Midseason Report Cards for Every Los Angeles Clippers Player
The Los Angeles Clippers have won two in a row as they squeak past the midway point of the season, but they're still struggling with the same issues they had at the start.
It was particularly difficult to write these grades if only because my initial draft didn't even seem to make sense.
That's to me.
And I was the one who wrote it.
Only six guys got better than a D-level grade? I know the Clippers bench has had its struggles—and boy, has it?—but six out of 13 passing?
Really, that's what's wrong with the Clippers, a team whose record stands at 28-14, a squad that both the advanced and simplistic metrics churn out as top-tier. But L.A. just hasn't looked the same.
It's a classic "eye test" team, and it's true to such a degree that even the most stat-oriented basketball minds tend to be on the same page about the Clippers: There's just something off about them.
Therein lies the problem.
The Bottom Tier
13. C.J. Wilcox
Wilcox may be hovering around some (most?) people's expectations, but this can't be what the Clippers thought would happen with their 2014 first-round pick.
Wilcox has spent the season switching between inactive status and the D-League. He's translated this experience into almost no playing time, getting into NBA games for a grand total of 17 minutes on the whole year.
12. Ekpe Udoh
Udoh was supposed to add some rim protection to a roster that desperately needed it, except there's been one problem: Udoh has barely played.
The 27-year-old big man has gotten into just 19 games on the season, boasting a minutes-played total that's still lingering in double digits. Still, he avoids the F just because his book club was worth following.
11. Dahntay Jones
Jones has had some quality moments throughout his career, but playing on just a 10-day contract, he's barely contributed enough to know exactly what he's going to become with this team. For now, it's impossible to give him any sort of grade.
10. Austin Rivers
The backlash against Austin Rivers isn't so much because of what he is, but more because of what he represents.
Rivers is a below-average NBA player.
It's not his fault scouts misevaluated his talent when he came out of high school ranked higher than Anthony Davis in some recruit rankings. It's not his fault people in higher positions thought he was deserving of a first-round pick after one year at Duke, going to New Orleans with the 10th overall selection in the 2012 draft.
Still, Rivers gets the blame.
It's also not Rivers' fault that his father's team turned him into a priority. What's he supposed to do? Wait to get waived by the Boston Celtics so he can eventually settle down in the Turkish league? No, you take the opportunity that you have.
Rivers, though, is indicative of a problem within the Clippers.
That could be an issue with the bench unit or the strange decisions coming from his father in the front office or anything else Clippers fans have worried about all season. Somehow, unfairly or not, Rivers has become the encapsulation of much that's wrong with this team.
In only three games since coming over from Boston, he's played 43 minutes and has one field-goal make. It'd be hard to imagine Rivers would turn into a bona fide rotation player in L.A., but we can't know until it happens, so for now, this grade remains the same as Dahntay Jones'.
9. Hedo Turkoglu
You can't spell "He does a little bit of everything" without Hedo.
Not coincidentally, you also can't spell "He doesn't do much" without Hedo.
Turkoglu has been regressing from the former to the latter pretty steadily over the past few years.
The 35-year-old forward who was once a Swiss Army knife-type of player, especially during his time with the Orlando Magic, doesn't have the foot speed or creation skills he once did. So, Turkoglu has turned into a shooter and not much more.
At least he does knock down his shots.
Hedo is sinking half of his three-point attempts after draining 44 percent a season ago, but he's not really providing anything else except for occasional quick swings on the perimeter.
Meanwhile, he's shown a propensity to get torched on the defensive end, part of why he's fallen out of Doc Rivers' rotation.
8. Glen Davis
It's hard to say exactly what Glen Davis is at this point.
Is he a power forward? Is he a basketball player? Is he a future body guard? And why does he spend so much time on the floor?
Davis' game has deteriorated with his vertical, and it's no wonder why someone whose nickname is Big Baby would age so quickly even at just 29 years old.
Let's allow Doc to explain.
At the beginning of the year, part of the Large Infant narrative was that he'd lost 20 pounds during the offseason. Either that wasn't true or Baby gained back the 20 (and more) quite quickly, because there is absolutely no way that dude lost 20 pounds. Seeing him in person is a surreal experience.
