It has been two years in the making, but the Los Angeles Clippers have secured long-term contracts with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. There are no longer worries about Paul leaving in free agency, or the future of the organization. The focus is firmly on this season, as the Clippers have emerged as legitimate title contenders.
Solidly entrenched as the best team in Los Angeles, the Clippers must match their potential with anticipated results. The team has most of the pieces necessary to compete for a championship. Now the talent must takeover.
Clippers 2012-13 Results
- 56-26 record (.683)
- 1st in Pacific Division
- 4th in Western Conference
- Lost in Western Conference Quarterfinals to Memphis Grizzlies (4-2)
The Los Angeles Clippers’ offense was uber-efficient last season. Defending the Clippers was a nightmare, as they finished third in offensive efficiency and fourth in effective field-goal percentage and assist rate, according to HoopData.
Unfortunately, the rebounding was a major problem for the second-straight season. The Clippers finished tied for 17th in total rebounds per game. Complicating things even more was the Clippers’ anemic foul-shooting. The team shot the ninth-most free throws last season, but finished 27th in free throw percentage (71.1).
While the rebounding numbers need to improve, the offense should be elite again. Management did a great job bringing in players who fit next to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but also help space the floor. Meanwhile, defense and rebounding will be a major focal point this season, mainly because of the man now patrolling the Clippers’ sidelines.
Key Additions: JJ Redick, SG (Four years, $27 million remaining); Jared Dudley, SF (Three years, $12.75 million remaining); Darren Collison, PG (Two years, $1.9 million remaining); Doc Rivers, head coach (Three years, $21 million remaining)
Key Losses: Eric Bledsoe, PG (One year, $2.62 million remaining with PHX); Caron Butler, SF (One year, $8 million remaining with MIL); Chauncey Billups, PG (Two years, $5 million remaining with DET)
Two seasons ago the team nearly quit on Vinny Del Negro, resulting in rumors that Del Negro would be fired late in the season. While Del Negro kept his job, he was under intense media pressure to improve his offensive system and develop a consistent rotation. Additionally, his Clipper teams looked lost on defense in the playoffs.
There is plenty of work for Rivers to do, but based on his success with the Boston Celtics, expect the defense and rotation to be improved. Rivers’ system is built on playing solid defense and controlling the glass. The one weakness has always been his offensive system. Luckily for Clipper fans, Rivers hired Alvin Gentry to run his offense. Gentry is known for his creative sets and prolific offensive system which he learned under Mike D’Antoni, as an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns.
DeAndre Jordan’s Development
Despite failing to live up to expectations last season, DeAndre Jordan seems to have the trust of his head coach. Although it sounds elementary, it is extremely important in the development of young players. Rivers has already stated his expectations for Jordan, which should include extended minutes. Under Del Negro, Jordan played only 24.5 minutes per game.
Initial results are positive, as Jordan has responded during the preseason by averaging four blocks per game in limited minutes. Unfortunately, his free-throw shooting has yet to improve to even 50.0 percent. Jordan shot an embarrassing 38.6 percent last season, partially why he played sparingly in close games. His preseason numbers are slightly improved (44.4 percent), but definitely not acceptable.
Still, if Jordan can protect the rim like he has this preseason and play under control, the Clippers will be strong on defense. Jordan is absolutely the team’s X-factor. If he can headline the Clippers’ defensive system by calling out schemes and controlling the defensive glass, the sky is the limit.
Notice his offensive game has not even been discussed. Anything Jordan brings offensively, besides finishing lobs, will be enormous. A reliable hook shot would take even more pressure off Paul and Griffin. His post moves look more fluid and he was successful early in quarters last season, hopefully that continues.
Although the Clippers found plenty of ways to score last season, teams were able to clog the paint making it difficult for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to score in the half-court. Enter JJ Redick and Jared Dudley.
The easiest way to improve an already elite offense is to add players that help keep the floor spaced. Redick and Dudley are two of the best in the league at providing floor spacing. Dudley is a career 40.5 percent shooter from three, while Redick shoots 39.0 percent.
However, both players bring different shooting specialties to the table. Dudley has excelled in Gentry’s system by spotting up in the near corner. According to NBA.com/Stats, last season Dudley shot 48.1 percent from deep on the right side of the floor. He will likely remain on his familiar side, because this is typically the attack side off Paul’s pick-and-roll sets.
Redick provides even more firepower because not only can he connect from three, but he can attack off the dribble as well. According to HoopData, Redick’s assist rate and usage percentage hit career-highs last season because he was asked to create more off the dribble. If that is not enough, Redick also provides creation and shot making ability off screens and pin-downs.
