NBA Season Preview: LA Clippers

Last Season: 57-25, 1st in division, lost round 2 versus OKC; Leading Scorer—Blake Griffin (24.1), Leading rebounds—DeAndre Jordan (10.1), Leading Assists—Chris Paul 10.7

Changes: Added—Chris Douglas-Roberts (signed), C.J. Wilcox (draft), Ekpe Udoh (signed), Joe Ingles (signed), Jordan Farmar (signed), Spencer Hawes (signed), Lost—Carlos Delfino (waived), Miroslav Raduljica (Waived), Ryan Hollins (free agent)

Positions

Point Guard: Chris Paul, Jordan Farmar

Chris Paul brings 20/10.  He is remarkably consistent in bringing 20 and 10 throughout his entire career. I have always felt that Paul is rated too high comparatively—but that’s splitting hairs. I’ve consistently put him in the 3rd-5th range for point guards in the past, whereas others rate him number 1. He is an above average defender, and an all-around great leading player for the Clippers.

Farmar is a very good backup for the Clippers here—10 and 5, basically exactly half of what they get from Paul in fewer minutes. The Clippers will have problems if Paul gets injured as there is no third option on the roster here and Farmar’s production doesn’t actually increase much in larger minutes shares.

Shooting Guards: J.J. Reddick, Jamal Crawford, C.J. Wilcox

Reddick is a great shooting guard for an offense that wants to feed the ball through Paul or Blake Griffin and doesn’t ask him to handle the ball much or create off the dribble. Reddick is a spot up shooter, high percentage from 3 and mid-range, great on catch and shoots.

Crawford is a great combo guard off the bench, bringing the scoring punch to the second unit. He doesn’t do a lot other than score, but that’s basically all the Clippers want him doing when he’s on the floor, and he’s consistently great at doing it, feasting off other teams second units in a way that few others can.

Wilcox doesn’t project to have a lot of minutes available, but as a draft pick he will get looks in garbage time and injury relief throughout the season.

Small Forward: Matt Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joe Ingles

Barnes is a solid if not spectacular shooter, and at 34 he has had the best two years of his career in the last two with LA. He is a good defender, if not a stopper, and overall a pretty good 5th best starter for a team to have.

Bullock didn’t earn a lot of minutes or touches last year, so the Clippers bringing in more options at this position suggest that he hasn’t earned a lot of trust for Doc Rivers either. Douglas-Roberts hasn’t done much in his NBA career either, and he peaked back in 2010 in his second year. Douglas-Roberts best was back in College at Memphis when he was playing alongside a dynamic point guard, so he might be see a bit of an uptick if he gets any minutes next to Paul.

Ingles comes over as a 27 year old rookie from overseas after a strong World Cup for Australia. The backup minutes at this position are completely up in the air, and whoever does the most going into this season will earn the nod here.

Power Forward: Blake Griffin, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu

Griffin is an All-Star, athletic, above the rim player. He’s been the key to the “Lob City” nickname, but has been growing as a post player and overall offensive player. His defense is good, and he’s one of the best young forwards in the league. He might be the best power forward in the league overall, depending where you rank Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitski.

Davis and Turkoglu are both past their best years. Big Baby went from promising young guy who needed to get more minutes, to disaster in more minutes, to only still in the league because his contract hasn’t expired and he has a history with Doc Rivers. Turkoglu was only ever really useful as a power forward in the stretch capacity, and in a system that let him use his one above average skill (3 point shooting, still above 40%), but with only 2 or fewer per game that skill hasn’t proven very useful for the Clippers yet. Fortunately Griffin is young and doesn’t need to sit for many minutes, especially when the playoffs come around.

Center: DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Hawes, Ekpe Udoh

Last years “DeAndre Jordan is like Bill Russell” discussion was a disservice to everyone involved—saying things like that impeaches the credibility of an otherwise spotless Doc Rivers, is a travesty to Russell, and puts an unfair pressure on Jordan. What Jordan is—an athletic defender with a limited offensive skill set but off the charts motor is a really useful set of abilities for a modern NBA team. He’s a double-double guy, a good rebounder, capable of finishing at the rim, but limited outside the basket region, and not a player you would ever run a play for.

But why would the Clippers ever run a play for him? If Paul or Crawford aren’t dribble driving, Blake will be posting up. At best you would put Jordan as a fourth option, probably lower as Reddick is capable in offense as well. Jordan is a perfect center for the Boston/Chicago defense, an anchor that lets everything else happen around him.

Hawes is overqualified for a backing role, and comes over averaging a double-double himself, but in starter’s minutes. This may be a hedge against foul trouble/injuries, but it is an awful lot of money that the Clippers are paying Hawes for a backup on a four year contract, so it could tip their hand to not wanting to resign Jordan for as much as he might be offered in free agency next year.

Udoh won’t see a lot of minutes with two starting caliber centers ahead of him, basically an emergency big man for extreme foul trouble.

Outlook: For a team with a top 5 point guard, a top 3 power forward, and a young borderline All-Star Center as well as one of the best coaches in the league I fully expect the Clippers to be hosting a playoff series next spring.

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