Saturday, October 6, 2012

Season Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

Photo Edit by: Payton Wales

For the Clippers, the 2012 season was “In like a nuclear blast, out like a string of wet M-80s”. The Clips made the offseason move of the year last season,  snagging (some would say “absconding with”) NBA quarterback extraordinaire Chris Paul to run with neutron-bomb-with-freckles Blake Griffin, human pogo stick DeAndre Jordan, and what seemed to be the dizzying array of talent needed to allow the “Other LA Team” to compete with the mighty Lake-Show. A season ending injury to Chauncey Billups , head-scratchingly poor stretches, and a stout San Antonio Spurs squad dashed any hopes of a Lob City drawing Oooohs in the NBA Finals, but Clips hope to build on the promise of the exhilarating, ultimately disappointing 2012.

Something strange happened this off-season. Much maligned Clipper owner Donald Sterling unloosened the purse strings…and the team actually tried to keep improving.  Nick Young, Reggie Evans, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye, all who played vital roles (and had their limitations exposed) last year, are gone. Fear not, the reinforcements brought in are impressive.

Where small forward was once a weakness, now Grant Hill (10ppg, 3.5rpg) and Matt Barnes (7.8ppg, 5.5rpg), join Caron Butler to form a formidable platoon on the wing. Billups’ injury derailed the Clip Show last season, so Jamal Crawford (14ppg) and Willie Green (7.6ppg) are in town to shore up the backcourt. Ronny Turiaf will do his best to fill the “tough as nails rebounder and agitator” void left by Reggie Evans. Multi-talented but emotional Lamar Odom (who, eager to bounce back from his 6.6ppg, 35% 2011-12 Dallas Mavericks disaster, also figures to spend time at SF), looks to regain the 14.4ppg, 8.6rbs, 3.0asts 6th Man Of The Year-level of all around excellence he had LAST time he was in los Angeles wearing purple and gold. Add to the mix high energy, uber-athletic 2nd year point guard Eric Bledsoe’s relentless defense and evolving offense (8 ppg2rpg, 2apg in the ’12 playoffs), and the Clippers look poised to bully their way into the spotlight with their arena-mates from across Staples Center.

Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin is unique in so many ways; a “holy crap” athlete, explosive as TNT, faster than most guards, and somehow has the ability to be overrated and underrated at the same damn time. Never has 20.7ppg, 10.9rpg, and 54% shooting from a 2nd year (Yes, SECOND year; blowing out a knee in a 2009-'10 preseason  game does not equal a rookie season, guys) player been so scrutinized and readily dismissed. Critics moaned about Griffin's weaknesses (his 52.1% free throw shooting was embarrassing to watch, his defense was laughable at times, and his startling drop-off in boards to a paltry 6.9 rpgs in the rough and tumble playoffs), but from all accounts, Griffin, along with DeAndre Jordan, has been working hard to ensure 2013 ends with more bang for their buck. No matter the analysis, a 6’10” 23 year old who can give you 20 and 10 in his sleep is gold.  It’s time for the Clippers to try and cash in on their jewel of a power forward.

Chris Paul

Chris Paul used the 2012 season and playoffs to remind the hardcore NBA heads and introduce the casual fan as to why he's widely considered the league's top point guard. From eye-popping clutch shots, controlling the pace with maestro-like precision, and ratcheting up the confidence of a surging young team to dizzying heights, Chris Paul was as good as advertised. His 19.8ppg, 9.1apg, 47.8%, 37% 3pt, and 2.5 steals nightly don't tell the whole story. CP3 was once again one of the very best players in the NBA in clutch situations, shooting 42.4% (for a little perspective, Kevin Durant shot 39.2%, Melo 37.8%, and Kobe shot 36.1%). Chris Paul MUST find a way, along with head coach Vinnie Del Negro, to get the Clip's into a more varied offense; as exceptional as Paul is, there's only so many times the Paul/Griffin pick and roll can be called without the returns diminishing.

DeAndre Jordan
What does 43 million bucks buy you? 7.4 points, 8.3 boards, 2 blocks, and 189 fouls in 66 games, is what. After the Clips matched Golden State's massive offer sheet last December, DeAndre Jordan has a lot of expectations on his broad 23 year old shoulders. While last year's campaign wasn’t exactly stellar, it was definitely a step in the right direction. If he can improve on his post defense (like most young shot blockers, Jordan falls for a fake if his opponent raises his eyebrows), and raise that atrocious free throw percentage (52.5%, which is his career best, yikes), DJ can evolve into the perfect Tubbs to Blake Griffin's Sonny.  If  Jordan can cut out the ticky tack fouls stay on the court for more than 27 minutes a night, look for a breakout season from the 43 Million Dollar Man.

The Clippers were optimistic even after being ushered out of the playoffs by the Spurs, and with good cause. CP3 & Co has to feel that having Chauncey Billups’ 15ppg and 4asts (his numbers in the 20 games he played before going down last season) back in the line-up make them as deep and multifaceted as any team in the league. Billups brings a “be cool, we got this” confidence to a squad that at times looked like a chicken with it’s head cut off during close games last season. The Clippers have to hope that a full training camp to get into rhythm with Chris Paul improves on Chauncey’s 36% shooting (oddly enough, he actually shot better, 38%, from 3 than from 2).

By all accounts this is as talented, deep, and hard-working Clippers team as they’ve ever had. However, no matter how fast the car is, without the right driver, the race goes to someone else. Many (including your truly) question the coaching chops of 3rd year coach Vinnie Del Negro. In his defense, this will be his 5 season as a head coach, so he’s learning the ropes, and with a PG of Paul’s ilk running the show, it’ll be hard to screw it up. Still…when it comes down to matching wits with Greg Popovich, George Karl, Doc Rivers, hell, even Mike Brown,  the Clippers are going to need Vinnie The Black Mexican to increase his learning curve to warp speed.

So...The Clippers won 40 games in the shortened 66 game 2011-2012 season. Only 8 other times in their 41 year history has the franchise had over 40 or more wins. But instead of patting themselves on the back, the Los Angeles Clippers have regrouped and reloaded and are prepared to grind deep into the playoffs. These things take time, but having the best point guard in the world speeds things up a bit. Look for the Clippers to take a top 4 seed and battle for a shot at the WCF. They have the weapons, I'm just not sure the tactical mind driving this ship has what it takes to reach the Promised Land.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss...Lemme know on Twitter, @SnottieDrippen


Jacob Noble said...

Good first post!

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