4 Improvements Los Angeles Clippers Must Make to Become Title Contenders
Outside of the Houston Rockets, it's widely agreed that the Clippers had one of the best offseasons in the NBA. Not only did they replace former head coach Vinny Del Negro for Doc Rivers in an innovative trade, they pulled it off for nothing more than a first- round pick. Not stopping there, the Clippers intelligently parted ways with fan-favorite Eric Bledsoe and shed Caron Butler's contract for sharpshooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. Finally, the Clippers retained Matt Barnes and filled the backup point guard role with the underrated Darren Collison.
The Clippers efficiently filled the majority of the holes that prevented them from contention last season, but they've still got a few issues to address before they're ready to compete for an NBA championship.
Improved Perimeter Defense
Other than the Clippers, it seems like the future heavyweights of the Western Conference playoff picture are set to be the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
For the Clippers, the prospect of having to deal with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for consecutive playoff series could become a scary reality. Moreover, once one of these squads makes it out alive and reaches the finals, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are likely to be waiting on the other side.
Last year, L.A. was plagued by bad perimeter defense as Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford, Chauncey Billups and Willie Green ate up a great portion of the minutes at the Clippers' shooting guard and small forward positions. Matt Barnes, their best perimeter defender, was still no match for the best offensive players in the West, proving to either be too slow, too small or both for his matchups.
The Clippers' next best perimeter defender Eric Bledsoe—who has since been traded to Phoenix—was often relegated to the bench as former head coach Vinny Del Negro didn't like to put him and Chris Paul on the floor together for the sake of spacing.
This summer, the team added Jared Dudley and first-rounder Reggie Bullock to the Clippers' perimeter rotation. While Dudley is a quicker perimeter defender with fresher legs than Matt Barnes, he's not a stopper by any means. North Carolina's Reggie Bullock showed great promise on both ends during his time in Summer League, but there's no way to gauge how he might fare against better competition. After all, defense is considered the most difficult skill for rookies to translate to the NBA.
Unless Doc Rivers can mold Bullock into a Jimmy Butler-esque stopper by February, the Clippers are best suited to make a mid-season trade in hopes of landing a surefire perimeter defender.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, athletic specimens just oozing with untapped potential, might have what it takes to be an absolutely destructive duo in the future. However, they're still young and without proper defensive training, prone to make silly mistakes on that end.
Despite both players' propensity for picking up cheap fouls, the Clippers' immediate backup behind Jordan is still the often inconsistent, slow-on-his-feet Ryan Hollins. Hollins has never played more than 17 minutes per game in a season over his nine-year career, and if one of the Clippers' starting big men were to succumb to injury, the sight of Hollins in a starting gig wouldn't be pretty. On the other hand, Griffin's backup Byron Mullens, who was largely a disappointment while starting in Charlotte, could excel in a role off the bench.
The main issue here is that Jordan is the only reliable defender of the four rotation big men. The Clippers signed Brandon Davies, a reflexive and intelligent defender who went undrafted out of BYU, to supplement this problem. Davies, who was so impressive at Summer League that it was a relative shock he went undrafted, is likely to develop into a solid NBA defender. However, he shares the same concerns as Reggie Bullock: He's probably not ready yet.
When it comes to their rotation down low, the Clippers are banking way too much on luck for a team that's hoping to take the final step towards serious contention this year. They'd be smart to deal one of their excess wings, perhaps Jamal Crawford, for more depth up front.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, athletic specimens just oozing with untapped potential, might have what it takes to be an absolutely destructive duo in the future. However, they're still young and without proper coaching, prone to make silly mistakes on the defensive end. Despite both players' propensity for picking up cheap fouls, the Clippers' immediate backup behind Jordan is the often inconsistent, slow-on-his-feet Ryan Hollins. Hollins has never played more than 17 minutes per game a season over his nine-season career and if one of the Clippers' starting big men were to succumb to injury, the sight of Hollins in a starting gig wouldn't be pretty. On the other hand, Griffin's backup Byron Mullens, who was largely a failure as a starter in Charlotte, could excel in a role off the bench.
The main issue here is that Jordan is the only reliable defender of the four rotation big men. The Clippers signed Brandon Davies, a reflexive and intelligent defender who went undrafted out of BYU, to supplement this problem. Davies, who was so impressive at summer league that it was a shock he went undrafted, is likely to develop into a solid NBA defender but he shares the same concerns as Reggie Bullock: he's probably not ready yet.
When it comes to their rotation down-low, the Clippers' are banking on way too much on luck for a team thats hoping to take the final step towards serious contention this year. They'd be smart to deal one of their excess wings, perhaps Jamal Crawford, for more depth in the front court.
The Clippers' offense was far from a mixed bag last season. Their offensive playbook consisted of nothing more than basic screen action and poorly veiled pick-and-roll attacks. At the height of the Clippers' struggle, former head coach Vinny Del Negro even coined it the Chris Paul offense.
Of course, we all know that Chris Paul is an absolute savant when it comes to executing plays on offense. According to NBA.com's Stats tool, the Clippers' offensive efficiency rating (points scored per 100 possessions) last season was 112.4 with Paul on the floor and 101.3 with him on the bench. To put that in perspective, the Miami Heat's offensive efficiency rating was best in the league at 110.3. The latter figure, 101.3, falls closest to the Indiana Pacers' offense, ranked 19th out of 30 teams.
Although it began as a gift, having a player of Paul's caliber quickly turned into a dangerous over-reliance on his talent. In fact, Paul's points and assists combined made up for 38.4 percent of the Clippers' total points. Opposing teams, namely the Grizzlies who were the best defensive team in the Western Conference, figured out that if they kept the ball out of Paul's hands, the rest would be easy. Without their trusty captain to steer the ball towards the basket, the Clippers were lost.
Since Paul is the only player on the team that can create his own shot, crunch time would spell even more trouble for the NBA's best point guard. Outside of moving the ball quickly and implementing effective pick-and-roll decoy movement, the onus is on Doc Rivers to design a system that allows Paul to thrive without leaving him on an island.
A Revamped Defensive System
Despite their widely criticized offensive miscues, the Clippers really dug their grave on the defensive end last season. This was due to a combination of implementing a faulty system, rotation futility and overall effort.
It would take just one Clippers' game last season to see several different coverage techniques for the opponents pick-and-roll attack. This isn't meant to be a compliment. The versatility in coverage often spelled confusion and miscommunication for the Clippers' front line, allowing the opposing team to score easy baskets or draw unnecessary fouls.
Vinny Del Negro would sometimes have his big men stretched so far when they hedged the pick-and-roll that it would take nothing more than two easy cross-court passes for the other team to create an open look. Late in the game, the guard and big man covering pick-and-rolls would often switch, which neutralized the first attack but then created mismatches and double-team issues for an entire possession.
Often, DeAndre Jordan would be forced to hedge hard on pick-and-roll coverage. While DJ is an immensely gifted athlete, no seven-footer should have to sprint from the three-point line back to the paint in order to stop an easy basket.
Instead of making Jordan the primary rim protector, he was placed into a role he couldn't succeed in and eventually relegated to the bench. This would make more sense if his second-unit counterpart, Lamar Odom, was a more effective defender. Yet this was not at all the case: According to NBA.com's Stats tool, seven of the Clippers' 10 best defensive four-man groups to play over 50 minutes together last season featured Jordan in the lineup.