Los Angeles Clippers: The Other Team in L.A. Nobody Wants To Play
9-4 in the last 13...
Six and seven-point victories against the Heat and Lakers, respectively.
Two 20-plus point scorers and an offense averaging 106.6 points in their last five.
Can these really be Clippers' numbers?
The team that hasn't won more than 29 games in the past three seasons—whose biggest free-agent acquisition in the past few years was an aging Baron Davis at PG?
But they are Clippers' numbers and “the other L.A. Team” is suddenly the team nobody wants to play.
So how did it happen?
The Return of Sir Baron
Injuries, coaching discrepancies and hits to his motivation.
It was December 14th when Clippers' owner Donald Sterling made daunting taunts at Davis during a loss to the Magic.
“Why are you in the game?”
“Why did you take that shot?”
“You're out of shape!”
The comments frustrated Davis but fortunately did not frustrate head coach Vinny Del Negro who is now dealing out more minutes to Davis than any point all season—this is why coaches are coaches and owners are owners (hint, hint, Jerry Jones).
After only scoring in double-digits four times in his first 16 games, Davis has posted the stat in seven of the last eight Clippers contests. He has won back the starting PG job over Eric Bledsoe and is now hovering around 30 minutes/game.
Davis' veteran leadership on one of the younger teams in the league is part of the reason for a 5-21 team suddenly turning into a 13-25 team. Davis clearly hasn't lost his ability to create off the dribble, and in his defense, looks much more agile post-injury. It is clear his passion for the game is back for good; isn't it amazing what competitiveness does?
While Davis has re-ignited the exciting play that made him so beloved in Golden State, Eric Gordon has evolved into a top 10 scorer.
Now eighth in the league with 23.7 PPG, Gordon's scoring improvement may be one of the most improved parts of his progression as an upcoming star, but it is his newly developed intangibles that have been most impressive. In his first couple years in the league, Gordon's M.O. was most commonly a decent jump shot accompanied by very little output in other statistical categories (Kevin Martin, anyone?).
He lacked creativity and the aggressiveness both off the dribble and to the basket necessary to be considered top tier. But the potential was there.
Gordon has been both liberated and overshadowed by the play of Blake Griffin, but his numbers are currently too gaudy to go without notice. After just one year at Indiana, Gordon took his underdeveloped game to the NBA. It is underdeveloped no more. He is now forcing turnovers on defense and has become the Clippers go-to option down the stretch.
If you haven't heard the name "Blake Griffin" by now, you probably haven't been following the 2010-11 season. Add Griffin to the list of players who have become a household name in their rookie season (in a good way, not the Greg Oden way). Unlike the Trailblazers woeful experiences, the one year post-injury wait the Clippers endured was well worth it.
Griffin may become the first rookie to average 20-plus points and 12-plus rebounds since Shaquille O'Neal did it in 1992-93 (Kareem Abdul-Jabaar is also included in this very short list). Add to the resume a franchise record 26 straight double-doubles and being the third player ever to post a 20/10 line for 14 consecutive games (O'Neal 18, Malone 17, Malone 16, O'Neal+Griffin 14). You can go ahead and assume he will make another run at this record in the near future.
Griffin is a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year even with the impressive season (and dancing) John Wall has put on display. Griffin already producing some of the best highlight footage in NBA history. He is also a virtual shoo-in for Slam Dunk Champion, joining a mediocre lineup with Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings (props to Young Money for participating amidst recent left foot surgery) and Washington's JaVale McGee.
It is like everybody knows Griffin is going to come out on top but nobody cares. His presence alone has made the slam dunk competition relevant once again. Griffin's in-game dunks are already worthy of the contest; the potential for what he can do with nobody guarding him seems almost limitless.
Griffin has re-ignited a franchise while having the entire NBA world wondering what YouTube treasure he will churn out next (you know you're good when “the Human Highlight Film” is referencing himself as a comparison).
I was going to make an “air” reference here. I apologize to Michael for even thinking such a thing.
The absence of Chris Kaman to an ankle injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Clippers. Del Negro is now able to make use of a young and athletic team that caters to a quicker style of offense—speed is not one of Kaman's strong suits (trade rumors with Kaman look to be possible).
With the loss of Kaman, the Clippers looked to second-year center DeAndre Jordan to step, and step up he has. It has also been sourced that teams are optimistic about Kaman being trade bait. Oddly enough, there is another player in a Clippers uniform that has produced his own set of highlight-worthy throw downs.
Jordan's 1.6 blocks/game fall victim to his low minutes early in the season. In his last 10 contests, Jordan has hauled in 10.8 rebounds/game, and his blocks have risen to 2.8/game. Like Griffin, Jordan is strong, and the two make for an intimidating duo in the post on both sides of the ball.
Jordan is just another piece of the puzzle that is creating both hope and excitement for once skeptical fans of the red and blue versions of hardwood in the Staples Center. He is also part of a trio of budding stars that has yet to eclipse the age of 22.
Working on the Bench
Even though it lacks depth, the Bench has its strengths.
Eric Bledsoe has proven to be a formidable backup to Davis. The rookie out of Kentucky was overshadowed by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins in Kentucky and could soon be in a similar situation with Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin in a couple years. Bledsoe has the explosiveness to be a threat at point guard. For now, he will remain a nice change of pace to Davis.
Rasual Butler, Al-Farouq Aminu and Randy Foye all have the ability to hit jump shots off the bench and have provided boosts to some scoring streaks the Clippers have logged thus far. The Clippers bench includes four rookies that all offer promise for the future.
The bench does need work and lacks a reliable veteran presence. The Clippers could also use a better starting forward (place future trade with Kaman here). Who would have thought that these would be the Clippers problem two years ago?