Entering the 2012-13 NBA regular season, many expected the Los Angeles Clippers to be a high-powered offense. Led by the likes of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, it wasn't hard to see why.
With that being said, the L.A. Clippers are more than this generation's Phoenix Suns.
The Clippers are currently in the midst of a 17-game winning streak. During that time, the team's offense has been praised as one of the most powerful in the league.
Although valid in belief, they aren't winning by virtue of their ability to score. It is their smothering defense that has played the biggest factor.
This is where we begin to draw the line between the Clippers and Suns.
During head coach Mike D'Antoni's five seasons with Phoenix, the team was praised as elite on the offensive end of the floor. With Steve Nash running point, Amar'e Stoudemire on the pick-and-roll and Shawn Marion along the perimeter, it wasn't hard to see why.
Even Joe Johnson made a cameo with the "seven seconds or less" crew.
Unfortunately, Phoenix never had a defense or second unit. This led to a heavy reliance upon the starters and their ability to put up a high volume of points.
Although they were capable of handling such a situation, they lacked balance. L.A. does not.
Dominant Second Unit
The Los Angeles Clippers have something that Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns never did. That, of course, is the ever-important factor of depth.
For proof, check the numbers.
The Suns ranked 15th or lower in terms of second-unit scoring during each of D'Antoni's five seasons. They ranked 20th or lower in three of five and 25th or lower in two.
Which team is better?
That's not a problem for the Los Angeles Clippers.
As of January 1, 2013, the Clippers are the top-ranked second unit in terms of bench points, efficiency and defensive efficiency. If that doesn't qualify as dominance, what does?
Led by Jamal Crawford, the L.A. reserves are presently averaging 42.2 points per game. That's the highest mark of any team since the 1999-00 Orlando Magic.
It doesn't end there.
The Clippers' second unit has posted an Efficiency Rating of 50.5. Their Defensive Efficiency Rating of 17.1 is 2.9 points higher than the second-ranked San Antonio Spurs, who come in at 14.2.
If you want to win a game, having a powerful second unit is a great way to do so.
Over the span of their 17-game win streak, the Los Angeles Clippers are allowing just 89.5 points per game. For the season, they're allowing just 92.3.
Even if you slow down their offense, L.A. won't allow you to outscore them.
In fact, the Clippers have allowed just three of their past 17 opponents to top 100 points. Nine of those teams have failed to exceed 90.
That's something you just would not have seen from Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns.
A major reason for their success on D is the fact that the team ranks first in steals and sixth in blocks per game. Their average of 10.8 swipes per is a full 1.4 higher than the second-ranked Memphis Grizzlies.
The fact that Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe rank second and third in steals per 48 minutes is a major reason why. CP3 leads the league in steals per game for the fifth time in six seasons.
It's awfully difficult to score when the Clippers are forcing a league-high 17.4 turnovers per game.
To be fair, the Los Angeles Clippers are similar to the Phoenix Suns in the sense that they run up-tempo offenses. The proof is in the fact that the Clippers are averaging 17.7 points per game in transition.
With that being said, the theories that L.A. can't score in the half-court are sadly overstated.
For the season, the Clippers are averaging 102.4 points per game. They're also shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and a respectable 35.5 percent from beyond the arc as a team.
Matched up against their average of 92.3 points allowed per game, that's a point differential of 10.1. One that is created by stability, balance and tenacity.
With the Clippers having constructed a high-octane offense and overpowering defense, they have established themselves as legitimate title contenders. Not only can they score with the best, but they can lock them down.
Something the "seven seconds or less" Suns never could. Something that proves CP3's Clippers are more than this generation's Phoenix Suns.
They're balanced title contenders.