Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have been dominant for the Clippers this season.
Finishing up 2013, the Los Angeles Clippers are in prime position to jockey for one of the top two seeds in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Lob City will be even better when it is fully healthy.
Matt Barnes returned from an injured eye after missing his last 16 games and was promptly ejected for a flagrant 2 in his first game back. J.J. Redick injured his elbow against the Sacramento Kings and is expected to miss at least another month. Even reserve Reggie Bullock has been sidelined with a leg injury.
Although they are not as dominant as they were during their 17-game winning streak last December, the Clippers have rattled off five wins in a row, blowing out teams like the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets. A defense that struggled for much of the first half of the season now ranks seventh overall in points allowed per 100 possessions.
In the month of December, Los Angeles has had the stingiest defense in all of basketball.
So who is responsible for the Clips' recent success? Which Clippers look poised for a breakout 2014?
Let's break down the top ten Clippers with grades based on current performance and preseason expectations.
All statistics accurate as of Dec. 24, 2013. Statistics used from NBA.com/Stats and Basketball-Reference.com.
Byron Mullens has been a non-factor this season.
Breakdown: In limited playing time, the end of the bench has failed to find a groove through December.
Newly signed Stephen Jackson has looked rusty, scoring just 10 total points over his first six games in red, white and blue. Maalik Wayns has still been recovering from a knee injury, and Bullock has looked just decent in the games that he has appeared in.
Byron Mullens on the other hand, has been an absolute disaster for Los Angeles. His early season defensive woes have pushed him out of the rotation all together. The former Charlotte Bobcat has appeared in just two of the last ten games.
The human foul machine Ryan Hollins has been rather pedestrian in his second season in Los Angeles.
Averaging just 2.3 PPG and 1.7 RPG, Hollins plays in limited minutes to spell Griffin or Jordan. In 11.1 minutes per contest, Hollins averages a remarkable 2.2 fouls. Adjusted for 36 minutes, the UCLA product averages 7.2 fouls.
Still, Hollins has some value in the energy and effort that he brings every single play.
Thankfully, the Clips should not have to rely on any of these players once they are healthy.
Willie Green has been less than spectacular in 2013.
2013-14 Stats: 5.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.9 APG
Breakdown: Thrust into the starting lineup when Redick went down, Willie Green has struggled to find any sort of consistency.
Starting in six games after the Redick injury, Green scored double-digit points in just one game. The supposed sharp shooter is converting just 31.1 percent from long range, the third-worst mark of his career.
Green is used to inconsistency in playing time. Last year he served as the stopgap starter for the injured Chauncey Billups before spending entire games on the bench upon Mr. Big Shot's return.
If Green can rediscover his stroke in 2014, then Lob City will have another potent sharpshooter hanging around the perimeter.
Is Antawn Jamison enough big-man support off the bench?
2013-14 Stats: 4.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG
Breakdown: Antawn Jamison has been decent in limited appearances for the Clippers.
Something akin to Grant Hill last season, Jamison is relied upon to make the right play on a possession-by-possession basis. Whether it is shooting the open jumper, finding the cutter or crashing the boards, Jamison makes very few mental errors at this stage of his career.
Sitting out the first 14 games of the season, Doc Rivers began employing Jamison as a big utility player in light of the injury to Barnes.
Although not a major rotation player, Jamison will be relied upon to contribute through the rest of the season.
Matt Barnes has struggled to stay on the floor this season.
2013-14 Stats: 6.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.7 APG
Breakdown: With the multitude of injuries affecting Barnes this season, gauging his effectiveness has been challenging.
Barnes has yet to appear in more than four consecutive games this season and has looked rusty in limited minutes.
The UCLA product had his best game of the season in a rout of the Nuggets, when he scored 13 points to go along with three rebounds, three assists and three blocks. A night later, Barnes was the feisty wing that his reputation suggests when he was promptly ejected following a flagrant-2 foul on Kevin Love.
The foul was later downgraded to a flagrant 1. The Clips will need the game’s best utility player down the stretch of the season.
Maintaining his health has to be of key importance.
Darren Collison has been playing much better since Jamal Crawford moved into the starting lineup.
2013-14 Stats: 8.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.8 APG
Breakdown: After a brilliant preseason, Darren Collison has struggled to adjust to the regular season.
In November, Collison averaged just 6.7 points and 1.9 assists on 38.9 percent shooting. He looked lost with the second unit, unable to find any consistency on the offensive end.
However, with the move of Jamal Crawford into the starting lineup, Collison was put in a much more comfortable scoring and playmaking situation. Over his last five games, Collison is averaging 12.0 points and 1.2 assists on 52.6 percent shooting.
Although his three-point shooting clip of 30.0 percent could be higher, he looks to be playing much better. The former UCLA Bruin had his best game in an overtime win over the Timberwolves, when he went off for 18 points, two assists and two steals on 8-of-12 shooting from the field.
Lob City needs Collision to continue to pilot the second unit until Redick returns. How he plays down the stretch will be key in evaluating this year’s edition of A Tribe Called Bench.
Jared Dudley has been playing well with Crawford in the lineup.
