Early Predictions for LA Clippers' Starting Lineup Next Season
That's the most important question to ponder when predicting what the Clips' first five will look like as they prepare to one-up their stellar campaign from a season ago.
But will they be starters? Before we take a look at which players to pencil in spots 1 through 5, let's understand the logic behind the predictions.
First, there's a working assumption that everyone on the current roster will be healthy heading into the season and primed to play a full slate of games. Another premonition is that there are no more dominoes left to fall from LeBron James' Decision 2.0 and the roster is complete in terms of the Clippers' top players.
With that established, let's take a look at who's going to get it done for Los Angeles in 2014-15 at the official's first toss.
Sixth Man: Jamal Crawford
Before any talk can commence regarding the starting lineup, the NBA's top reserve from last season has to receive a mention.
Off the bench, Jamal Crawford finished third on the team in scoring with a healthy 18.6 points per game while playing the fourth-most minutes. What's more is that he filled in capably as a spot-starter when Chris Paul was out with injuries.
That sounds like a player capable of starting, but Rivers recognizes what an asset he has in the 34-year-old as a catalyst off the sideline. After winning his second NBA Sixth Man of the Year award last season, it's clear Crawford's going to be tasked with the same role again.
And don't let his age be misleading. His average of 22 points per 36 minutes from last season was the highest of his career.
Center: DeAndre Jordan
Griffin got plenty of headlines for being one of the NBA's most improved players, enough that he finished third in the 2014 MVP race. But DeAndre Jordan made equally big strides in his sixth season.
Jordan posted his highest player efficiency rating to date with a mark of 18.2, per Basketball-Reference.com. He averaged a career high in blocks per game with 2.5 and won the NBA's rebounding crown with a monstrous average of 13.6 boards per contest.
The Clips added reinforcement up front with the addition of Spencer Hawes, but Jordan will still be the starter because his role as a rim-protector is too valuable not to maximize. Hawes has more versatility and is better suited to take on reserve duty given his diverse set of skills.
In addition, the former Sacramento Kings first-round selection is a career 70.3 percent free-throw shooter who can come in and take pressure off of Jordan. DeAndre is a known liability from the stripe with a career mark of 42.5 percent.
Those numbers illustrate further why Hawes makes sense as a reserve who is available late in games. Jordan is the better bet to establish the paint early on.
Look for Hawes to play a little at the 4 as well.
Power Forward: Blake Griffin
There's no question whether or not Griffin will start, but what's a real mystery is how much better he can get as one of the leaders of this talented squad.
He's got the proverbial bull's eye on his back after being a legitimate threat to win the league's most valuable player award. Now he's got the difficult task to build on that by one-upping himself.
It's a microcosm of the Clippers' upcoming challenge as a unit. They have to bottle up what they built and figure out how to make it even better. Griffin is in the same situation.
It's time for him to take the leap to superstardom. In order to do that, he has to be consistent year to year. After taking a small step backward in 2012-13 with a Basketball-Reference.com PER of 22.4, he posted a 23.9 mark in 2013-14, a career high.
This season, he's going to aim higher and strive to be in the conversation of the league's top player again. All of that won't be possible with him sitting on the bench to open games.
Small Forward: Matt Barnes
Moving mercurial forward Matt Barnes into the starting lineup was one of Rivers' most notable midseason adjustments in 2013-14. Jared Dudley proved ineffective starting at the 3, while Barnes performed well taking over at small forward.
In fact, the Clippers' enforcer was substantially better at the top of the depth chart than he was as a reserve. Case in point is a snapshot of last season, via Basketball-Reference.com:
It's early still, but given the effectiveness of the change, Rivers will go with smart money and stick with Barnes.
Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick
Health notwithstanding, Redick is the man at 2-guard for the Clips.
The sharpshooter complements the dribble-penetration and passing abilities of Paul while benefiting from the attention Griffin and Jordan draw on the inside.
As a deadly shooter from long range, Redick brings floor balance to the backcourt coupled with a knack for moving off the ball.
According to NBA.com, 86.7 percent of Redick's field goals last season came off of assists. To no surprise, Paul had 57 of those. But the most telling number is the fact that Griffin had the second-most with 34, further speaking to the effectiveness of their two-man, inside-out game.
Rivers would do well to keep that chemistry intact by featuring both as starters, and that's precisely what he's going to do.
Point Guard: Chris Paul
The 2014-15 Clippers are going to go as far as their floor general will take them.
Paul is the unquestioned backbone of the team and a staple at the starting point guard spot as long as he remains in red, white and blue.
The 29-year-old played in just 62 games last season while dealing with numerous injuries, and his health will be a major factor in the team's success moving forward. If he's healthy for the postseason, the Clippers have a shot at unseating the San Antonio Spurs as Western Conference champs.
When Paul's on the floor, Los Angeles is better on both ends of the court. According to Basketball-Reference, with him, the Clippers scored 4.7 more points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 while holding opponents to 4.3 fewer.
It's not a secret that CP3 powers the engine that makes them go.
The Clips have every reason to feel good about the upcoming season with their perennial All-Star at the helm. Though there won't be any changes to the starting five that ended last season, it's important to note there's no need for Los Angeles to reinvent itself.
The Clippers are going to contend. They'll be there at season's end with a shot at NBA glory.
These are the starters who will make that possible.