Considering the positivity surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers' performance in 2010-11, you would think Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon possibly led them to a winning record, or perhaps the brink of the playoffs.
While there are legitimate reasons for optimism—the Clippers do have a seemingly bright future and they did play almost .500 ball after going 3-15 out of the gates—let's not forget that they only won 32 games this past season. They obviously still have significant developing and maturing to do.
Here, I'm handing out final grades to every member of the Clips, from the star student to the class clown, to see who has passed and who should drop out.
(Note, I'm only grading players who finished the year with the Clippers. Guys who were traded or released, such as Baron Davis, all receive F's or Incompletes.)
Blake Griffin, the unanimous Rookie of the Year, was everything the Clippers could have dreamed of and more.
Early on, he erased doubts about the health of the knee that caused him to miss all of 2009-10 and displayed the capacity to be a superstar for the next decade.
Blake was explosive and efficient, stuffing both stat sheets and stands. Averaging 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 51 percent shooting, Griffin had perhaps the best rookie season since Shaq’s 1992-93 campaign.
Not only that, but he made the Clippers dangerous and watchable every night. There is now hope for the other franchise in Los Angeles, and most of it rests on Blake’s broad shoulders.
What’s scary is that Blake still has room to grow. When his jump shot becomes more consistent and his defense improves, watch out league.
Although he was limited to 56 games played due to an injured right wrist, Eric Gordon had a breakout year.
He emerged as a bigtime scorer, creative playmaker, tenacious perimeter defender, and potential star. Only 22, Gordon put up 22.3 points per game, and he got buckets in a variety of ways, from deep threes to strong forays to the rim.
Gordon also demonstrated the desire to be “the man” when the game was on the line. He wants to take important shots, unafraid of the spotlight or the moment, a necessary mentality for a lead guard.
Gordon still needs to work on his decision-making, and he needs to rebound better (2.9 per game) for a guy with his athleticism.
EJ, as he is called, is Robin to Blake’s Batman, and the duo will lead the Clippers to the playoffs before you know it.
After Chris Kaman’s injury unexpectedly thrust him into the starting lineup in only the ninth game of the season, DeAndre Jordan wasn’t exactly a revelation, but he was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Also young and explosive, and with great size and length, the 22-year-old had his ups and downs, especially on the offensive end. He is still extremely raw, with few discernible moves, but he does finish well at the cup, shooting 69 percent for the year.
Jordan also became arguably the Clippers’ best defender. In only 26 minutes per game, Jordan was 10th in the league in blocked shots at 1.8, while pulling down over seven rebounds nightly. If he could learn to avoid foul trouble, Jordan could be a true defensive force.
Is he the center of the future? Debatable. But with Jordan's upside, he wouldn’t be a bad option.
Eric Bledsoe, the rookie out of Kentucky, was, like DeAndre Jordan, prematurely forced to start when Baron Davis was sidelined only three games into the season.
As it is with most inexperienced point guards, the 21-year-old struggled at times, especially with decision-making, three point shot, and ball security.
That said, Bledsoe showed immense potential. He is extremely athletic (lightning-fast, cat-quick, surprisingly strong, and quite explosive), clever with the rock, and he plays with enthusiasm, passion, and competitive fire.
Bledsoe is not there yet, and he really needs to work on his jump shot, but he has a bright future.
Mo Williams was acquired in the midseason deal that unloaded Baron Davis and his fat contract to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So how did Mo perform after escaping the woeful ex-LeBroners? Eh, decent, fine, uninspiring. Yet not at all poor.
The Clippers went 11-11 with Williams at the helm, and he posted respectable numbers: 15.2 points and 5.6 assists. He doesn’t really deserve any particular credit for those victories, but he also doesn’t deserve blame for the losses.
With LA reshaping its roster and looking to go young, Williams is doubtful in GM Neil Olshey’s long-term plans.
Al-Farouq Aminu was drafted eighth overall last summer because of potential, not ability.
The rangy small forward from Wake Forest is talented but raw. He has outstanding ball-handling skills for his size, a nose for the ball, and solid defensive tools.
On the other hand, he has no jump shot whatsoever—39 percent FG, 32 percent three-point—and can be careless with the ball.
The season was a bit of a roller coaster for Aminu, who interspersed impressive contests with sloppy outings.
Aminu is only 20 years old, and the Clippers know that it will take time for him to develop. They just hope that he eventually gets it together.
Randy Foye was signed last summer to be the combo guard spark off the bench in the mold of, for example, Jamal Crawford.
He wasn’t an abject failure, but neither was he a rousing success. If anything, Foye was inconsistent.
He missed 19 games due to injury and shot only 39 percent from the field, 33 percent from behind the arc. On the other hand, he had several huge outings, such as a 32-point eruption against the Boston Celtics.
Ultimately, Foye did not quite live up to the expectations the front office held.
Back in August, ESPN Los Angeles’ Kevin Arnovitz wrote an article (found here) lauding Ryan Gomes and claiming he could be the solution to the Clippers’ invariable small forward issues.
Well, some pundits aren’t as expert as you might think, for Gomes did not produce as advertised. Gomes was consistently the Clips’ weak link, and it’s difficult to point out his useful contributions.
He was supposed to be a good shooter; only 34 percent from downtown.
He was supposed to be a solid rebounder; only 3.3 per game.
He was supposed to be a tough defender; hardly any effect on that side of the floor.
The Clippers’ search for a genuine starting small forward continues.
When he wasn’t hampered by a herniated disk, Craig Smith was a serviceable reserve.
Built in the Charles Barkley mold, undersized but exceedingly wide, Smith was a change of pace as a bullish power forward who played with extreme physicality.
Unfortunately, he appeared to have an inflated sense of his abilities, and he often tried to do too much on the court.
Smith can be effective ninth or 10th guy in a rotation, but you don’t want to count on him.
An All-Star in 2010, Chris Kaman’s season was a disaster.
Beset by injury and ineffectiveness, the center had little impact on the Clippers’ season, and word on the street is that he’s probably headed elsewhere soon, as his contract expires next summer.
Kaman played in only 32 games, averaging 12.4 points (on weaksauce 47 percent shooting) and 7 rebounds.
The Griffin-Kaman combination was supposed to create one of the best frontcourts in the NBA, but those two might be incompatible pieces. And Kaman is clearly more expendable.
Also obtained from Cleveland midseason, Jamario Moon played about 15 minutes per game in 19 contests.
In his limited time, he did limited things, never scoring double digits or making much of a difference. He’s a mediocre role player who is useful in the right situation.
However, he never really fit into the Clippers’ scheme.
There were a couple of months, middle of December through middle of February, in which Ike Diogu was filling in for the injured Craig Smith and producing almost exactly the same amount.
When Smith returned to the court, Diogu returned to the bench. So much for what the coaches think of him.
The former lottery pick has had moments of success during his four-year career, although his tenure with the Clippers doesn’t stand out.
Brian Cook is almost not worth discussion. The 6’9" long range gunner has never had interest in rebounding or defense, so he has been relegated to spot duty over the years.
Cook played in 40 unimpressive games for the Clippers, hitting occasional threes and doing nothing else.
Willie Warren, the Clippers’ second round draft pick in 2010, saw the court in only 19 games, playing a grand total of 135 minutes.
Too small to be a shooting guard and lacking point guard skills, Warren also is not a good enough scorer or playmaker to be a microwave off the bench. Just another end-of-the-bench guy.