2013-14 Stats: 9.2 PPG, 2.1 RPG
Breakdown: Like Willie Green, Jared Dudley has struggled with consistency this season.
Dudley’s 11.2 points per game are the second lowest of his career. His 35.6 percent shooting clip from the three-point line is also the second-worst of his career.
Ultimately, Dudley has been somewhat of a disappointment this season.
However, since Doc Rivers inserted Crawford into the starting lineup, Dudley has begun to rediscover his stroke.
Over his last five games, Dudley is averaging 14.8 points on 52.8 percent shooting from the field and 46.7 percent shooting from three. His clutch three-pointer in overtime was the go-ahead bucket in the Clips' 120-116 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
With the injury to Redick, it has been challenging to gauge Dudley’s success in the starting lineup. Ideally, Lob City will find some cohesiveness once it is healthy.
J.J. Redick's wrist injury has hurt the Clippers.
2013-14 Stats: 15.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG
Breakdown: J.J. Redick’s constant motion helps to warp the floor on offense and generate open looks for Lob City’s offensive machine. As such, his injury has really hurt the Clippers offensively.
Over their last 12 games sans Redick, the Clippers are scoring 105.1 points per 100 possessions. Compare that to the Clips first 17 games with Redick in the lineup, when the Clippers were scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions. That number would have been the third-highest offensive rating, just behind the Portland Trail Blazers and the Miami Heat.
With Redick out of the lineup, the Clippers have dropped to fourth overall in offense.
Part of the Clippers’ offensive success comes from his constant motion.
His reputation as a sharpshooter forces defenses to stay honest, opening up more lanes for Paul and Griffin. Redick is averaging 6.6 points per game on catch-and-shoot attempts, the sixteenth-best mark in the league.
While the Clippers will be able to stay afloat while Redick recovers from injury, they will really need his production down the stretch of the season.
Jamal Crawford is having another incredible season.
2013-14 Stats: 16.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.6 APG
Breakdown: Jamal Crawford is having a career year in his second season in Lob City.
His 48 percent shooting from the field and 37.6 percent shooting from deep are the third-best marks of his career. Crawford’s 55.8 true shooting percentage is second only to his Sixth Man of the Year campaign for the Atlanta Hawks in 2009-10.
Crawford’s ability to navigate between the starting lineup and the bench has also been impressive.
Coming off the bench for the first 24 games of the season, Crawford averaged 16 points on 43.4 percent shooting from the field. Thrust into the starting lineup in the wake of the Redick injury, Crawford is averaging 20.0 points per contest.
Unsurprisingly, the Clippers' five-game win streak has coincided with Crawford’s appearance in the starting lineup.
Quietly, Crawford is having another Sixth Man of the Year-quality season.
DeAndre Jordan is having a big year.
2013-14 Stats: 9.6 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 2.2 BKPG
Breakdown: Renewed with confidence and energy, DeAndre Jordan is having a career year, averaging a near double-double.
The big man is dominating the boards, pulling down a career-high 13.1 rebounds per contest. That number puts Jordan in elite company as the third-best rebounder in the game behind Kevin Love and Dwight Howard and is third in the league in contested rebounds per contest (5.2).
Defensively, Jordan is still grasping some of Rivers’ defensive schemes. Nevertheless, the eye test indicates that he and Griffin are communicating much better along the back line.
Of Clipper lineups that have logged at least 25 minutes together, Jordan belongs to four of the stingiest. Frankly, his play has been a revelation for the Clippers this season.
While his 40.7 percent free-throw shooting is still a problem, Jordan’s game has been key to the Clips’ success.
Blake Griffin is enjoying another All-Star season.
2013-14 Stats: 20.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.1 APG
Breakdown: Blake Griffin is quietly having another dominant season for the Clippers.
Although the numbers might not totally indicate it, Griffin has improved on defense as well as from the perimeter.
Operating from the elbow, Griffin is second in the league in average elbow touches per game at 13.4. He is drawing defenses down low as well, as he averages 5.7 touches per game within 12 feet from the basket.
Griffin is draining jumpers at a high level as well. From the right elbow he is shooting 40.3 percent, while converting 40.0 percent from just behind the free-throw line.
BG has become the Clippers’ second-best playmaker, often connecting with Jordan on lobs from the high post. His evolution has been key in generating easy buckets and elevating the play of Lob City.
The Point God has been unstoppable this season.
2013-14 Stats: 19.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 11.3 APG
Breakdown: The best point guard in basketball, Chris Paul is again having a career year.
Paul leads the league in assists per game and is second in steals behind Ricky Rubio. CP3 creates an average of 25.3 points through assists per contest, the highest mark in the league.
His 59.4 true shooting percentage is the second-best mark of his career, while his 11.7 assists per 36 minutes is the highest number of his career.
The list goes on and on.
Simply put, Paul has been a maestro for the Clippers this season, capable of distributing when he needs to get his teammates involved and taking over the scoring burden when he feels compelled to.
Paul is a lock for another All-Star game, and is in the running for Most Valuable Player honors. He has and continues to be the engine that keeps the Clippers going.