Depth Chart Breakdown and Grades
|Los Angeles Clippers 2013-14 Depth Chart|
|PG||Chris Paul||Darren Collison||Maalik Wayns|
|SG||JJ Redick||Jamal Crawford||Willie Green|
|SF||Jared Dudley||Matt Barnes||Reggie Bullock|
|PF||Blake Griffin||Antawn Jamison||Lou Amundson|
|C||DeAndre Jordan||Ryan Hollins||Byron Mullens|
Arguably the strongest position on the entire roster, Chris Paul headlines as the starter and potential MVP candidate. Darren Collison, following a stint with the Dallas Mavericks, returns to his native Los Angeles to backup Paul. The third point guard is Maalik Wayns, but he is dealing with a torn meniscus and it remains to be seen what the team will do with him.
Paul is undoubtedly one of the better point guards in the entire league, if not the best. Despite playing a career-low in minutes (33.4), Paul nearly hit all his career averages. This season under Doc Rivers and an improved starting lineup, Paul is primed to average a double-double for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
With Eric Bledsoe gone, Darren Collison is set to run the second unit and should bring many of the same qualities as Bledsoe. Considering Bledsoe was part of the reason why the Clippers had one of the league’s best benches, that is saying a lot. Collison is certainly a better shooter, but attacks the rim and darts into passing lanes much like Bledsoe.
The only downside to this position is if the point guards have to carry too much of an offensive load. Chris Paul can obviously score and create at will, but as everyone saw in New Orleans, he is at his best when the threat to facilitate or score is an even split. Collison excels when he is able to take what the defense gives him, instead of being forced to create for others.
Another loaded position for the Clippers, the scoring power from this position is as potent as any other shooting guard rotation in the league. According to 82games, the Clippers’ shooting guards finished sixth at their position in total points and player efficiency rating differential. The scary part is that could improve this season.
JJ Redick was brought in to start next to Paul in the backcourt. Redick’s scintillating touch from three will help spread the floor for Paul and Griffin. Additionally, Redick is more than capable of attacking off the dribble. This was not always the case, but Redick has improved his handles so that he is a threat to pump-fake and attack the basket.
Although he comes off the bench, Crawford will see starter’s minutes and likely will play deep into crunch-time again this season. One of the league’s most dangerous one-on-one players, Crawford posted just his third season with a PER over 16.0. If that was not enough, he also finished second on the team in simple rating, according to 82games.
Willie Green and Reggie Bullock will both see time off the bench, but it remains to be seen how many minutes either plays. Green is a solid shooter from deep, but does not provide much else. Bullock is a rookie from North Carolina who will have a hard time earning minutes off the bench due to the team’s depth.
Caron Butler, the only holdover at small forward from the Clippers’ team that reached the conference semifinals two seasons ago, was traded. In return for Butler the Clippers received his replacement, Jared Dudley.
Dudley is familiar with associate head coach, Alvin Gentry’s, offense. In fact, in Gentry’s offense Dudley transformed into one of the league’s best role players. Dudley shot 41.1 percent from three during his time in Phoenix, and the Clippers hope Dudley can provide that type of shooting playing with Chris Paul.
Despite being signed late last season for the veteran’s minimum, Matt Barnes played the best ball of his career. Barnes scored a career-high 10.3 points per game. The Clippers’ bench played at an entirely different tempo than the starters, which allowed Barnes to turn from an after though into one of the team’s key players. According to HoopData, Barnes shot a career-high 69.0 percent at the rim, thanks to the quick tempo.
While both players are definitely solid offensive threats in their own way, they both are quality defenders. Barnes is at his best when he can pressure the ball and use his athleticism to attack the defensive glass. The Clippers were also 3.8 points better per 100 possessions defensively with Barnes on the floor.
Dudley made quite a large impact defensively, as the Suns were 5.4 points better defensively while he was in the game. Dudley is more of a solid team defender that understands the rotations and where he needs to be on the floor. Together, Doc Rivers has two very unique small forwards that can do a plethora of different things, depending on the situation.
Supreme athletes like Blake Griffin do not come along very often. However, the team began their turnaround because they were able to draft Griffin with the first pick in the 2009 draft. Since then, fans have gawked at his highlight reel dunks and lobs.
Yet, Griffin’s development has gone somewhat unnoticed. Griffin’s jumper has slowly begun to take form, literally. Griffin’s form has grown more consistent, and so have his shooting percentages. According to HoopData, Griffin was 32.5 percent shooter from 10-15 feet as a rookie, but managed to make 40.0 percent of those shots last season.
However, the onus will be on Griffin this season, not only to prove he can hit those jumpers, but to prove that he is capable of splitting the offensive load with Chris Paul. Much like Paul, Griffin played a career-low in minutes last season. The team will need him to be on the floor more and to regain his 20-plus point per game average.
