With Vinny Del Negro out as head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, management will need to find the right coach that can turn this team into legitimate championship contenders.
While the Clips looked elite early in December, a poor second half of the season, combined with an early playoff exit at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies, manifested that Del Negro might not be the coach to take Lob City to the next level. Presuming Chris Paul re-signs, the Clippers need a coach that can change the defensive outlook of this squad while maximizing the X’s and O’s of such a talented roster.
Emphasis on Defense
Despite finishing with a top-10 defense in the regular season with a defensive rating of 101.0, the Clippers often looked lost in the fourth quarter of close games.
With the score within five points in the last five minutes of regulation and overtime, Lob City’s defensive rating ballooned to 116.9. That number was eerily similar to the Clips’ overall 109.7 defensive rating in the postseason against Memphis.
That clip would have been the worst out of any team in the regular season. Keep in mind that the offensively inept Memphis Grizzlies had just a 101.7 offensive rating in the regular season, the worst of any Western Conference playoff team.
Del Negro’s inability to utilize the athleticism of his roster and transform it into a defensive swarming team proved to be catastrophic. The Clips need a coach that can harness DeAndre Jordan’s rim-blocking potential while taking advantage of the ball-hawking pressure of both Paul and Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter.
Balance Youth Development with Veteran Play
Throughout the season and the playoffs, Vinny Del Negro had some questionable rotations. As something of a lame-duck coach on the last year of his contract, Del Negro routinely opted to play trusted veterans in the midst of underwhelming seasons rather than cultivate his young guns.
Comparing Chauncey Billups and Bledsoe provides a compelling study.
Inexplicably Bledsoe played just 1.4 minutes more per game in the regular season than Billups. That number flipped in the postseason, as Mr. Big Shot actually saw more burn than the young Kentucky product.
Curiously, Bledsoe also finished with the third-highest PER in the postseason at 20.0, while Billups posted a team-worst PER of 5.8.
Ultimately, Billups looked lost in the Memphis series, finishing with a minus-12.7 net rating in six games.
Jordan’s playing time was another confounding decision.
DJ logged an average of just 5.0 fourth-quarter minutes per contest in the regular season. The big man often conceded minutes to Lamar Odom, who had continued his subpar play from his forgettable season on the Dallas Mavericks.
Jordan’s 17.2 regular-season PER was far superior to LO’s under-average regular-season PER of 10.9.
With Del Negro out of the fold, the Clips will surely benefit from a coach that can better balance his rotations. Players like Jordan needed fourth-quarter reps, and Del Negro simply did not provide his young center with enough.
Moving forward, the Clips’ new coach should let the young guys complement the veterans, rather than risk stymieing their development.
Master the X’s and O’s
For all the pyrotechnics that accompany Lob City’s offensive firepower, the Clips have mightily struggled in the half court. While the Chris Paul offense can produce, it certainly struggles against the NBA’s best defenses.
A top-five offense in the regular season put up a disappointing postseason offensive rating of 104.9. Credit the Grizzlies’ stifling defense, but the Clips offensive rating fell to just 101.8 in the second half of ball games against the Grizz.
What qualities should Clippers' management look for during its head coaching search?
Clutch time was the Chris Paul show. In a 93-91 win over the Grizzlies in Game 2, the Point God scored the last eight points for the Clips, including a buzzer-beater to win the game.
CP3 is known to be masterful in the clutch, but the Clips could have sorely benefited from a coach that could draw up an easy score. Something beyond the Chris Paul system would have paid dividends for one the NBA’s high-octane offenses.
Elite NBA coaches like Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs are noted NBA tacticians. There are a host of potential coaching candidates from Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer to former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy that can operate the whiteboard in timeouts. Chris Paul or bust does not have to be the only option down the stretch.
A coach that can tighten up his team’s X’s and O’s would better maximize the potential of this fringe contender, making an already lethal offense all the more potent.
All statistics used from NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com.