2011 Los Angeles Clippers: Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin & the Rest
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We all are aware that the National Basketball Association is in the midst of a lockout due to the CBA expiring, one that is seemingly more serious than the one the National Football League had. And it doesn't seem to be nearing an end any time soon.
That doesn't mean that players, teams, general managers, nor fans alike are sitting around and waiting for the lockout to just end without trying to improve their games, team chemistry, or anything else that one can come up with.
Here's a breakdown of what the Clippers currently have per position and what moves they should and probably will make:
Flash back to the trade deadline this past February when the Clippers traded their often injured, disgruntled, and selfish "star" guard in Baron Davis, along with their unprotected 2011 First-round draft selection to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Maurice Williams and Jamario Moon. A move that faced much criticism around the league, but also its fair share of praise, that is, until the first-round selection ended up being Kyrie Irving, the number 1 overall pick. At that point, almost unanimously the entire sports world thought the Clippers made an atrocious trade. But did they really? With Baron Davis, would the Clippers have ended with the 8th worst record in the league and jump all the way up to the top pick? Who knows? And throw in the fact that Irving could very well be the next Rick Brunson without being a lefty.
Now, even with Irving's potential, Mo' Williams fits in well with what the Clippers are trying to build with Neil Olshey running the show. A veteran point guard that can knock down jumpers (38.6% from three for his career), find the open man (5 assists per outing for his career), and is a leader on and off the court. Throughout this entire summer, he has teamed up with his former teammates in Griffin, Randy Foye, and others to organize team workouts, hold a mini-training camp run by the players, and get the guys together to play in the Vegas Impact League in order to remain in game shape and build some chemistry. More importantly, he has taken the Clippers rookie selections in Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, former teammates at the University of Georgia, under his wing in hopes that the lockout ends sooner than expected.
Backing up Williams is Eric Bledsoe, the sophomore to be from the University of Kentucky. While at Kentucky, Bledsoe played alongside former top pick, John Wall, often out of position at shooting guard. The Clippers were able to acquire his rights from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a first-round pick that is Top 10 protected up until the 2015 draft. It was a questionable trade at the time, but given some of the explosive performances that Bledsoe had during his rookie campaign, it's looking better and better, even earning him a spot on the All-Rookie Second team.
The Clippers seem set with those two running the show, but might still go out and sign a third point guard in case of an injury. Personally, I don't think any more moves should be made considering that Eric Gordon and Foye can both share time at the point if needed, not to mention Willie Warren as well, a former 2nd-round selection.
At the two, the Clippers have arguably the league's most underrated player in Eric Gordon. Despite playing through injuries, Gordon is coming off a season where he averaged over 22 points a game and shot 45% from the field and 36.4% from long distance. In fact, from December 17th up until he got injured, the Clippers went on quite a run going 12-5 and slowly creeping up into the playoff picture from nowhere. During this time, Gordon was averaging 24 points, 4.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting a superb 46.6% (48-103) from three.
Who Should Start at PG?
It is no question that Gordon has the offensive skills to be among the league's elite for his position, but the biggest knock on him has always come due to his size. At just 6'3", many analysts and fans believe that is what is holding Gordon back from really becoming one of the leagues best shooting guards and players as a whole. What a lot of people also fail to realize is that despite his height, Gordon was recorded to have a wing span of 6'9" at the rookie combine with an 8'3" standing reach. Toss in that he has a ton of lower body strength and is pretty much built like a tank, and his height doesn't seem to be much of an issue. What he truly needs to work on is his ball handling as he does seem to be a sloppy dribbler at times.
Behind Gordon, you have Randy Foye. The highlight of Foye's career is probably the fact that he was traded for Brandon Roy on draft night, but take nothing away from the guy as he has a ton of talent. His career numbers aren't eye popping but during Gordon's injury, Foye was given the starting shooting guard slot and was able to produce, putting up 16 points and 4 assists a night including 2 instances where he scored over 20 points in 3 consecutive games.
