Top 10 Realistic Expectations for the L.A. Clippers in 2012-13
Last season the Los Angeles Clippers made the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Though the season may have been considered a success in Clipperland, it ended abruptly with a four game sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
Fast forward to the 2012-2013 season and expectations are as high as ever.
The Clippers brought in quality players in Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom. Chauncey Billups decided to re-sign and the Clippers added depth behind DeAndre Jordan.
Regardless of who their Staples Center co-tenants acquired this summer, this Clipper team is as loaded as ever.
However, in talent on paper is a far cry from wins on paper. The Clippers are embarking on a long and grueling season that will see them attempt to meet a plethora of expectations. Which ones are realistic and which are fantasy? Read on to find out the top ten realistic expectations for the Clippers this season.
Top-5 Offensive Efficiency
Paul’s ability to control the offense and create easy baskets for his teammates was one of the main reasons for the offensive explosion. Additionally, the Clippers were one of the slowest-paced teams in the league (25th) because Paul would slow the tempo in order to direct the offense.
Considering the additions of players like Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Chauncey Billups, there is no reason to believe the Clippers will not have a top-five offense again. The weapons are plentiful and the expectations of Blake Griffin are higher this season.
The Clippers can become even better on offense if Griffin shows improvement in his shooting form and converts more free-throw attempts.
Top-15 Defensive Efficiency Rating
One area of improvement that is vital to the Clippers' success this season is the defense. In 2011-12, the Clippers finished 18th in defensive efficiency, nearly canceling out their tremendous offense.
Nobody is expecting the Clippers to turn into the Boston Celtics on defense, but there is no reason the team should be in the bottom half of the league in defensive efficiency.
A lot will rest on the shoulders of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who have not been able to hold their weight on defense. Multiple times last season Vinny Del Negro pulled both in the fourth quarter, opting for better defenders in Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans.
This season, the Clippers need to prove they can play solid team defense the entire year. Should they falter and end up in the bottom half of the efficiency rankings again, they will find it difficult to win enough games to avoid the top three out west in the first round of the playoffs.
Top 10 in Rebounding
Rebounding is a vital skill on both ends of the floor. Teams that rebound well are typically good teams on offense and defense. They force difficult shots, limit possessions on defense and create extra possessions on offense.
Last season the Clippers ranked 22nd in the league in total rebounds per game. But let's take a closer look at the rebounding statistics—the Clippers were very solid in protecting their offensive glass and limiting opposing teams' defensive rebounds. However, they finished 27th in total defensive rebounds per game. How can that be?
Teams were able to score far too easily on the Clippers defense, leading to a lack of defensive rebounds to grab. Piggybacking on the previous slide, the Clippers' defensive efficiency must improve in order for their rebounding numbers to be competitive.
Win 30 Home Games
The Clippers must protect their home floor in 2012-13. Last year, despite the season being shortened due to the lockout, the Clippers finished 26-12 at home (.684). They will need to increase the home wins this season in order to stay in the hunt out west.
Winning 30 games should be the minimum this year. That equates to a .750 home winning percentage, which would put them on pace with the league leaders. Anything less than 30 wins would likely put the Clippers in the No. 6 through No. 8 seed come playoff time.
Additionally, this Clippers team should be able to capitalize on their home floor, thanks in large part to their depth and veteran experience.
Win The Pacific
Make no mistake about it, the Los Angeles Lakers will be very difficult to dethrone as Pacific Division Champions. Regardless, the Clippers are talented enough to match up with the Lakers.
The Clippers have the athleticism and size in the paint to keep up with the Lakers on both ends of the floor. While the post defense needs some work, neither the Lakers nor anyone else in the division will be able to beat up the Clippers in the paint without a fight.
On the perimeter, the Clippers have the best point guard in the league—not to mention a slew of guards who can create shots and connect from the three-point line, stretching the defense for Blake Griffin to go to work.
The task will not be easy, but the Clippers have enough talent to get the job done. They just need to transfer the talent on paper into wins on the court.
Earn Home-Court Advantage
The Clippers were on the cusp of earning home-court advantage last spring, but an injury to Chris Paul down the stretch dropped them behind Memphis and into the fifth seed.
