the NBA when it comes to effectively dislodging his defender with the ball screen. Despite the “Lob City” nickname, it’s really more like Bounce Pass Municipality — Paul prefers to sneak the ball to Griffin off the hop because Griffin is so adept at finishing off of one dribble.
They play best off one another in pick-and-roll scenarios, but the lob is a rare outcome in those instances. More likely is the aforementioned bounce feed, a Paul pull-up jumper or a shot at the rim manufactured in far less spectacular fashion.
For two dynamic talents, Paul and Griffin sometimes choose to simply punctuate the mundane rather than pull off the impossible. They incorporate their own flair into otherwise predictable actions, thereby putting passes, shots and cuts just out of the reach of opposing defenders. They have a great on-court relationship after just one abridged season, and should only improve their chemistry with another year (and a full slate of practices) at their disposal.
A Refusal to Commit
One of Paul's greatest strengths as a playmaker is his outright refusal to bank on any one specific play option. Great creators don't see a pick-and-roll as a two-man game, but a mechanism that creates a variety of possibilities. Paul surveys, probes, keeps his dribble alive and forces the defense to respect the threat of his presence at all times. Sometimes that results in the fulfillment of the two-man game at an unexpected time, and in other cases Paul throws a lob to Griffin just as the opponent forgets that a pick-and-roll ever happened.
That continuous exploration is the key to Paul's sleight of hand; he examines so many options that it's difficult for opposing defenses to discern which he has chosen to pass over and which he's merely tabled. But Paul seemingly forgets nothing in a half-court setting, and as he streaks around the court looking for any possible angle, he remains trained to the positions of his teammates in scoring position. No shooter or cutter is ignored, and no passing target forgotten.
Stacking Shot Creators
As much as Paul does for L.A.'s half-court offense, some of the Clippers' most effective offensive lineups last season featured two or three point guards. Paul regularly played alongside Mo Williams and/or Eric Bledsoe last season, and that group of guards did some incredible things for the flow of the Clips offense.
Los Angeles doesn't have a ton of shot creation beyond Paul, and seemed to have particular troubles once Chauncey Billups was removed from the lineup with a torn Achilles tendon. Williams—an imperfect playmaker when forced to create for an entire offense, but perfect in a complementary role—and Bledsoe—who does some fantastic work off the ball as well—off-set that loss beautifully.
This year's team looks quite a bit different, but should nonetheless rely on surrounding one of the league's finest passers with a number of supplementary creators. Billups will be back in action, and will likely play most of his minutes on the wing with Paul. Jamal Crawford, though not the purest playmaker, is nonetheless a good spot creator at times. Lamar Odom and Blake Griffin are among the best passers at their respective positions, and Grant Hill does a phenomenal job of re-routing offense to create more efficient shots. Paul deserves to have the ball in his hands as often as possible, but the Clippers could lead the league in "extra passes" next season if they so wish.
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