Antawn Jamison will see plenty of minutes behind Griffin, along with Barnes and Lou Amundson. Jamison provides a shooting threat that the team desperately needed from its bigs last season. Barnes will play power forward in a small lineup and Amundson will bring the energy off the bench.
The major problems at power forward revolve around defense and rebounding. Griffin has the potential to change the output on the glass by himself. Expect Doc Rivers to get on his young star if he continues to leak into transition and not crash the defensive boards. None of the power forwards are solid defenders, which could cause a lot of problems if the centers cannot control the paint.
Not to put too much pressure on DeAndre Jordan, but the entire position relies on him. Jordan will be required to control the team’s defense, crash the boards and defend the rim. The potential is there, Doc Rivers seems to have faith that Jordan will develop into the type of defender the team needs. In fact, Rivers thinks Jordan can have, “a defensive impact any time he’s on the floor.”
Unfortunately, Jordan was average defensively last season. Opposing centers recorded a 15.9 PER against him last season, according to 82games. His defensive impact was limited because he played sparingly after the opening of the first and third quarters. Jordan needs to show that his play this preseason is a sign of things to come and not a mirage.
Additionally, as is always the case, Jordan’s free-throw shooting is a major concern. Jordan will need to make his free-throws if he wants to be able to close out games without being an offense-defense substitution.
Ryan Hollins is Jordan’s reserve and will split time with Byron Mullens. They are virtually exact opposites. Hollins is more of a defensive threat who wants to stay close to the rim and block shots coming from the weak side of the floor. Hollins does not have much of an offensive repertoire but did shoot 61.4 percent from the field last season.
Mullens can be seen launching threes from all over the floor. While he has solid from on his jumper, he just cannot connect, especially from three. He has attempted 259 threes the past two seasons and has connected on 78 (30.1 percent). Mullens needs to focus on keeping offensive continuity and improving his shot selection if he wants to stay in the rotation.
What to Watch For
Breakout Player: DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan has received a ton of criticism over the past year, but he is only 25-years-old. There is definitely a learning curve for bigs in the NBA, but Jordan seems to be turning the corner in some aspects. Jordan is primed to develop into the type of defender Doc Rivers’ system needs. Offensively, Jordan needs plenty of work, but averaging near a double-double is not out of the question.
Team MVP: Chris Paul
Paul finished fourth in MVP voting last season and looks to be in position to compete for league MVP as well as win team MVP. Paul has not averaged double-digit assists in three seasons. This looks to be the year Paul puts up 10-plus assists per game. Additionally, he is the motor, the leader and the driving force that keeps everyone else on the roster motivated and focused.
Most Disappointing Player: Matt Barnes
Anyone that has read John Hollinger columns while he was with ESPN knows the term “fluke-rule season.” Typically, older veterans who have breakout seasons at or above the age of 30 tend to regress back towards their career averages. Barnes is a candidate for regression to the mean this season, as outscored his career-average by 2.6 points per game. Additionally, the Clippers have plenty of options at small forward with Dudley, Jamison and Reggie Bullock on the roster.
Player Most Likely to be Traded: Jamal Crawford
Although Crawford played brilliantly last season as a reserve guard, Doc Rivers seems to enjoy multi-dimensional defensive guards. Crawford is anything but a defensive guard, which could land him in Rivers’ dog house at points this season. Furthermore, the Clippers could be in the market for another big who can score and defend, and Crawford’s contract is only guaranteed for $1.5 million each of the next two seasons.
Biggest Rivalry: Golden State Warriors
The Staples rivalry is fun and exciting, but the Golden State Warriors are legitimate division contenders this season. The Warriors also played the Clippers extremely well last season and were able to unload from three-point range during the meetings. Expect the two teams to be in a heated race for the division title all season, making the games must-see television.
Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios With Predicted W-L Record
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin form the league’s most deadly pick-and-roll combo, thanks to the additions of JJ Redick and Jared Dudley on the perimeter. The Clippers’ bench performs as well as last season, because Doc Rivers allows them to play fast.
The defense and rebounding improve thanks to improvements from Blake Griffin, but mainly DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is able to patrol the paint defensively, alter shots and control the glass.
Griffin struggles to perform as Paul’s go-to option. His jumper has not improved and his post offense remains cluttered because of multiple double-teams. Redick and Dudley are unable to provide the support from three-point range. Finally, DeAndre Jordan regresses and winds up on the trade market in February.
Projected W-L Record: 58-24, No. 2 in the Western Conference
The offense looks elite and Doc Rivers should improve the in-game coaching and overall defensive consistency. As long as Blake Griffin is able to handle an expanded offensive load, and DeAndre Jordan can play solid defense, the Clippers look like contenders in the conference.