In year one under Doc Rivers, fans watched the Los Angeles Clippers grow in a short amount of time. Going 57-25 last season was good enough to clinch the third seed in the Western Conference. They advanced past interstate rival Golden State Warriors in an exciting seven-game series. Then their title hopes were cut short, losing Game 6 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As great as Chris Paul is, the seven-time All-Star showed improvement under Rivers’ tutelage. As for CP3, he was seventh in MVP voting, but he did shoot lower percentages overall from the field and charity stripe than the previous season. Rather than be concerned, it was more about taking another leadership step and understanding his new coach. You can just see the influence from the sidelines, expecting the floor general to control the game in attack mode. We saw an aggressive point guard keep defenses on their heels, either looking to score or dropping a dime. He presents a triple-option for defenses to pick their poison: score himself, dish it to a big man in the lane for the flush or kick it out for a trey. Paul is a great leader, buying into a championship coach’s philosophy and utilizing Blake Griffin as the primary scorer.
Griffin was unleashed last season, resulting in the best season of his career and placing third in MVP voting. The best player in the league above the rim, he improved all aspects of his game as well. Paired with brilliant minds in Rivers and Paul, Griffin is learning to master the simplest pay in the book, the pick and roll. Watching him dice through the lane and elevate is something special. The big fella worked on his shot, as he was connecting with efficiency, facing up or out of pick and pops. He also pushed the ball more, at times dribbling coast to coast. He’s not done, folks; he’s going to build off a strong season.
If Griffin can improve from the free throw line, his 24 points per game average could approach 30 a night. That type of season would bring the MVP award back to the City of Angels, which was last done by the Los Angeles Lakers‘ Kobe Bryant in 2008.
DeAndre Jordan also had a big year. His improvement was noticeable as was his presence was felt on both ends of the floor. It was as if he was told to dunk everything he touches, and he did just that with drop steps from the mid-range baseline.
Of course, their title hopes are better with Jamal Crawford. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year is seeking an extension, and as of right now he is scheduled to hit the market next summer. Don’t be surprised if Crawford gets traded. There were increases in his points and assists but decreases in his shooting percentages, which may stem from shooting more than Rivers would like. Whether it’s shot selection or the fact that Crawford’s 34 years of age now, I doubt he gets an extension at a rate he’s looking for.
Shooting guard J.J. Redick slightly increased his assists and steals totals. His defensive activity picked up, and he also averaged three more points per game while shooting higher percentages.
This team was far from their potential last season and still entered the elite group of teams. The entire team improved in basketball IQ and looked smoother running their sets, but in the end I saw a raw team that was a second too late with the extra pass and defensive rotations.
Lob City will finish at the top of the Western Conference with the champion Spurs and Thunder, much like last season. Keeping the franchise spotlight on the court, I expect them to reach The Finals within the next few years, if not in 2014-15.