5 Areas the LA Clippers Must Improve for the NBA Playoffs
There's more work to do as the Clips chase an NBA title. That business begins now. Rivers was brought in to mold a good team into champions.
Anything less will be considered a failure.
Last season saw Los Angeles take a major step forward. Under Vinny Del Negro, the 2012-13 squad won a franchise-best 56 games before suffering a deflating first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies.
The expectations are high this season, and in order to avoid a repeat of last postseason, Los Angeles has to do a number of things better this time around.
With that in mind, here are five key areas of development as the season comes to a close.
The Clippers are like a high school superstar who coasts by on talent alone. They've breezed through the regular season and amassed a 16-8 record against current Western Conference playoff-bound opponents.
Their collective superior athleticism and skill has given them plenty of regular-season success—that which is nearly unparalleled in franchise history—but has yet to yield rewards in the postseason.
Like the prep standout finding himself among sound competition for the first time, Los Angeles faces the conundrum of matching up against powerful teams at every juncture in the playoffs.
That’s where Rivers and Chris Paul come in.
The Clips’ floor general has demonstrated the unique ability to both accept and implement coaching despite being an All-NBA player. Rivers recognized this fact and pointed out as much when speaking with Paul Flannery of SB Nation in April:
He just gets it. I think it's his IQ. He watches all these games. He watches the way we played and instead of coming back saying let's go back to the way we played he figured out, ‘Well (expletive), this is good for me.' We're playing at this pace and that's hard for the point guard to play at this pace. What Chris is doing now is, he gets it and throws it to Blake. Instead of grabbing it and thinking ego, he's thinking team.
Being a team guy is in Paul’s nature, but Rivers pointed out an important fact. CP3's vision to recognize the Clippers are better with budding superstar Blake Griffin as a featured component of the offense is huge.
Like Rivers points out, that takes basketball smarts and humility.
Like Paul, the rest of the Clippers would do well to embrace their individual roles for the greater good. The ability to do that comes from coaching and execution on the floor.
In 2012-13, the Clippers struggled to score from beyond the arc in six games against the Grizzlies. They'll need to perform better from deep in order to advance.
A look at the discrepancy between the regular season and the postseason tells some of the story:
|2013-14 Season (through April 6)||41.6%||35.7%|
What stands out here is that while the mid-range numbers stay relatively consistent through all three periods, the three-point shooting dipped nearly six percentage points from last regular season into the postseason.
The addition of J.J. Redick and re-emergence of Jamal Crawford should help this seasons' Clippers sustain their perimeter game through the playoffs.
But these numbers alone don't paint the full picture. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Clippers rank 19th in the NBA in three-point percentage through April 6. That means they're already a good team as a worse-than-average three-point shooting squad.
It also means they have little room to fall short from the perimeter. If they falter in the postseason from the outside, it could spell trouble for their NBA Finals aspirations.
In 23 losses to date, Los Angeles averaged 27.9 percent from three-point range. In 54 wins through April 5, the team was 10 percentage points better with a mark of 37.9.
Redick and Crawford are each critical pieces of the Clippers' championship puzzle. Both sharpshooters' ability to knock down perimeter shots will be an important asset come playoff time.
In Crawford's case, the Sixth Man of the Year candidate is a catalyst for the second unit, which will have significant influence on how far the Clippers go in the postseason. What's more is when he's on the floor, the whole offense performs better.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Los Angeles posts 112.4 points per 100 possessions with Crawford on the court this season through April 6. Without him, that number falls to 111.9.
But his ability to affect the offense positively depends on his return from an Achilles injury that's kept him out of the lineup since March 29 and will likely cause him to miss the rest of the regular season.
Similarly, Redick needs to be healthy too.
Whether or not Rivers follows the Gregg Popovich mantra of resting key players down the stretch is something to look for during the final games. He could mitigate the wear and tear that comes with the grind of the regular season by sitting Redick and other key stars like Paul and Griffin in order to ensure they're ready for the playoffs.
If he manages to do so without sacrificing valuable seeding, then it'll be a best-case scenario.
The Clippers do many things better than most NBA teams. It's why they carry one of the league's best records at 55-23 and sit firmly in third place in the competitive Western Conference.
But a deep enough search will yield the fact that Los Angeles struggles on the offensive boards. Basketball-Reference.com has the Clippers ranked 20th in the league in offensive rebound percentage. Though DeAndre Jordan is the NBA leader in total rebounds at time of publication, garnering second-chance opportunities is always an important component of coming out on top.
In a win-or-go-home scenario, extra possessions can make all the difference, and the Clippers should focus a fair amount of energy here.
Keep Griffin Engaged
It's no secret that Griffin has emerged as a superstar this season; so much so, that he's in the MVP conversation.
But the high-flyer has disappeared in the playoffs on more than one occasion, and that's something the Clippers can't afford to have happen this go-around.
That's where Rivers comes in.
The Clips have done well to feature Griffin in the offense to build his confidence. Now's the time to get him ready for a postseason where he'll be heavily relied upon. He has to take things a step further and deliver with production when the games mean the most.
His 28.9 percent usage through 77 games in 2013-14 is the highest of his career. That trend is likely to result in the team's best regular-season finish in franchise history as the Clips need to win two out of their final four games to accomplish the feat.
But again, that's not good enough. Los Angeles is built to win it all. To do so, the Clippers will need Griffin to keep growing into more than just a highlight reel and sustain production at a superstar level.