L.A. Clippers: 10 Improvements the Team Must Make To Reach the Playoffs
The Los Angeles Clippers are at it again. Three games into the season and they're already crushing hopes, dashing dreams and affirming curses. In short, the Clippers are losing and it isn't pretty.
Los Angeles has dropped its first three games - to Portland, Golden State and Dallas - all by double digits. Earlier today the Mavs smacked the Clippers 99-83 in the purportedly friendly confines of Staples Center. This was supposed to be the year that they returned to respectability and perhaps even reached the playoffs. So far, so not good.
Still, we shouldn't give up on these Clippers just yet.
They've shown flashes of ability that make you believe they can compete with anyone in the west. Blake Griffin has demonstrated the capacity to fulfill his tremendous potential. Eric Gordon has shown that he is capable and willing to score the rock. Additionally, the team has rebounded quite well on both ends of the court.
They just haven't put together a complete 48 minutes of good basketball.
If you look more closely, there are certain areas of noticeable weakness that the Clippers need to fix if they want to turn the ship around. Since it's still early in the season, it's not impossible. The Clippers have a new coach, a new system, and a lot of new players, so they are essentially learning on the job. They better learn fast, though, before the season slips away.
Here are the 10 improvements the Clippers need to make if they want to have a successful year.
Second Half Performance
The Clippers have played solid first halves in every game so far, going into the locker room within close striking distance. Unfortunately, they keep falling apart in the second half. They seem to choose either the third or fourth quarter to lay an enormous egg. Check out some of the results:
28-17 against Portland in the fourth quarter.
32-13 against Golden State in the third quarter.
29-19 against Dallas in the third quarter.
As you can see, in the last two games they've come out completely flat after halftime. I don't know exactly where to lay the blame, but this seems to be a coaching issue. The Clippers haven't made necessary adjustments or played with requisite intensity. Vinny Del Negro needs to find the pulse of this team and figure out a way to get more from his guys directly after halftime.
Though there has been serious talk among the residents of Clipper Nation about speeding up the pace of the game, Los Angeles isn't playing significantly faster than last year.
They are barely getting out in the open court, and consequently their athletes (like Blake Griffin) are not getting easy buckets. The statistics back up the eyes; they rank in the league's bottom 10 in Pace Factor.
They have a point guard who likes to push the ball and guys who can fill the running lanes and finish, so they should be consciously trying to run. Furthermore, their bench players, such as Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu and DeAndre Jordan, appear designed for an uptempo style. Today against the Mavericks, the Clippers' substitutes went on a second quarter run in which they really increased the tempo. We should be seeing more of that.
Because the pace has been slower than it should be, the Clippers are not getting as many easy looks as they should be. Which leads to the Clippers' next issue...
The Clippers have shot the ball so abysmally, I don't think my college intramural team could have done any worse.
Right now they are shooting a pitiful 38% as a team. Chris Kaman and Baron Davis, the only two all-stars on the roster, are sitting below 33%. They came into Sunday's game 28th in offensive efficiency, a number sure to drop after the latest brickfest, and they are last in true shooting percentage.
Why so awful?
The Clippers' offense is not running smoothly and they are being forced into many difficult, contested shots. The players don't seem comfortable with each other yet, and clearly Del Negro's offensive system is still being absorbed.
Time should ameliorate some of this, but the Clippers also need to stop settling for tough looks. They have to be more purposeful on offense and work harder to get to their spots And to reiterate one of the most obvious cliches in basketball, the game usually comes down to who makes more shots.
Speaking of horrendous shooting, the Clippers have been even worse from the 3-point line.
They have hit a cringe-inducing 25% from behind the arc, and the main culprits are their three starting perimeter guys. Baron Davis is 1-9, Eric Gordon is 3-18 and Ryan Gomes is 1-6.
Though they might be little quick on the trigger, they're not getting bad looks. They just haven't been knocking them down, which is especially surprising for Gordon.
With the extreme importance of the 3-point shot in modern basketball, the Clippers need to start knocking down their jumpers.
Free Throw Shooting
Same tune, different song.
Let me begin with a positive though. The Clippers are getting to the free throw line with regularity. They have 30 or more attempts in each game, which should translate to many easy points.
However, they're not capitalizing the way they should be. They are merely shooting 69% from the charity stripe, and you would like to see a number close to 75%.
You would expect this percentage to rise as the season continues and the sample size expands. If the Clippers keep getting fouled, this could become a significant advantage.
When you're a team without elite talent and you're constantly battling, you can't afford to shoot yourself in the foot. Turning the ball over is a great way to lose opportunities to win.
The Clippers haven't been terrible in this regard, but there is definitely room for improvement. They have coughed up the rock at least 15 in each game and often at inopportune times. Against the Mavericks, they committed turnovers on three consecutive third quarter possessions just as the momentum was swinging towards Dallas. The Clippers made it very easy for the Mavs to gain control of the game.
Some of the turnover problems can be chalked up to youth and inexperience. I anticipate the Clips becoming steadier with the ball.
The Clippers look like they are trying hard on defense, which is a good thing. Effort is the first, and probably the most important, step towards becoming a great defensive team.
On the other hand, Los Angeles is making mistakes that have allowed opponents to repeatedly get what they want in the half court. The Clippers have been slow on their defensive rotations and weakside help, as well as poor at defending the pick and roll.
They have given up 24 assists per game, tied for 27th in the NBA, indicating that opponents are moving the ball against them and finding open shots.
The Clips need to buckle down defensively, rotate quickly, close out shooters and clog lanes.
Since coming to LA two years ago, Baron Davis has not lived up to expectations. His start to this season has not helped dispel the disappointment.
There's always the fear that Davis will be disinterested or won't play hard; he generally needs to be fired up and motivated to be effective. This year, with the buzz surrounding the Clippers, the general consensus was that we'd see good Baron. Unluckily for the Clippers, that hasn't been the case.
He hasn't been attacking. He hasn't been emotional. He hasn't looked like a leader. He hasn't looked like he cares. Oh, and he seems a step slow, whether due to weight issues or nagging injuries.
This Clipper team cannot win unless they receive both production and energy from Davis. He needs to step up and control this offense, getting to the rim himself and finding easy shots for Griffin, Gordon and Kaman.
Baron Davis might be the single most important key to the Clippers' success. They need him to be better.
What's wrong with Chris Kaman? He can't hit the ocean from the beach.
Despite receiving less defensive attention than last year, in which he broke out by averaging 18.5 points per game on 49% shooting, Kaman has been utterly inept on the offensive end. He has shot under 30% from the field, and he hasn't looked smooth, decisive or aggressive.
The Clippers need Kaman to provide scoring balance and help the offense fluidly. Maybe he is trying to figure out how to play alongside Griffin. Or maybe he needs to round himself into playing shape. Whatever it is, right now there is only mild cause for concern. Should the problem persist, the Clippers might be in trouble.
Small Forward Situation
This has been an unsolved issue for years; the Clippers somehow cannot find the right small forward, and this season is no different.
Ryan Gomes was brought in to provide defense, toughness, smarts and serviceable 3-point shooting. It's readily apparent, though, that he is not the answer. While he's not a bad player, he is truly a backup trying to fill a starter's shoes. He hasn't been that reliable on defense, and the Clippers need someone more dynamic on the other end.
In my opinion, the Clippers should start Rasual Butler, a better long-range shooter, or rookie Al-Farouq Aminu, a better athlete.
Or they should trade for Carmelo Anthony!