Why Fundamentals Won't Continue to Haunt LA Clippers in 2012-13

Oren FriedmanCorrespondent IIOctober 5, 2012

DENVER, CO - APRIL 18:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers takes a free throw against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on April 18, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Clippers defeated the Nuggets 104-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Plagued by poor shooting mechanics and basic defensive schemes last season, the Los Angeles Clippers still found a way to rattle off 40 wins and move into the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

While much of the success can be attributed to the progression of Blake Griffin and the transcendent play of point guard Chris Paul, the team ultimately found a way to hide its deficiencies and capitalize on its strengths.

A reloaded offseason saw the Clippers acquire multiple pieces to make them arguably the deepest and most well-rounded team in the entire league.

However, if they are serious about making the jump from fringe contender to elite status, then the Clips will have to tighten up some of their basic flaws.

Here is why fundamentals will not continue to haunt Lob City this season.


Free-Throw Shooting

Last season the Clippers shot a dismal 68 percent from the free-throw line, good for second worst in the league.

Despite the team's efficient and high-powered offense, poor shooting from the charity stripe continued to hurt this team.

Among the major culprits responsible for the poor shooting were Griffin and fellow big man DeAndre Jordan.

Griffin shot a disturbing 52.1 percent from the line last season, while DJ averaged an equally miserable 52.5 percent.

In a crucial Game 3 first-round victory over the Memphis Grizzlies last spring, the Clips shot an awful 13 of 30 from the free-throw line. Griffin missed six of nine freebies alone.

Had Lob City been able to make some of their foul shots, then perhaps they would not have held their collective breath while Rudy Gay missed the go-ahead bucket as time expired.

In their second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs, the Clippers were not so fortunate.

In a must win Game 3 against the Spurs, Lob City shot just 50 percent from the foul line, blew a 33-11 first quarter lead and fell 3-0 behind the Spurs in the series.

Despite last season's free-throw issues, both Jordan and Griffin's mechanics seem to be improving. 

This summer Lob City hired renowned shooting coach Bob Thate. The shooting wizard's resume includes working closely with Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and the New Jersey Nets from 2005 to 2008.

Thate was brought in to adjust fundamental and systemic issues with Jordan and Griffin's shooting, helping them expand their range, while increasing their effectiveness from the line.

Early impressions suggest positive results (via ESPN.com):

“It’s not one of those things where you’re going to look at it and go, ‘Wow, it’s completely different,’” Griffin said. “But for me the feel is different and it’s much more compact. I feel there’s less chance for error but I still have a long way to go.” 

While both Griffin and Jordan are just starting to improve their strokes, Thate's hiring alone gives Clipper Nation reason to rejoice. 

How in-game free-throw shooting plays out will be crucial to the team's success this season.


Team Defense

Although the Clips feature solid individual defenders in Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul and Caron Butler, the team as a whole was nowhere near elite last season.

Much of the Clippers' poor defense stemmed from the tremendous roster turnover.

LAC added Paul and Chauncey Billups just before the season. Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans and sharpshooter Nick Young were not even brought on until the season had started

The haste in which this team was put together often resulted in poor team defense and disappointing play.

All in all, the Clippers posted a defensive rating of 105.7, among the bottom half of teams in the league.

The defensive rating, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions, reflected some serious fundamental and schematic issues.

Compared to playoff opponents Memphis and San Antonio, the Clippers were far from where they should have been.

The grit-and-grind Grizzlies posted the seventh best defensive rating in the league at 101.8. San Antonio's veteran bunch finished 10th in the league at 103.2.

Much of the Clippers' poor defensive rating stems from a combination of lack of cohesion and low basketball IQs. Throw in the lockout-shortened season and it is no surprise that a team put together on the fly failed to consistently execute.

Simply, the lack of practice time and roster turnover made it nearly impossible for the Clippers to cover the basics.

With a full season and deep playoff run under their belts, the returning Clips are more attuned to each others' defensive patterns and cadences.

In terms of new additions, the Clippers brought in a slew of players with high basketball IQs and defensive pedigrees.

Grant Hill is known for his wing defense, while Lamar Odom often functioned as the anchor for the Lakers' back line when Andrew Bynum went down.

Add in the Clippers' new physical edge in swingman Matt Barnes, and Lob City is both deep and defensive-minded.

A regular training camp and a full preseason should result in a renewed emphasis on team and individual defense in 2012-13.

Look for the Clippers to come out strong on the other side of the ball this season.


Veteran Leadership

Much of the Clippers' on-court deficiencies in 2011-12 came from a lack of mental fortitude.

The best guys in the NBA have been there before, and know that this game is won between the ears.

Even with Paul as their leader and Billups as their mentor, the Clippers' young guys were responsible for many of the fundamental flaws that grounded Lob City.

Griffin is perhaps the best example, as both his jump shooting and free-throw shooting regressed significantly between his electrifying rookie campaign and his highly scrutinized sophomore season.

This summer the three-headed GM of Gary Sacks, Vinny Del Negro and Andy Roeser addressed the gap between youth and tested experience and brought in veterans like Hill, Odom, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford.

If anything, these veterans will function as a sort of psychological safety net for their young teammates. They will have the team's young emotionally charged guys poised, and keep them focused on the ever-elusive goal of winning a championship.

The team should demonstrate these benefits with sound team basketball as well.

From a more dynamic offensive approach, to a more efficient defense, this group of veterans will prove to be critical in shoring up some of Lob City's fundamental issues.

Too many times did Clipper young guns display poor body language and signs of confidence issues when faced with a formidable opponent.

The proven winners that this team has acquired have changed that mentality almost overnight.

The four game sweep at the hands of the Spurs left a bad taste in this team's mouth. A long summer of hard work looks to have Lob City rejuvenated and ready to contend in 2012-13.


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