The Los Angeles Clippers are in unknown territory this season after years of lurking around the Western Conference’s basement and are now being considered as one of the best teams in the entire NBA. But the question is, are the Clippers a real contender or just another solid team with a gaudy regular season record?
On paper, the statistics all point to the Clippers being a contender. The Clippers currently rank in the top-third of the NBA in almost every major offensive and defensive category. They are ninth in points per game (100.5), fourth in field goal percentage (.474), fourth in points per game allowed (93.9) and hold their opponent to the fifth-lowest field goal percentage in the league (.438). But for all their positives, the Clippers do have flaws.
Despite having superior interior athletes Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the roster the Clippers are only in the middle of the pack in rebounding. This may come across as nitpicking, but in the playoffs when you are up against the best in the West and teams typically amp up their defensive pressure being able to secure the rebound becomes a huge priority. Six of the teams ahead of the Clippers in rebounds per game are playoff-seeded teams, and another team above them is the surging Los Angeles Lakers. Being able to aggressively attack the glass is key in the playoffs.
The Clippers also rely a little too heavily on point guard Chris Paul in the half court game. If the ball isn’t in Paul’s hands, the Clippers offense is a bit stagnant. Griffin is a good passer out of the post and double teams but if he’s being guarded one-on-one, that becomes a moot skill. Chauncey Billups is capable of creating shots for teammates, but Billups is also aging and has lost a step.
Lastly, besides being energetic the Clippers bench has no real identity. Reserve PG Eric Bledsoe is aggressive attacking the basket and creating havoc, come playoff time teams will play off of him and dare him to shoot the jumper. Backup guard Jamal Crawford is a dribble-heavy gunner that has never met a shot he didn’t think he could make. The Clippers back up bigs Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf leave much to be desired at this stage in their careers. Grant Hill is looking more and more his 40-years of age every day.
The Clippers may indeed be one of the better teams in the NBA this season, but I wouldn’t peg them as true championship contenders. Not with the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs still playing at a high level. The Clippers are good and exciting to watch, but when it comes down to the wire the Clippers are still about a year of growth away from truly challenging for the top spot in the Western Conference.