5 Signs That Doc Rivers Has Formed LA Clippers in His Image
On the surface, it may not look like the Los Angeles Clippers are all that different from last year. The Clippers have a similar record and ranking after all, and it's still Chris Paul and Blake Griffin doing most of the heavy lifting.
Even if that's the case, the process of this Clippers' season has changed drastically under Doc Rivers . The Clippers are now a much steadier team, no longer teetering on the brink of disaster or unsure of themselves going into the postseason.
It's plain to see that Rivers has been both a motivator and a calming influence for the Clippers, and it's no coincidence that the team has adapted many of his traits.
Let's take a look at five ways the Clippers have been formed by Doc Rivers this season.
Perhaps the biggest influence Rivers has had in his first year with the Clippers has been on DeAndre Jordan.
After seeing his overall minutes decrease last year and his fourth quarter time disappear almost completely, terms like "overpaid" and "toxic" started to be associated with Jordan. Former head coach Vinny Del Negro had lost all faith in him, and it showed.
Rivers changed things right away, though, by using his clout and throwing all his weight firmly into Jordan's corner.
But it wasn't just lip service. Rivers gave Jordan clear goals and something to aspire to, and then he provided him with plenty of opportunity to accomplish it. Jordan received a fresh start, and he ran with it.
Chris Ballard's profile of Jordan for Sports Illustrated says a lot about Rivers' impact on the big center:
In discussing his renaissance, Jordan talks with the fervor of the converted. About how he goes after every single rebound. About how he focuses on defense 'first, second and third.' About how he has matured. And he cannot say enough good things about his coach. 'He's been everything for me this year,' Jordan says. 'I owe the guy the world.'
In his sixth season, Jordan has suddenly turned into one of the most productive centers in the NBA. He leads the league in rebounding and effective field-goal percentage, and he's posting career highs in points, blocks and PER.
You can tell that Jordan is more confident and no longer paralyzed by a fear of making mistakes, and Rivers deserves a lot of credit for that.
Unsatisfied with Small Success
The sign of a great coach and motivator is knowing that the same tactic won't work with every single person. With Chris Paul, Rivers opted to take a brutally honest approach. Here's what Paul told Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports about his first meeting with Rivers:
As professional athletes, you always want someone to push you and motivate you...The first meeting I had with Doc, he pretty much told me I wasn't anything. He told me I hadn't done anything in this league, and he was right. You don't always want somebody that's going to tell you what you want to hear.
By treating Paul as just another unaccomplished member of the team instead of a deity, Rivers established that everyone would be held accountable.
Paul is already plenty of competitive, of course, but Rivers was wise to tell it like it is and provide a sense of urgency. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that more than ever before, Paul is trusting his teammates and letting others initiate the offense instead of completely controlling everything on the court.
By giving up some of the grip on the team to Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers have become even more dynamic and strong from a leadership standpoint.
Perhaps more importantly, the Clippers no longer seem very satisfied with regular-season wins, and instead are focusing on the bigger picture and what needs to be improved.
Andrew Han summed up nicely at ESPN.com:
So what is the identity of these Clippers? Asking the players would be to tread on the old clichés of aspiring contenders: 'We want to be defense-first. To hang our hat on the defensive end.' For fans, the Clippers are a dynamo offensive juggernaut, ready to ignite at any moment under the bright lights of the big stage. But considering the amount of attention paid to process this season, the Clippers’ identity may simply be to be better, a shift embodied by Griffin.
While Rivers has primarily helped from a motivational and attitude standpoint, there are tangible improvements as well. The rotations make more sense and are based on production, and the game management has been much better as well.
Perhaps the biggest difference, however, has come on the defensive end. Although it took a while for the roster to learn the strong-side defensive principles at the core of Rivers' defensive philosophy, the Clippers have been clicking as of late. According to NBA.com's media stats site, the Clippers are second in defensive efficiency since the All-Star break.
Both as a player and a coach, Rivers has always been all about the defensive side of the ball. The Clippers' offense has made strides as well, but defense has always been the big question mark with this team.
Perhaps the biggest improvement on that end is that players now know where they're supposed to be, and they know what the goal of the scheme is on any given possession. There are personnel deficiencies, especially on the wing, but there are fewer mental errors and more cohesiveness on that end under Rivers.
To say the offensive approach under Rivers differs from Del Negro is an understatement. Here's Arash Markazi at ESPN.com with more:
When Vinny Del Negro was asked last season what system he used, the former Los Angeles Clippers coach simply smiled and uttered two words.
'Chris Paul,' he said.
Del Negro laughed, but he wasn't joking. His 'system' was essentially to put the ball in Paul's hands and hope for the best. The team wasn't built on a system that didn't deviate regardless of the personnel on the floor. It was built on a single player leading the team.
'All those names and all that stuff,' Del Negro said. 'You just put the ball in the best player's hands.'
Whereas Del Negro's approach was to roll the ball out there and give the players all the freedom in the world, Rivers likes to orchestrate more set plays, particularly for shooters coming off screens.
You can see part of assistant coach Alvin Gentry's philosophy in the offense as well, as Griffin is put on the move much more frequently than he was before. Instead of pounding in the post most of the game, Griffin is now using his speed and court vision better than ever before.
Under Rivers, there's less pressure to create something out of nothing. The ball is still going to the best players, of course, but now the spacing and places they receive the ball is being maximized with a little more structure. It's more of a healthy balance now.
In that sense, vestiges of Rivers’ 'ubuntu' mantra have found their place in Los Angeles. The value of a team identity is unity of its parts to be more, no matter how individually brilliant those components may be.
It's often hard to place, but the Clippers' chemistry on the floor is easy to see. Paul and Griffin have finally found their places with each other in the pick-and-roll dance, and new additions like Glen Davis and Danny Granger have been able to assimilate fairly easily.
There just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of individual ego at play here, and so the Clippers can play a selfless brand of basketball that's worked so well for teams like the San Antonio Spurs.
Rivers is a big part of that because he demands the respect of everyone as not only a former player but a champion. It helps that he has a veteran roster, as everyone is on the same page and focused more on the interests of the team as a whole more than individual accomplishments.
The Clippers aren't fully complete in their process of becoming a perfect reflection of Rivers, but they've quickly adapted many of his traits and the traits of his most successful teams.