Talk about a historic first half of the season for the Los Angeles Clippers. Not only did they set new franchise records for consecutive wins (17) and consecutive home wins (13), but they look like legitimate title contenders.
Chris Paul has emerged as an MVP contender, Jamal Crawford looks like the Sixth-Man of the Year and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan look even better than last season.
What else have we learned about the Clippers through the first half of the season?
Despite having a career-worst season in Portland during the ’11-’12 season, the Clippers inked Jamal Crawford to a four year deal for the mid-level exception this past summer. So far, it looks like Crawford was the best signing of the summer.
Averaging 16.6 points per game, Crawford has transformed the Clippers’ bench into one of the best in the league.
Widely known as a player who looks for his own shot first, second and third, and looks to pass forth, Crawford’s style of play has been encouraged by Vinny Del Negro. He is expected to hunt for shot attempts and put points on the board as the leader of the second unit. That philosophy has paid off this season, as Crawford ranks seventh in plus-minus this season.
Last season, one of the Clippers’ biggest problems came on the defensive side of the ball, where they finished 18th in defensive efficiency. The team was unable to get stops on defense and gave up too many second chance points. As a result, the San Antonio Spurs quickly swept away the Clippers in the second round of the playoffs.
This season, the defense is night and day. Ranking fifth in defensive efficiency this season, the Clippers are 4.2 points better on defense compared to last season. The improvement on defense directly correlates to the Clippers owning the second best record in the league as of January 23rd.
More importantly, is signals improvement from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on defense, and proves that the team is buying into Vinny Del Negro’s defensive philosophy.
Having already discussed how well Jamal Crawford is fitting into his role off the bench with the Clippers, what about the rest of the unit?
The Clippers’ bench leads the league in bench scoring, according to hoopsstats, scoring 41.6 points per game. They also rank first in steals, second in rebounding and blocks, and fifth in assists.
Furthermore, joining Jamal Crawford as one of the NBA leaders in plus-minus, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes both rank in the top 20. Then there is Eric Bledsoe, who is having a career year and is leading the NBA in steals per 40-minutes.
Nicknamed A Tribe Called Bench, the second unit is deep, plays with tempo and causes so much chaos that the Clippers typically extend their lead when the second unit enters the game.
While Chris Paul is not putting up stunning numbers like he did when he was in New Orleans, he has clearly been the most impactful player on one of the best teams in the league. Paul is unlikely to average a double-double this season, something he did three times as a Hornet, but he is the catalyst for the Clippers.
CP3 ranks third in the league in adjusted win-score and adjusted PER, sixth among point guards in true-shooting percentage, ninth in assist rate, first in efficiency, and leads the league in steals. That type of all-around contribution has undoubtedly allowed the Clippers to progress as a team and shows just how valuable he is to the Clippers.
The Los Angeles Clippers have proven, over the first half of the season, that they are legitimate title contenders. They already have two wins over Memphis, San Antonio, Utah, and Chicago. They have also beaten Miami, Boston and Golden State.
Reeling off a 17-game winning-streak was also quite impressive. So was finishing the month of December undefeated, something that has only been done twice before in league history.
Keep in mind all this has been accomplished without a fully healthy Clippers team. Chauncey Billups has played all of three games so far, and Grant Hill played his first game on January 14th.