With the 2013 NBA playoffs officially upon us, the Los Angeles Clippers are preparing for a first-round clash with the Memphis Grizzlies. This is the second consecutive season L.A. has drawn Memphis in Round 1, and they took down Memphis in 2012.
The question is: What are the Clippers' greatest strengths and weaknesses for the long-term title push?
Getting past the Grizzlies is the task at hand, but the Clippers have areas of weakness that could bring them down at any stage of the playoffs. With that being said, L.A. also has powerful strengths.
So, what could sink L.A. during its push for the championship? What could take the Clippers all the way to the title?
More times than not, a team that runs an up-tempo offense will struggle on defense, as sending players out in transition will often lead to the opposition being able to push players ahead on their own.
The Los Angeles Clippers are an exception to the rule.
Thus far in 2012-13, the Clippers are fourth in scoring defense and are tied for ninth in opponent field-goal percentage. The truth of the matter is that the Clippers are never better than when they're defending in transition.
Dominant isn't a strong enough word to describe L.A.'s defensive versatility.
The Los Angeles Clippers are an elite defensive team. For evidence, note that they're fourth in scoring defense and tied for ninth in opponent field goal percentage.
With that being said, the Clippers are 26th in opponent three-point field-goal percentage—a dangerous weakness entering the postseason.
Furthermore, the Clippers are 23rd in opponent three-point field goals made per game. Fortunately, the Clippers' first-round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies, are 30th in three-point field goals made per game and 24th in three-point field-goal percentage.
Unfortunately, four of the top 10 three-point shooting teams are Western Conference squads that are currently in the playoffs.
As previously acknowledged, the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They're fourth in scoring defense and second in transition defense, which speaks volumes about their dominance.
Nothing speaks to L.A.'s defensive brilliance quite like this: The Clippers lead the NBA both in steals and turnovers forced per game.
This has been the key to the Clippers' game, as they've thrived in creating offense out of defense. It has also helped L.A. create the third-best turnover differential in the NBA.
Having Chris Paul, the league leader in steals, and Eric Bledsoe, who is ranked third in steals per 48 minutes, is a major reason why—just don't think it's limited to those two.
Five separate Clippers are averaging at least 1.0 steal per contest, including power forward Blake Griffin.
Blake Griffin's low-post game is vastly improved. The question is whether it can anchor this offense.
When it comes to scoring in the lane, the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the best teams in the NBA. They're averaging 44.9 points in the paint per game and have developed the nickname "Lob City" for their uncanny ability to throw down alley-oop dunks.
When it comes to creating scoring opportunities during half-court sets, however, L.A. hasn't found as much luck.
Contrary to popular belief, the Clippers utilize defense to create offense. That's evident in the fact that L.A. is second in the league with 19.4 percent of its points coming off of turnovers (via NBA.com).
15.5 percent of the Clippers' points come during fast break situations (via NBA.com).
The question is how they will fare when the opposition limits turnovers. Will they be able to pass it down low and create points that are not coming off of layups and dunks?
As it presently stands, they struggle to do so.
When it comes to playing under the bright lights of the postseason, experience is one of the most important factors of all. Not only are the Los Angeles Clippers experienced, but they also are well versed in overcoming adversity.
L.A. went on a 28-3 run to beat the Memphis Grizzlies during Game 1 of the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs. The Clippers were down 95-71 with 7:54 remaining in the fourth quarter before that stretch.
That's is the type of confidence-building experience that carries a team to future success.
For the record, the Clippers won that series in seven games. They're now preparing to face those same Grizzlies, sans Rudy Gay but with a healthy Zach Randolph, in 2013.
The Clippers may have an abundance of young stars, but experience is not one of their issues.
DeAndre Jordan's free-throw shooting has limited his use during the fourth quarter of games.
When it comes to NBA postseason basketball, games often play out in a manner similar to the NCAA tournament. By that, of course, I mean to say that defense is at a premium, and games almost always come down to the closing minutes.
Although the Los Angeles Clippers possess clutch individuals, there's one issue they cannot ignore: free-throw shooting.
During the 2012-13 regular season, the Clippers ranked 27th in free-throw percentage at 71.1 percent. Those concerns could be tempered by the fact that L.A. is a much better 12th in clutch free-throw percentage (via NBA.com).
Unfortunately, that often comes at the detriment of budding star center DeAndre Jordan's playing time, as he shot 38.6 percent from the charity stripe in 2012-13.
The Los Angeles Clippers own one very distinct advantage over any team they play. That, of course, is the fact that they have the best core of point guards in the NBA.
It's about much more than perennial All-NBA selection Chris Paul.
Paul is accompanied by defensive dynamo Eric Bledsoe and 2004 NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups. Between the three of them, the Clippers possess a well-balanced crop of point guards who can offer minimal drop-off when the other is off the floor.
Most importantly, they have proven clutch scorers who can thrive in big game situations—they don't call Billups "Mr. Big Shot" for nothing.
For those in need of more current events, CP3 was seventh in the NBA in clutch points scored. Paul shot 49.2 percent from the field during clutch situations and 90.3 percent from the free-throw line.
In the words of Kobe Bryant, you can count on CP3.
On the defensive end of the floor, Paul and Bledsoe were second and third, respectively, in steals per 48 minutes. Paul led the league in steals per game and should see another All-Defensive Team honor headed in his direction.
Paul was also second in the NBA in assists per game, while Bledsoe and Billups both shot better than 36.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Thus far in 2012-13, the Los Angeles Clippers rank 17th in total rebounds per game. They're 15th in offensive rebounding and 17th in defensive rebounding.
Just don't think that tells the whole story.
L.A. ranks sixth in the NBA in rebounding differential at plus-2.5. They're tied for first in opponent rebounding with their first-round opponent Memphis Grizzlies.
They're also 10th in opponent offensive rebounding.
With that being said, the Clippers are a less-than-ideal 14th in opponent second-chance points scored (via NBA.com). In other words, when the opposition manages to grab an offensive board, they're converting with efficiency.
That's an unfortunate sign as the Clippers play the Grizzlies in Round 1—Memphis ranks ninth in second-chance points per game (via NBA.com).
The Los Angeles Clippers' greatest strength may just be their second unit. Their bench ranks fourth in scoring, second in efficiency and first in defensive efficiency.
That's far from the end of the breakdown.
The Clippers' bench leads the NBA in rebounding, steals and blocks per game. They're also fourth in assists and eighth in field-goal percentage.
To put it simply, the Clippers' second unit is balanced and nothing short of elite.
At the heart of their success is Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford. Crawford averaged 16.5 points during the regular season and was considered an All-Star candidate by numerous players and coaches, both current and retired.
For what it's worth, the Clippers' starting lineup posted the ninth best plus/minus of any five-man compilation in the NBA (via NBA.com).
As previously acknowledged, the Los Angeles Clippers possess one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. They're in the top five in every significant basic and advanced bench statistic, resulting in the belief that they can be a dominant force.
With that being said, there's one X-Factor who could either lead the Clippers to a title or tank their season: Lamar Odom.
Odom is the ultimate X-Factor for the Clippers, as he's a two-time NBA champion and a former Sixth Man of the Year. But Odom is far removed from his days of averaging a double-double.
In 2012-13, Odom averaged 4.0 points and 5.9 rebounds on a slash line of .399/.200/.476.
Odom could be L.A.'s greatest strength, or he could be their most significant weakness.
With career postseason averages of 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 102 games, the question is whether he can be anything close to that player in 2013.
The answer will determine how deep L.A. goes into the postseason.