For some teams, training camp is just another time to go through the motions. For the Los Angeles Clippers, it’s a time to form a new identity.
Teams like the San Antonio Spurs Spurs and Miami Heat, who have had the same level of success with the same core for years, tend to pick up right where they left off. But the Clippers have a new sheriff in town with Doc Rivers patrolling the sidelines.
Rivers has already started to implement some of the changes that will be so essential to the Clippers’ success this season.
It all starts in training camp.
It’s still early, but here are four new facets we learned about the Clippers over the first week of the preseason:
This is weird, but I guess it’s necessary.
It’s the first week of training camp. The Clippers have a new coach, a new regime, a new style. They’re trying to form a new identity.
So on that note, Blake Griffin decided to say adios to the Lob City moniker.
“Lob City doesn’t exist anymore,” Griffin told ESPN on Oct. 3. “We’re moving on and we’re going to find our identity during training camp, and that will be our new city. No more Lob City.”
You heard it. No more Lob City.
But is that actually true, or is it more of a mentality that Griffin is trying to convince himself to take?
Blake is still going to dunk. DeAndre Jordan is still going to catch lobs. Actually, Doc Rivers even said back at Clippers media day that he wants to run and get out in transition even more in the upcoming season.
It’s easy to get what Griffin was trying to say. He doesn’t want the dunk to define this year’s Clippers’ team because when you’re made up of more flash than substance, you’re not going many places beyond the SportsCenter Top 10.
Specifically, Griffin was referring to offensive spacing and the face-up game he worked on all summer.
But don't worry, we'll continue to see "Lob City" everywhere.
The Clips are going to continue to sell those shirts—mainly because “Perimeter Defense City” or “Motion Offense City” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. But that’s fine.
The dunk might not define the Clippers, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to go away.
There is one out-of-the-box theory that is too fun to ignore: Doc Rivers doesn’t necessarily believe everything he has said about DeAndre Jordan. He loves his game, but he does it unconditionally—a little too unconditionally.
That’s not to say Rivers doesn’t think Jordan is a quality player. It’s not even to say he doesn’t think Jordan can be an All Star, but hasn’t the praise been just a tad profuse?
“He can single handedly change a game with his defense,” Rivers said of D.J. “There’s five guys—and that number may be too high—that can do that single handedly with their size and athleticism and he’s one of them.”
The news here isn't that Doc should have wanted to trade Jordan for Garnett. There's a good chance that hypothetical trade could have turned out a dreadful one for the Clippers if it had actually gone down. What's important here is that Rivers continues to make these incredibly bold, public statements about Jordan's status with the team.
Doc is an ultimate motivator. There’s no doubt about that one. Is it possible he has another agenda here?
Jordan spent last season having his confidence destroyed. One mistake and he was out. One missed box out or bricked free throw and he was on the bench.
He didn’t play in crunch time. He averaged only 24.5 minutes per game. Who could blame DeAndre if he finished up last season not feeling all too good about himself?
Doc knows that. He knows that Jordan’s esteem last year was lower than his free-throw percentage—and he knows that can’t be the same this year.
What if this is all just some brilliant motivation tactic to help DeAndre find that lost confidence?
Doc is going out of his way. He's going out of his way to make sure D.J. takes media day pictures and does press conferences with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. He's going out of his way to paint an image of a "big 3", which is just as important to implant in D.J.'s mind as it is to convey to the media. Something there has to be calculated.
This is the opposite of the way this team was run the past few years. It’s overtly positive, and at the very least, that’s refreshing.
Crawford is the ultimate isolation player—at least that’s what we all think.
Of course, Crawford is one of the best in the NBA at going up against a defense on his own, but that doesn’t mean it’s all he can do. In actuality, Crawford was one of the better catch-and-shoot players in the NBA last season.
Crawford shot 42.1 percent on spot-up three-pointers last year, according to MySynergySports. His 1.16 points per play on spot-up shots ranked him inside the top-50 most efficient spot-up jump shooters in the NBA last season. When running off screens, he shot 36.2 percent on threes and ranked as the 30th-most efficient scorer in the league.
Crawford has that quick release and a convinced scorer’s mentality.
Perimeter defenders closing out in his face don’t alter his shot—and when they do, he is so shifty that he usually finds some way to evade them. (That’s how you end up holding the record for most four-point plays in a quarter, a game, a season and a career. Yep, he actually holds all those records.)
Regarding the start of the season, Crawford recently told the L.A. Times, “As far as creating stuff, there’s still a place for that, but I think it’ll be more catch-and-shoot type of thing”.
There really isn’t anything wrong with Crawford becoming more of an off-ball weapon.
The Clippers just have to make sure they don’t do to him what Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics did to Jason Terry last season, when they misused a ball-dominant guard in a passive, off-ball role for the whole year and it never really clicked.
Now, Terry is coming off one of the worst years of his career—if not the worst. Presumably, Crawford will still get to handle the ball plenty coming off the bench, but the Clippers have to make sure he’s comfortable the whole way.
The Clippers had a legitimate offense last season, at least statistically, finishing fourth in NBA offensive efficiency. But that was more because of talent and less because of scheme. Remember all the jokes about the “roll the ball out and let Chris Paul do his thing” offense?
Those were all true.
Need proof of that? Say hello to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Clippers dominated for the start of their first-round playoff series against Memphis last year, but once Marc Gasol consistently started to blow up the pick-and-roll, it was all downhill from there.
Chris Paul tried to do everything on his own, and the Clips ended up with the uncreative and almost unwatchable offense that involved one guy running around and the other four waiting for something—anything—to happen.
This Clippers team shouldn’t just rely on Paul.
The Clips have so many strong off-ball cutters. Matt Barnes has made a living cutting off the ball. J.J. Redick is an assassin coming off screens. Jared Dudley and Jamal Crawford can kill defenses the same way.
That probably explains why Doc Rivers told the O.C. Register that he wants to run more of a motion offense this season.
“There’s a difference between running and staying in motion,” explained Rivers. “Every team talks about running. We want to be a running team, but for us, we really want to be a motion team."
The motion offense runs basically on habit and timing. That means training camp and the preseason are going to be essential for the Clippers to install their new offensive style.
(Unless specified otherwise, all statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com.)
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in 5th grade, but he maintains that his per 36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.