Last season Vinny Del Negro was criticized numerous times throughout the lockout-shortened season for his seemingly simplistic offense and poor defense. More often than not, the criticism was deserved, and at one point, Del Negro nearly lost the team.
During a streak where the Los Angeles Clippers lost 11 out of 18 games, sources seemed to confirm the rumors and reports.
Chris Broussard’s March 23rd report included the following:
"Vinny has lost the team," one source said. "They don't want to play hard for him." One source claimed that the players thought his offensive and defensive schemes were too basic and predictable.
Despite the reports, the Clippers won a tough seven-game series against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. The series win was just their second since moving from Buffalo
Picking up in mid-December the following year, it is time to judge Del Negro’s first-quarter coaching performance of ’12-’13. Do the same issues remain? Has he adjusted from what plagued the Clippers last season?
Comparing last season’s offensive performance against this year’s is almost like night and day. While the ’11-’12 offense was efficient, it was nowhere near championship-caliber.
More often than not, Chris Paul would have to deliver clutch performances late in games in order to pull out victories, especially with Chauncey Billups hurt and Blake Griffin unable to hit jumpers.
This season, it is the exact opposite.
According to Hoopdata, Basketball Reference and ESPN, the team is again top-five in offensive efficiency but also in true shooting percentage, assist rate, win-score, field-goal percentage, offensive rating and has three players in the top 15 in player efficiency rating—Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe.
Del Negro’s ability to adjust his offense to fit each unit has been quite effective. With Chris Paul in the game, the Clippers slow things down and create open looks for players like Caron Butler and Blake Griffin in spot-up situations.
Paul’s ability to make everyone around him better in half-court sets is put on display.
Meanwhile, when Paul exits the game and Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe take over the backcourt, Del Negro allows them to play at a faster tempo and push the ball down the floor for easy baskets.
It is almost like the Clippers are two separate teams. In fact, they literally are.
In order to praise Del Negro’s offense this season, one has to remember the job he and the front office—which should include Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul, since they recruited as well—did in acquiring unique depth this summer.
Jamal Crawford has been one of the best acquisitions from free agency. Billups’s return was short but effective, as he stretches the floor even more when playing with CP3.
Overall, Del Negro’s ability to adapt and adjust on offense has been spectacular and part of the reason why the Clippers are off to such a great start.
The Clippers’ defense was suspect at best last season. Despite performing efficiently on offense, the defense gave up almost exactly what the offense scored, as evidenced by the Clippers finishing plus 2.23 in point differential.
Furthermore, the team finished 18th in defensive efficiency, 18th in defensive rating and 14th in defensive rebound rate. The team just could not defend properly, and despite having Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the roster, were an average rebounding team.
So far this season, the defense has improved in certain areas. Most notably, the Clippers are fourth in defensive efficiency and points allowed but are second in the league in point differential.
Players are competing harder on defense, and that has to be a product of Del Negro’s coaching. He is known as a player’s coach but also for his time spent in Greg Popovich’s system in San Antonio.
The rebounding, however, still needs to improve. The team is a pathetic 24th in defensive rebound rate and 12th in the league at rebound differential per game.
The blame for the poor rebounding numbers falls squarely on Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Del Negro can only do so much in regards to rebounding; the rest is up to pure determination to control the glass. The Clippers have yet to discover it.
There were many concerns about Vinny Del Negro’s coaching entering this season. However, he has done a good job of developing a system that is versatile and adapts to the skills of the players on the floor. He also has been able to shuffle a rotation that literally is ten players deep.
Offensively, the Clippers have been nothing short of spectacular. Lob City is still in full effect on a nightly basis but is even more dangerous thanks to the offseason additions to the roster.
Defensively, the Clippers are competing and look to finally have a solid grasp of what Del Negro wants to do with his defensive rotations and game plans.
There will always be critics, especially when a team has such lofty expectations surrounding it, but Del Negro has done a good job. His team is fun to watch, full of explosive scorers and have won games with their defense.
His job is obviously easier thanks to the depth it has, but attempting to downplay how well Del Negro has gotten his team to play is trivial. He is doing a job worthy of coach of the year discussions, so far.