Blueprint for LA Clippers to Become the NBA's Next Legitimate Big Three
The Big Three is the new vogue method of team construction in the NBA. It's fully replaced the idea of having a superstar and supporting cast carry a franchise all the way to a league title.
And, if you really think about it, it's only natural.
The NBA gets deeper each and every year. Sixty new players are added to the mix via the draft, others join from overseas or as undrafted free agents and players naturally get better. But only a handful retire each and every season. Therefore, the talent level can't help but improve, and more stars are needed to compete.
This is just speculation, but I'd be willing to bet that we're talking about the league's best Big Fours within the next two decades.
Doc Rivers understands this concept, and he's already endorsing the trio of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan as the Los Angeles Clippers Big Three, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi.
As the new head coach said, "I'm always focused on our big three guys, Blake [Griffin], DJ [DeAndre Jordan] and Chris [Paul]. Their leadership is important to our team. I'm always watching them. I think those are the guys that I have more focus on than anybody else."
But becoming a Big Three isn't as simple as receiving a proclamation from a man with a clipboard in his hand. It actually requires all three players to specialize in a certain area and play at a remarkably high level.
And only one of the three players in question is already there. A second is close, and the third is light years away.
So, what does this trio need to do in order to make Rivers look like a genius?
Let's break down what each of the three members must work on in order to successfully form the next great triumvirate.
Once viewed as the next dominant big man after his sensational rookie season, Griffin has taken a step backward. His game just hasn't exhibited the same level of improvement that many expected, and his 2012-13 campaign was nothing if not disappointing.
The former Oklahoma Sooner saw his production slip as the season wore on, and then he disappeared in the playoffs, beaten up by a more physical Zach Randolph. With his confidence sapped, Griffin was essentially a non-factor during LAC's early postseason exit.
But despite the changing narrative surrounding this uber-athlete, he still has the tools necessary to be a truly great player.
During the 2013-14 season, he has to regain that path by focusing on two weak aspects of his game: defense and spot-up shooting.
Throughout Griffin's career, he's been steadily improving as a defensive player, but he still doesn't understand the concept of team defense.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the power forward allowed just 0.83 points per possession last year, the No. 107 mark in the NBA. He was particularly potent when guarding either isolation players or roll men in pick-and-roll sets.
However, there's still plenty of room for improvement.
Griffin struggled immensely when he was asked to stop players in the post, and he often collapsed into the paint far too often, allowing his man to hit easy spot-up jumpers.
Plus, he doesn't rotate properly all of the time, and according to Basketball-Reference, that's allowed opponents to score an extra 8.1 points per 100 possessions.
Now a caveat is necessary before I show you these two plays from the series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Griffin was playing with a high ankle sprain and had limited mobility, but it's still emblematic of his overall defensive struggles.
Even with a sprain, this isn't acceptable. Griffin can't be trailing Marc Gasol by this much as they jog down the court.
It's up to him to get back in more timely fashion and prevent the Spanish 7-footer from establishing himself deep in the paint.
Yet that's exactly what Gasol does. He's the perfect distance away from the basket because Griffin essentially handed him the opportunity to set up in the sweet spot.
And all it takes is a quick spin.
Blake fouls Gasol as he goes by, and the Grizz center is able to go to the charity stripe for a shot at an old-fashioned three-point play.
But it's not the only way Griffin was beaten in this Game 5 outing.
The Clippers power forward doesn't get beaten down the court this time. He just lets Gasol treat him like a chef treats eggs once they're both established in the post.
See how far out Griffin's left foot is?
That's because he bit for a head fake.
Instead of watching Gasol's hips—Shakira didn't know she was singing about NBA basketball, but hips don't lie—Griffin falls for the movement above the neck and splits out his foot, knocking himself off balance and allowing his opponent to get around him with limited exertion.
It's another easy two points.
Griffin has to show more effort and discipline defensively. He's making strides on that end of the court, but he still has a long way to go.
As for his spot-up shooting, that's a rather easy fix: He just has to start making shots.
According to Synergy, Griffin shot 116 times in spot-up situations and made only 42 of them. For those of you without a calculator, that's only 36.2 percent. Factoring in the four three-pointers he made and the fouls he drew, the big man produced 0.75 points per possession when he finished a play out of a spot-up opportunity.
Three hundred and nine players did better last season, plus all the ones who didn't play enough to qualify but still made shots.
That's unacceptable, and Griffin has to become more of a go-to player than an offensive liability when he isn't cutting without the ball in his hands.
Just be Chris Paul.
For DeAndre Jordan, it's all about defense.
Right now, the center is already an elite finisher when he rolls to the basket after setting a screen for one of his teammates. And since both CP3 and Griffin are elite passers for their positions, there will be no shortage of lobs thrown in his general direction, even if "Lob City" is quite sadly a thing of the past, according to a report from ESPN Los Angeles.
Don't believe me? Let's turn to Synergy for some numerical evidence.
Last year, Jordan scored 1.42 points per possession when rolling to the basket in pick-and-roll sets. Only one player in the entire NBA had a better mark.
Still don't believe me? Let's just ask Brandon Knight now.
Jordan doesn't have to be an elite offensive player. He only has to be a competent one who can finish plays with his ridiculous, unteachable athleticism and isn't too much of a liability at the charity stripe.
His true impact will lie on the defensive end of the court.
As Rivers said to Markazi:
I like what DeAndre gives us. He gives us something a lot of the guys in the league can't do. He can block shots, he can run the floor, he can defend, he's talking and he's in the best shape of his career. He's doing a lot of great things for us.
It's a ringing endorsement, but Rivers may be jumping the gun a little bit here. Especially because he goes on to claim that his prized big man will be in the Defensive Player of the Year competition.
First, can we make sure that Jordan understands he doesn't have to try blocking every shot in his general vicinity?
Due to his proclivity for getting caught in the air, LAC wasn't actually a better defensive team when he was on the court.
Jordan is doing it backwards. DPOY candidates are supposed to help their team's defense improve, not decline, when they step onto the court.
But this can be fixed, especially because Jordan has the athletic tools necessary to be an upper-echelon defender. He just has to work on his rotations.
Plays like that aren't acceptable.
The big man takes way too long to react and ends up making a dangerous play, slamming Mike Conley to the ground as he attempts to recover from his mistake. This slow reaction time, especially coupled with the lack of instincts necessary to rotate over before Conley penetrates too far, certainly isn't a positive.
This offseason, Jordan made defense a priority, and he has to continue doing so. That's really his only responsibility in the potential Big Three.
Can the Clippers win a title in 2013-14?
CP3 is going to be an All-Star and remain the best point guard in basketball for at least one more season.
Griffin is very close to joining him in the realm of productive stars (not just fan-favorite stars), and he's shown flashes of a burgeoning create-for-himself offensive game.
But the key is Jordan.
Without him as the third wheel, it's more of a Big Two than a Big Three, and that isn't going to cut it when the Western Conference playoffs roll around.
No pressure, DeAndre. The hopes of an entire franchise rest on your broad shoulders.
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