5 L.A. Clippers Who Will Step It Up in 2013
For the Los Angeles Clippers, 2012 was a good year.
It featured the best record in club history (at least by win percentage), their second ever playoff series win and a flying start to the 2012-13 season.
To that point, the Clippers are currently perched at the top of the NBA standings and some prominent power rankings. They are riding a 16-game win streak and have the best scoring margin in the league by more than two full points per game.
The Clippers have got to this point by receiving contributions from players beyond their stars. Guys like Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe are having career years as they lead the league's best second unit.
Even with all the success the team has enjoyed in 2012, things can still get better. Here are five Clippers who will step their game up in the new year.
Note: All statistics accurate as of December 27.
Though he has yet to debut for the Clippers, Grant Hill has the ability to worm his way into the heart of Vinny Del Negro's rotation.
Hill has long been a player revered for his persistence, leadership and reliability. Those are aspects that the team will need as it makes a run toward a championship in 2013.
The Clippers currently have two capable small forwards in Caron Butler and Matt Barnes, but Hill's defensive chops and experience will earn him minutes, especially if he shows that he can play the 4 for stretches in small lineups.
It's been a long road back from injury for Chauncey Billups, and it's not over yet.
After returning for three games a month into the season, Billups has been out for an extended period yet again. When Mr. Big Shot does return, he will add another dimension to the Clippers, particularly on the offensive end of the floor.
Billups is the best pure shooter on the roster, and perhaps the most adept at getting to the free-throw line, where he's nearly automatic. Inserting those qualities into the lineup will provide additional space for Chris Paul to operate his surgical pick-and-roll sets and increase the efficiency of an offense that already ranks in the top five in the league.
Thankfully for the Clippers, Lamar Odom's turnaround has already begun.
After picking up where he left off miserably last year, Odom has shown flashes of his former dynamic self over the last 14 games. Over that stretch, Odom has shot 46 percent from the field and 86 percent from the line—compared to his season marks of 37 percent and 67 percent respectively—while pulling down about eight boards a night. The Clippers are outscoring their opponents by more than 24 points per 100 possessions while Odom has been on the floor, according to NBA.com.
Odom is essential to L.A.'s title hopes, as he can be the best two-way reserve big man in the entire league. He's on the comeback trail, and will only get better in 2013.
DeAndre Jordan got off to as good a start as any Clipper this season, but his progress has slowed considerably of late.
His drop-off has coincided with the resurgence of Lamar Odom, who is eating into Jordan's minutes as Blake Griffin's frontcourt battery mate. Over his last five games, Jordan isn't even playing 20 minutes per.
The good news is that some of his reduced minutes can be attributed to the Clippers blowing teams out, which has allowed Vinny Del Negro to rest his starters for entire fourth quarters. Jordan will still provide value for the team going forward, particularly on the defensive end, where he currently sports the best defensive rating of his career.
Many of his detractors like to point to Blake Griffin's decreased numbers—career lows in points, rebounds and assists per game—as a sign that his game has stagnated. That's simply not the case.
The reduction in Griffin's statistical productivity can be largely explained by the career lows he is experiencing in minutes per game and usage rate. His per-minute numbers are still close to his career norms.
When the stakes get bigger deeper into the season, more will naturally be asked of Griffin and he will rise to the occasion. His improved defense will continue to stand out and he will continue to gain confidence in his jump shot—which by the way, is falling much more consistently than it did a year ago.
As the calendar flips to 2013, Griffin will confirm his superstar status in the NBA.