Anyway, Rivers was asked about Davis' weight loss, and he described someone Davis' size dropping one-hundredth of a ton is "like throwing a deck chair off the Queen Mary" (h/t to ClipperBlog's Jovan Buha).
So yeah, Davis is large, and he's getting larger. His game, meanwhile, is not.
7. Spencer Hawes
Let's start with the good.
Well, there's the hair.
Hawes' locks are developing faster than Anthony Davis. He started the season with a Jason Segel-like do (circa I Love You, Man). He matched it with a Michael Moore beard. But not full-on Michael Moore. More like the type of beard a Michael Moore impersonator would wear or grow.
But we should all be afraid of the hair. It's evolving.
Now, Hawes has the ponytail action going. Actually, it's not even really a ponytail. It's more of a steeple, as if his head is the top floors of the Empire State Building and his hair is where all of New York's radio stations send off their broadcast signals.
Whatever it is, Evan Fournier approves. Alfalfa and the rest of the rascals probably would, too.
There's more good, too: The suit Hawes wore while injured on Christmas...actually, I'm not even going to talk about this. Just look at the picture above and Google "Ugly Christmas stuff" for more.
But that's about where the good ends...
Hawes has had a disappointing first half to his initial season in a Clipper uniform. The numbers are down across the board, the defense has made him unplayable in some situations and he's appeared generally hesitant to shoot.
He could absolutely turn around his season during the second half of the year (keeping in mind that "turn around his season" does not mean "put up the same numbers he did a year ago"), but it's safe to say at this point that giving Hawes the full mid-level exception was a major mistake.
6. Matt Barnes
It's about time someone stands up for Matt Barnes.
The Clippers' 34-year-old small forward gets so much blame for L.A.'s problems on the wings, but in reality, Barnes is an above-average 3.
No, Barnes is not your usual starting small forward. And no, the Clippers likely didn't evaluate his talent level as such when they signed him to his current three-year deal, assuming that Jared Dudley would take over duties with the first unit while Barnes backed him up.
Misevaluations led Barnes into the starting lineup. But there's one thing critics ignore whenever they spew "Matt Barnes is terrible" word vomit: Barnes is actually putting up numbers this year. Real and productive numbers.
Yes, opponents still help off him, but he's actually hitting open shots. You know, making them pay when they hit the lane. That's not necessarily a bad trait when the two guys defenders head into the paint to guard are Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, two of the best creators at their respective positions in the league.
5. Jamal Crawford
Another season, another year of Sixth Man of the Year contention for Jamal Crawford.
Crawford has done exactly what he does every other season.
He'll have his blowout performances. He'll have his 1-of-11 shooting nights.
He'll do the spectacular. Then he'll put up a shot that leaves you shaking your head.
When all is said and done, he's the ideal bench scorer, someone who can close games, handle the ball and act as the dominant man on a reserve unit—even if those said reserves have been mostly terrible after him.
Still, Crawford isn't going to get you rebound production, and he remains closer to a problem than a solution on the Clippers' worse-than-it-should-be defense. But the offense, the improv and the backup ball-handling make him as valuable as he's ever been with the Clippers.
4. DeAndre Jordan
Jordan is kind of like Crawford in that you know what you're going to get.
D.J. will give you defense. He'll block shots. He'll throw down the oops to his teammates' alleys. He'll set screens. He'll grab any rebound which bounces anywhere near his hands.
That's really the No. 1 Jordan trait. He's solidified himself as one of the NBA's two or three best rebounders. Actually, he might be the overall most dominant.
He's leading the NBA in rebounds per game for a second consecutive season. He also sits just barely behind Andre Drummond for first in the NBA in rebound rate, a stat in which he finished inside the top five last season.
Jordan does have his flaws though, ones which keep him from earning a grade higher than a B, and they're not necessarily his abominable free-throw shooting or his inability to score outside the paint.
DeAndre isn't actually the perfect defender. Every 10 games or so, we'll see a D.J. game which makes you think, "Holy smokes! This guy is the best defender in the league!" But he'll usually follow that up with nine more games of rim protection and shot-blocking complemented with some jumpiness, a few late rotations and a couple miscommunications.
