Checklist for Doc Rivers to Turn LA Clippers into Title Contenders

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2013

Checklist for Doc Rivers to Turn LA Clippers into Title Contenders

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    When the Los Angeles Clippers brought in Doc Rivers as their new head coach this offseason, they set themselves up for a run at an NBA title. Entering the 2013-14 season, they now have a championship coach, an incredibly deep roster and two franchise cornerstones in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

    This team is on the rise and it’s safe to say they’ll compete at this point in the process.

    But while the Clips are bound to be in contention, they still have to get through the top teams in the West. The conference is strong across the top nine or 10 seeds and there’s always room to improve when the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder are running the show.

    The good news for the organization is that it has a coach who will not only command respect, but earn it as well. Rivers brings with him a history of success, which helps justify whatever madness there is to his methods.

    That’s something Vinny Del Negro never had, and now it’s Rivers’ job to convert a group of talented players into perennial contenders.

Half-Court Offense

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    We all know that the Los Angeles Clippers can play an up-tempo brand of basketball. In 2012-13, they were eighth in fast-break points per game, according to TeamRankings.com, and their transition tendencies caused defenses to fall behind.

    From a fan’s perspective, this style is as exciting as it comes. However, with Doc Rivers in L.A., utilizing Chris Paul in half-court sets should become a priority.

    According to ESPN.com, Paul led the league in the 2012-13 campaign in points per play in pick-and-roll sets. That makes him and Rivers a match made in basketball heaven, as Rivers made the pick-and-roll his most-used play with the Boston Celtics, per ESPN.com.

    None of this is to say that the Clips should abandon their fast break. They’ve proven they can score points quickly and easy buckets are a good thing for any squad.

    But when transition opportunities break down, you need a backup plan and L.A. has one of the best Plan B’s in all of basketball. Letting Paul create for his teammates will help not just during the regular season, but also when it counts most—in the playoffs.

Free Throws

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    The Los Angeles Clippers desperately need to improve their free-throw shooting and they need to do it now.

    In 2012-13, the Clips were a top-10 group when it came to free-throw attempts. That’s great news for most organizations, but not when you shoot just 71.1 percent—the fourth-worst mark in the league.

    For this team, it all starts with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The two have incredible athleticism and have given us many highlights because of it, but converting from the foul line has been an issue, making them liabilities, to say the least.

    Along with improving the bigs, allowing Chris Paul to create for himself will be crucial. If he’s had any flaw in the past, it’s been that he’s selfless to a fault. He’s a rare breed of player who can score from anywhere on the floor and he’s coming off of a career-high in free-throw percentage.

    Allowing him to draw fouls will help compensate for the deficiencies of the Clippers' bigs. This team needs to get it done in the clutch and a huge part of that stems from late-game free throws when energy is low and the contest is on the line.

Develop Blake Griffin Offensively

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    Blake Griffin is one of the NBA’s best up-and-coming stars. He’s as exciting as it comes when he flies above the rim, but there’s one thing to remember: He has yet to hit his ceiling.

    At age 24, Griffin has been unfairly labeled a one-trick pony. It’s true that his highlight-finishes are what people want to discuss, but as his career has progressed, we’ve seen him slowly improve.

    Nobody expects Griffin to become Kevin Garnett, but under Doc Rivers, a reliable pick-and-pop game would keep defenders honest. An array of low-post moves would also help, which is something we’ve heard since he entered The Association.

    The big man must be willing to get physical on a nightly basis while drawing defenders away from the rim. Luckily for Garnett, he has a number of shooters around him who will distract defenses for 48 minutes.

    In 2012-13, the Clippers were ninth in three-pointers attempted and 10th in three-pointers made. Those numbers, along with the addition of more shooters, will force defenders to think twice about doubling down low.

    With one-on-one situations in Griffin’s future, expect the coaching staff to hammer home the concept of establishing a more-versatile offensive game.

Defend the Three

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    Enough with the offensive focus. After all, defense wins championships, right?

    In today’s NBA, it’s as important as ever to spread the floor on offense. That means as a defense, it’s essential for defenders to step outside and contest jumpers from virtually every position.

    During the 2012-13 season, the Los Angeles Clippers failed to do that from the defensive perspective. They allowed opponents to shoot 37.3 percent from beyond the arc, which sandwiched them between the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans for 26th in The Association.

    With Doc Rivers on board, perimeter rotations must become a focus. The team can’t pick and choose when it wants to close out shooters. It must play with a collective intensity from start to finish.

    Much of the issue stems from pick-and-roll defense. The Clippers' defense was late in getting to the rolling shooter far too often last season, creating a need for cross-court recoveries.

    Offenses took full advantage with swing passes that exposed defensive holes and created open looks.

    Championship teams don’t slack when it comes to their rotations and that’s a mantra which Rivers must drill into his roster. The Clippers need to be proficient by the time the postseason arrives, otherwise they will belooking at another early exit.

Low-Post Defense

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    In an ideal world, the Los Angeles Clippers would find a backup center to help defensively.

    Unfortunately for Doc Rivers, he’s stuck with Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison, which means he must emphasize low-post and pick-and-roll defense with the current roster.

    Despite averaging 1.4 blocks in 2012-13, DeAndre Jordan has yet to prove he’s a sure thing on defense. According to 82games.com, Jordan had a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 15.9 per 48 minutes, and while that was a vast improvement from the season before, he still needs to work on his timing in both one-on-one and help situations.

    The truth is that instilling a defensive mindset with Jordan and Blake Griffin will take longer than one offseason. For that reason, don’t be shocked to see the same occasional strong-side help in Los Angeles as we saw in Boston.

    Rivers has earned praise over the years for his defensive schemes. While part of the credit belongs to Kevin Garnett and Tom Thibodeau, the time has come to start anew with a roster that has room to grow.