L.A. Clippers' Most and Least-Improved Players of the Season

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIDecember 17, 2012

L.A. Clippers' Most and Least-Improved Players of the Season

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    The Los Angeles Clippers have gotten off to a strong start to the 2012-13 NBA season thanks to bigger-than-expected contributions from a few key players. 

    L.A.'s front office did a great job putting together the deepest team in the league. No squad has had more players pitch in with valuable contributions than the Clippers have. But one of the biggest reasons they have emerged as contenders in the Western Conference is that some of their players have raised their games to new heights.

    That said, not everything has been starry in Hollywood. There are a couple guys who haven't lived up to expectations so far this year. Luckily their struggles have been masked by all the other positive contributions the Clips have received.

    Let's take a look at which players have been the Clippers' most and least-improved so far in the 2012-13 campaign, beginning with three guys who have really stepped up.

    Note: All statistics as of December 16th

Matt Barnes

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    Matt Barnes has always been undervalued as a player. His numbers never blow you away, but the hustle and energy he brings to the court has a tangible impact on the game.

    In fact, the Clippers are 6.7 points per 100 possessions better with Barnes on the court, according to NBA.com. That's the best plus/minus rating on the team.

    Barnes is enjoying a career year in his tenth season as a pro. He's posting career bests in true shooting percentage, steal percentage, block percentage, turnover percentage, offensive rating, defensive rating, win shares per 48 minutes and PER. Moreover, his PER ranks seventh among all small forwards in the NBA.

Eric Bledsoe

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    We saw Eric Bledsoe break out in the 2012 playoffs, and this season he picked up right where he left off.

    Bledsoe is blowing away his career averages in just about every category. He ranks second (repeat, second) among all NBA point guards in PER, trailing only his teammate Chris Paul. Bledsoe has been a terror on the defensive end of the court as well, averaging a ridiculous 3.0 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes.

    His biggest improvements, though, have come on the offensive end, where he is averaging over 19 points per 36 minutes on 50/38/80 (FG/3PT/FT) shooting splits, while also cutting down on his turnovers.

    Bledsoe's strong suit is getting into the paint at will. An astonishing 51 percent of his shot attempts come from inside the restricted area, per NBA.com.

    He makes two-thirds of those attempts—an extremely high percentage for a player of his size—and three-fourths of those makes come unassisted, telling you just how impossible it is to stay in front of him.

DeAndre Jordan

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    Perhaps the most unexpected improvement on the team has come from DeAndre Jordan.

    He was once thought to be a lost cause on offense, but this season the Clippers have shown a willingness to actually give the ball to Jordan in the post and let him go to work. Jordan's usage rate is at a career-high, as is his per-minute scoring. 

    Jordan has been effective on his post-up opportunities as well. According to My Synergy Sports, 28.8 percent of Jordan's offensive plays have been post-ups, and his 0.85 points per possession on that play-type ranks 32nd in the entire league.

    He's made smart decisions out of the post as well, recording a career-best assist percentage and cutting his turnover rate to the lowest it's ever been.

    Most importantly however, has been the improvement Jordan has made in his defensive game. He's always been a prolific shot-blocker, but he was prone to fouling and to chasing blocks at the expense of solid positioning.

    This season, while the raw total of blocks is down, Jordan has shown sound fundamentals and good instincts. He's fouling at a career-low rate and has posted the best defensive rating of his career.

Caron Butler

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    It's been a disappointing year so far for Caron Butler. He's really just a shell of the guy who made back-to-back All-Star teams a few years ago.

    The only time Butler has posted a lower PER was in his second season back in 2004. That was also the last time he failed to top double figures in scoring. Both his rebounding and assist numbers are at career-lows as well.

    More specifically, Butler has been reduced to essentially a spot-up shooter. He's not even averaging one free-throw attempt per game. The Clippers are actually 8.4 points per 100 possessions better when Butler is off the floor.

    He's already being benched at the end of games in favor of Matt Barnes. When Grant Hill returns from injury, it's possible that even more of his already career-low minutes will be lopped off.

Lamar Odom

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    Alas, Lamar Odom is still nowhere near the Sixth Man of the Year form he displayed as recently as two seasons ago. Odom hasn't recovered from a lost season in Dallas. In fact, he's gotten even worse offensively.

    Odom put up a career-low 11.6 points per 36 minutes in 2011-12. So far this year, he's managed to drop that number all the way down to 6.8 points per 36 minutes. His true shooting percentage is a ghastly 38.1 percent. 

    After fashioning himself into an effective three-point shooter in his latter years as a Laker, Odom has cratered in that department, making only four of his 24 attempts from long distance this season (and that's after making both of his threes in his most recent contest).

    The saddest thing to see has been the complete lack of aggressiveness on Odom's part. Once one of the most feared power forwards in the league in terms of attacking the rim, Odom is struggling mightily to get his off-the-bounce game going. He's only getting to the free-throw line 0.4 times per 36 minutes. That's seven times less than his previous career low.

    If Odom can even get back to 80 percent of what he was two years ago, the Clippers will be almost impossible to handle. As it stands right now, he's their least improved player of the 2012-13 season.