While the Clippers would go on to beat Memphis on the road in Game Seven, there is no doubt the team would have much rather held on to home court and knocked out the Grizzlies in Los Angeles.
This season, it is important for the Clippers to earn that extra game at home, because of the depth and talent in the Western Conference.
Furthermore, earning home court would guarantee the Clippers a successful regular season. For as talented as the Clippers are, there is no guarantee they even finish in the top six this season.
Wins will be at a premium and the Clippers are going to need every win possible in order to avoid facing teams like the Lakers, Spurs and Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.
Two All-Star Starters
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both had great years in 2011-12 and were voted in as All-Star starters.
Paul, who seems to be a lock at point guard every year, has enough talent around him to put up solid numbers and earn a starting spot. There are few players in the conference who could put similar numbers: Steve Nash is one example. Paul leading the Clippers near the top of the Western Conference will likely see him starting in the All-Star Game.
However, Blake Griffin’s starting spot will be up for grabs. Kevin Love will definitely see more votes should he help Minnesota turn the corner and look like a playoff team this season. Unfortunately, Love will be sidelined six to eight weeks with a broken hand. Love is not out of the race by any means, but missing that much time will give another emerging forward a shot at starting.
LaMarcus Aldridge was voted into the 2012 All-Star Game by the coaches and will pose a threat to Griffin’s starting spot this season. LaMarcus has been one of the top forwards in the West the past two seasons. While he might not get as many fan votes as Griffin, he is definitely capable of having a career year and giving Griffin a run at his spot.
Shoot 75 Percent at the Line
In 2011-12, the Los Angeles Clippers went to the line a shade over 23 times per game. The Clippers' athleticism and rim-attacking ability allowed them to finish in the top 10 in free-throw attempts per game. Unfortunately, the team finished 29th in free-throw percentage, shooting a horrific 68 percent.
While the guards were solid from the line, the big men were not quite as good. The two main problems were Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Neither are regarded as very good shooters. If you watch the two of them shoot jumpers, their form is good but inconsistent.
This was very telling at the free-throw line, because neither big man was able to maintain a solid form throughout the course of a game—let alone the season. Ultimately, Griffin and Jordan each shot a pathetic 52 percent from the line.
The Clippers need the two big men to step up this season and hit their free throws, because there is no reason they should shoot under 75 percent as a team again.
Win Season Series Against Lakers
Historically, the Los Angeles Lakers have dominated the season series versus the Clippers. Only twice in the history of the franchise have the Clippers won a season series: 1992-93 and 1974-75.
While the Clippers came up short again last season, losing two games to one, this season the Clippers have arguably their best team ever. Then again, the Lakers can say the same thing.
Should the Clippers take the series, it would signal a change in the direction of the entire franchise. They may not overtake the Lakers as Los Angeles’ favorite team, but they could very well decide the division and may help sway Chris Paul to re-sign with the Clippers come July.
Griffin and Paul in MVP Race
The Western Conference is loaded yet again and the Clippers are going to need all hands on deck in order to keep pace in the conference. Last season, both Paul and Griffin played at MVP caliber, but were never going to catch LeBron James’ historic season.
In 2012-13, the Clippers will need a repeat of last season from the dynamic duo and probably even more.
Griffin’s poor jump shot and terrible foul shooting need to improve. According to reports, the Clippers hired a shooting coach for Blake Griffin. Griffin was fourth in the league in free-throw attempts, but only converted 52 percent. That number should easily increase with more consistent form and concentration, allowing him to improve on his 20.7 points per game from last season.
Additionally, Paul finally has the players around him who can create and pose a more consistent threat from the perimeter. Last season, Paul finished 16th in assist rate, largely because his teammates could not score from the perimeter. This forced CP3 to dominate the ball in order for the Clippers to score.
This season, players like Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom provide Paul additional threats off the ball and can create shots on their own. Unless Paul was creating for his teammates, the Clippers found it difficult to score last season, finishing near the league average in assist rate.
The more talent Paul has to work with, the more likely his numbers are going to improve.