The Los Angeles Clippers had the best off-season of any team in the NBA. They poached one of the best defensive coaches in Doc Rivers and added players that are sure to complement their stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. With the West’s other top teams failing to make improvements this summer, the Clippers are primed to claim the West this season.
Although they had some success in the 2012-2013 regular season (56 wins, a 17 game winning streak), securing the 4th seed in the West was a little bit of a disappointment considering their cross-town rivals fell on hard times after being the favorites to win the West. The Clippers’ 6-8 run late in the season let Denver jump ahead in the standings.
The Clippers ended the season on a seven game win streak and had high hopes heading into the first round of the playoffs. After leading the Memphis Grizzlies 2-0 in the first round, the Clippers collapsed and lost four straight games (all double digit losses). There were rumblings at season’s end that Chris Paul might leave if something wasn’t done to improve the team.
The Clippers management listened and made bold moves. Now the pieces are falling into place for a championship run. Here are the top 5 reasons why this year’s Clippers will claim the top seed in the West:
1. Chris Paul
How important is Chris Paul to the Clippers offense? Paul was responsible for 34% of the team’s assists in 2013 as well as scoring 1,186 points which was 14% of the Clipper’s total points in 2013. To put that in perspective, Tony Parker was responsible for 15% of San Antonio’s total points.
Paul’s pesky defense earned him First Team All-Defense the last two seasons. The addition of an improved roster and elite head coach who played point guard for 14 seasons (and coached 4-time All-Star Rajon Rondo) have supplied CP3 the tools to guide the Clippers to the NBA Finals (not that Chris Paul needs someone to teach him how to play point guard properly, nonetheless it does not hurt to have Rivers in your corner).
2. A Dependable Defense
Although the Clippers were top 5 in defensive rating pre-All-Star break, they were a disaster in the second half of the season–at one point giving up 105.7 points per 100 possessions. Only Milwaukee was worse among the 16 playoff teams.
The Clippers should make strides defensively under Doc Rivers. His Boston teams have generally been very good defensive teams–Boston has never been ranked lower than in the past five years in defensive rating. Whether it is a man to man or a manwich zone, the Clippers will munch on teams’ offensive sets.
3. New Additions and Re-Signings
The Clippers traded away Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler and received in return crème de la crème three-point shooters Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick. Without doubt, the additions of Dudley and Redick improve the Clippers three-point shooting (15th best in 2012-13) and create floor space for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Teams defending the Clippers this upcoming season will have to “pick a poison” between playing aggressive help defense on Griffin and Paul or jumping out on marksmen Redick and Dudley.
The re-signing of Matt Barnes, the Clippers’ best wing defender, provides Doc Rivers a defensive stopper. Barnes can defend multiple positions as well as play power forward in smaller lineups.
4. The Progression of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin
This past postseason showed having a dominant frontcourt is still important in the NBA. The Spurs, Grizzlies and Pacers all possessed unique frontcourts that were difficult to rebound and score against. The Clippers have that potential. The growth of Griffin and Jordan must be substantial, however, if the Clippers are to make a deep playoff run.
The athletic abilities of Griffin and Jordan are well known–the combination with CP3 on alley-oops is devastating to an opponent’s morale. But regardless of their offensive theatrics, the Griffin-Jordan combination has not panned out defensively, and both are horrible free-throw shooters.
Doc Rivers will be a great help in improving the defense of the two. DeAndre Jordan has said he’s been hard at work on his free throw shot, which is good to hear because Jordan shot an atrocious 38% at the stripe in 2012-13. There’s nowhere to go but up for him.
Griffin has had such a bright early career, but with many flaws that are easy to criticize. A more relentless effort on defense and a multi-dimensional offensive skill set will take him and the Clippers deeper into the playoffs. New coach Rivers may be just the doctor to cure the Clippers’ many ailments.
5. The Top 3 Seeds Will Take a Step Back
What have Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Denver done this summer to improve? Nothing, or worse.
The Thunder have lost Russell Westbrook for 4-6 weeks to start the season, and they lost backup Kevin Martin to free agency. Kevin Durant will be forced to shoulder the entire offense.
The Spurs spent their money on aging Manu Ginobli, who was injured for 22 games last year and then returned to embarrass himself in the playoffs. But the Spurs go as Tim Duncan goes, and he too is getting longer in the tooth and hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season since 2010-11.
Is there a team that had a worse off-season than the Nuggets? The front office is a disaster, they fired the NBA’s Coach of the Year and lost their former All-Star swingman, Andre Iguodala, to the Golden State Warriors.
The addition of Iguodala should help the Warriors continue to rise, and Dwight Howard joining the Rockets should make Houston another team to watch in the West. Can these teams catch the Clippers? Doubtful. They are adding to their core and will take time to gel, while the Clips are adding coaching and role players and will hit the ground already running. The West is theirs for the taking.
~ Jalen Bishop, Sidelines Sports Analyst