L.A. Clippers' Biggest Unsung Heroes This Season
For all the highlights, All-Stars and winning streaks the Los Angeles Clippers have had this season, there are still some aspects of the team that have gone underappreciated.
The offense again is among the league’s best, the defense has vastly improved and the bench has made a 180-degree turn since last season. The team is so deep and has such great chemistry that it is almost hard to believe all these players can fit into one rotation, but they do.
However, without sacrifices from a majority of the players on the roster, the Clippers would not be as good as they have been this season. In order for that to happen, some players and even coaches will go unnoticed or underappreciated—until now.
A late addition during the Los Angeles Clippers’ offseason, Matt Barnes has proved to be one of the best signings of the summer.
Despite two average seasons across the hall in Staples Center as a Los Angeles Laker, Barnes has thrived with the Clippers. The team’s second unit fits perfectly with Barnes' talents. Up-tempo, fanatic and trapping is exactly the type of game Barnes thrives in, because his athleticism can be used to the fullest advantage.
Averaging a career high in points (10.4) and steals (1.1), Barnes has been one of the most important pieces on the Clippers. Additionally, he is holding opposing small forwards to a 13.6 PER, according to 82games. There is no question the Clippers would not be where they are today without the addition of Barnes.
Lamar Odom’s tumultuous season last year has been well documented. His return to Clipperland did not go very well in the beginning, but that is changing.
Odom came into training camp out of shape and overweight. His minutes were limited, but Vinny Del Negro force-fed him minutes early on to motivate Lamar to lose weight and get into shape. Well, it worked.
His numbers are not going to stand out, especially when remembering how well he played as the Sixth Man of the Year with the Los Angeles Lakers. That said, Odom has been great on the defensive glass, pulling down a team-high 25.8 percent of the defensive rebounds available when on the floor, according to basketball reference.
Not only is Eric Bledsoe having a career year, but he received a new nickname from LeBron James, “Mini-LeBron”, and was recently selected to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest. The rest of the world is beginning to see just how important Bledsoe has been over the past 18 months for the Los Angeles Clippers.
His jumper has improved, his defense is top of the line and his energy has helped turn the Clippers bench into one of the most feared in the league.
Needless to say, Bledsoe’s play has been vital to the Clippers' success this season.
With Chauncey Billups missing nearly the entire season thus far, Bledsoe has been thrust into major minutes and played exceptionally well. Also, Bledsoe recently filled in for Chris Paul, while he was out with a bruised knee, and played well.
Vinny Del Negro
Perhaps the last person in the organization that the national media has begun to recognize is Vinny Del Negro.
He did have some glaring warts coming into this season, especially after nearly being fired last season. However, he should be given credit for adapting to his players and putting them in the best position to succeed.
For example, the Clippers offense last season was effective, but completely one dimensional.
Chris Paul had to create everything in order for the Clippers to score. Furthermore, the offense revolved around back-and-forth pick-and-roll sets with Chauncey Billups and Paul. Once Billups injured his Achilles, the offense remained similar, just without Chauncey.
This year, the sets have more action, and the offense has the ability to begin inside and work its way back to the perimeter, instead of the other way around. The bench has been fantastic, thanks to Del Negro adjusting and allowing the bench to run and trap whenever they see the opportunity.
Big men typically develop later than guards. That statement seems to have been proved true yet again.
DeAndre Jordan has noticeably developed his offensive game. He has added counters to his jump hook and has finally been able to hold position on the block and make a fluid move to attempt to score.
Defensively, Jordan’s improvement has been pivotal.
He has been able to stay down on pump fakes and has limited his chasing of weak-side blocks, which would leave his man wide open on the other side of the lane. This has also begun to reduce his foul rate and fortify the Clippers interior defense.
The free-throw shooting is still a concern, but it is easy to see what parts of his game Jordan worked hard on over the summer. Continuously improving like this is vital to the Clippers’ future success.