He's clearly still a top defender, one of the NBA's six or seven best defensive centers. But Jordan has a bunch of room to get better in improvable areas.
If he ever maxes out in those, the ones on the defensive side, he can bring himself into A-range grading even if the free-throw shooting and one-on-one offense never progress.
3. Blake Griffin
- Yes, Griffin is third here. You did not misread that. I appreciate you confirming, though.
- Lots of things are wrong with me, but most stem from my mother loving me too much while I was growing up. So now, starved for misplaced attention, I do things like say Blake Griffin is having the third-best season on the Clippers when he's actually not.
- I have no comment on my knowledge of peach basket.
Whaaaa? Blake is No. 3 on this list and not in the top two?
What is wrong with this writer? Does he even know anything about basketball?
Let me answer those:
Or I could just give you the actual reason why Griffin received only the third-best grade on this team, as opposed to one alongside Paul: He's not performing as well as he should within his role.
Obviously, Griffin is one of the two best players on the Clippers. Heck, he's one of the 10 or 12 best in the league, but he's not taking advantage of his strengths.
Griffin has become the best passing big man in the NBA, he has developed his jumper from stone hands to stone cold and he routinely takes guys off the dribble in transition. He's not your everyday power forward, but he's become a bit too reliant on his newly discovered skill set.
Far more mid-range jumpers than he's ever attempted means Griffin isn't dominating as much around the basket, where he's best and most efficient. You see that effect in his true shooting and field-goal percentages. You see it in his number of dunks on the season, which has fallen tremendously from any other year of his career.
Griffin looks like a different player, and his regression on the defensive side of the ball after last year's noticeable improvement doesn't help the man who finished third in MVP voting a year ago.
The guy ahead of him, though, has been about as brilliant in his assigned role as ever.
2. J.J. Redick
Redick has three primary roles on this team. Everything else comes secondarily.
- Find space off the ball: Check.
- Hit threes: He's doing it at a 44 percent clip.
- Rotate promptly on defense: Check.
Redick's not the perfect defender, and he can get lit on fire when he guards bigger, quicker or more athletic 2-guards one-on-one, but he does understand the Clippers' schemes, part of why L.A.'s starting lineup actually has decent defensive numbers in spite of the rest of the team's struggles (of course, Jordan's presence is most essential to that).
But really, Redick is about making shots.
He's sinking a career-high percentage of his long balls on almost six attempts a night. He's actually shooting better than 46 percent since the Clips' fourth game of the year. And do not leave him open. Seriously, you should absolutely not leave him open.
The Duke alum has a 68 percent effective field-goal percentage on jumpers from outside of 10 feet when he has at least six feet of room between himself and the defender.
Redick's shooting accuracy opens up the Clippers offense so much, and his ability to move off the ball causes confusion within a defense, especially on teams that are poor at communicating defensively as the opposition maneuvers around screens.
Redick's offense isn't one-dimensional, though. He's a capable tertiary ball-handler behind Paul and Griffin in the starting lineup, and he's a decent passer when given the opportunity to create.
The Clippers' 30-year-old shooting guard has done all the team could possibly have asked from him this year. At this point, he deserves some dap.
1. Chris Paul
Well, this one was easy.
It appears Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry have usurped the "best point guard" conversation this year. Paul is hardly an afterthought, but if you polled the NBA fan landscape, you'd probably get a bunch more votes for Russ and Steph than you could have in the past.
It's deserving, too. Those guys are having phenomenal seasons, and Curry may even be the MVP. But taking attention away from Paul isn't necessarily correct, because CP3 is having one of his better statistical seasons.
His true shooting percentage is his second-best as a Clipper. A 4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio easily leads the league, putting Paul on pace to finish in the top three in that category for the ninth consecutive year—unthinkable for someone who handles the ball as often he does. (This would also be the fifth time in six years that CP3 leads the NBA in that stat.)
His 47-40-89 shooting line is one of the best of any point guard in the league, and his defense is still consistently strong (unless it's against an upper-echelon athlete, like a Westbrook, John Wall or Eric Bledsoe), even if his defensive RPM was a bit low in the early parts of the season.
Chris Paul, like unlike like Joe Flacco, is still elite. Don't forget about him.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.