Behind Gordon and Foye is a sophomore and rookie to be as the Clippers will most likely be going with Willie Warren and Travis Leslie as the third shooting guard options on the roster. Don't expect either to get much playing time. With Gordon the Clippers are already set at the position, granted he remains healthy and a Clipper.
The team's weakest position and biggest glaring hole is easily the small forward position. Last season, the Clippers relied on veteran Ryan Gomes to man the position as he was the key free agent acquisition. Along with Gomes, the Clippers rookie selection, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Moon, acquired in the Davis trade, were the other options at the position. Gomes was signed due to the fact that he doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective and was seen as the "glue guy" the Clippers needed. Not to take anything away from Gomes, he is a solid player, but he is also way too unselfish. There were numerous times where he would pass up a wide open three just for Gordon, Foye, Davis, or anyone else to take a contested jumper. His statistics were down from his past couple of seasons, most notably his field goal percentage.
Behind Gomes was Aminu, a young raw rookie who is thought to have great potential due to his length, athleticism, and work ethic. Aminu saw limited time averaging just under 18 minutes a game and just over 22 minutes in the 16 games in which he started. Early on in the year he showed that he had been working on the range and consistency of his jumper, but as the year went on, his jump shot began to suffer. Along with his disappearing jumper came rookie mistakes including bad fouls, turnovers, forcing shots, and so on.
Moon was the third small forward on the roster, on the Clippers roster for only 19 games (starting in seven). While being the most consistent and arguably best small forward the Clippers had, Moon isn't the answer. Gomes is still a question mark while Aminu remains a work in progress.
How Olshey and the Clippers fill this hole will help determine whether or not the playoffs will be a realistic expectation during the next NBA season. Many rumors are surfacing around trading Chris Kaman for Andre Iguodala. Danny Granger and Rudy Gay are also the targets of trade rumors, as well as free agent possibilities Tayshaun Prince, Caron Butler, and Shane Battier.
Over the past decade, the Clippers had Elton Brand, who was as consistent as you could want from the guy that is considered widely to be your franchise player. Almost a guarantee to score 20+ points, grab 10+ rebounds and block a shot, or two, or three every night. Brand was also amongst the league's most underrated during his tenure with the franchise. Unfortunately, Brand left the team on a sour note, but the Clippers now have another power forward, who seems to be the next 20/10 guy in the league with Blake Griffin. The only difference? Griffin has shown more leadership on and off the court than Brand and has the Clippers on the front pages of numerous websites due mainly in part to his highlight dunks.
Behind Griffin, you have a nice mixture of guys. Brian Cook, the veteran who has won rings with the Lakers; Craig "Rhino" Smith, the Los Angeles native who is a bruising force down low; and Ike Diogu, the highly touted draft prospect who has had his career derailed by injuries. Cook (43%) seems to be the teams designated 3-point shooter off the bench, but also had times where he was the teams enforcer when Griffin was being picked on. Rhino was counted on to score quickly (5.4 points on 55.3% shooting in 12.2 minutes), and Diogu was an insurance policy who ended up producing well.
Going into next year, the Clippers have Griffin and Cook under contract, so it seems like the backup/third power forward position will come down to Rhino and Diogu, in which case, I personally hope the Clippers keep Rhino, though I've been a fan of Diogu since his days as a Sun Devil at Arizona State University.
When the league has arguably the worst collection of centers in history, besides Dwight Howard, the Clippers aren't in that bad of a position considering they have both Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan. Kaman, a former All-Star, is arguably among the league's best offensive centers, but he has injury concerns and doesn't seem to fit in well with Griffin. He also has an expiring contract.
Jordan, on the flipside, was a former 2nd-round draft pick, seems to work well with Griffin, but is a restricted free agent who may not be on the roster when the CBA issues are sorted out between the players and the owners.
Actually, if you really think about it, with Kaman being mentioned in nearly every trade rumor you can possibly come up with including the Clippers, they might not have either guy back next season, though I doubt Olshey deals Kaman without inking Jordan to an extension. Whichever one they go with, if any, or both, the Clippers are in a good place here as well.
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