Title Contenders: Strengths & Weaknesses of the Los Angeles Clippers
In 2013-14, the Los Angeles Clippers were considered an offensive-oriented team. Playing in the Western Conference, the uptempo style certainly plays into the hands of their talent. There is a saying that the better coaches, including Clippers coach Doc Rivers, live by “players win games, but teams win championships.”
Rivers has implemented this as part of a foundation for a team that has become a title contender. With arguably the best point guard in basketball, Chris Paul, Rivers orchestrated the highest-scoring team in the NBA last season at 107.9 points per game. Their rank across the league should remain near the top with firepower coming off the pine, headlined by reigning Sixth Man award winner Jamal Crawford.
A big part of the process was how well they took care of the basketball. From the bigs to the shooters, everyone knew their roles and followed CP3′s lead. The Clippers minimized their turnovers to 13.3 per game, tied for sixth best in basketball, and racked up the third most assists. This offseason the team moved on from Darren Collison, replacing him with the seasoned Jordan Farmar. They also replaced backup center Ryan Hollins with Spencer Hawes, an unselfish player with a perimeter touch. Those two additions should help this team in multiple categories.
With the expansion of MVP candidate Blake Griffin‘s range and DeAndre Jordan throwing down every pass he received, there’s no wonder they put up the points they did. Looking back at the numbers, Lob City ranked third in the league with an efficient 47% average from the field. The only two teams in front of them, the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat,played in the NBA Finals. With the bigs improving down low, another offseason together should have the role players using better spacing with better shot selection.
What else comes from sharing the basketball and having bigs that can finish in the paint? They got to the free throw line more than every team, with the exception of the Houston Rockets, at 29 attempts per contest. They were able to connect on an average 21 free throws, third most in the Association. Last season they fired the eighth most shots from downtown, while ranking 12th in makes.
When you consider Crawford and J.J. Redick as the only true long-range shooters on the roster, the rest of the squad should take a step in. With CP3 and Griffin demanding attention and Jordan threatening to clean up, the rest of the squad will certainly spot up but should have the spacing to shoot better shots. I’m talking about guys that are capable of hitting the 3-ball like Matt Barnes (34%), Jared Dudley (36%), and Spencer Hawes (42%). Those are great numbers, especially since those are contributors and not the top perimeter options. Drawing out defenders forces the opposition to rotate and they’ll be reluctant to leave Griffin or Jordan near the rim. Aside from a lob, the end result will be an open mid-range shot or a late rotation that sends them to the line.
Not only does this boost their 73% from the stripe, it should help their eighth worst percentage behind the arc as well (35%). This is a team that put up 24 bombs a game. They have the luxury to shoot freely since they take care of the ball and share it at a high rate, but they have to shoot better than that to knock out the Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder. Take the Spurs for example, they take three less treys per game and lead the league in three-point efficiency at 40%.
The Clippers are an elite team, so there’s things on the defensive end that they do right, also at a high level.
This is a group that locked down the arc like no other, holding opponents to a league low 33%. Their defense harassed opponents and contested enough shots by allowing the fourth fewest field goal percentage. Funneling offenses to Jordan the rim protector, they forced the seventh most turnovers and fourth most steals.
I don’t expect a big drop off or increase in those categories, but the areas to improve are free throws, rebounding, and defensive rotations. With free throws, I mean making a higher percentage and fouling less, since they allowed the eighth most attempts. Defensive rotations will be something to watch from start to finish. Their opponents averaged 101 points, the sixth most assists, and out-rebounded them in 2013-14.
Fan or foe, you now know what the Clippers are all about heading into the season.