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NBA AM: Clippers Thriving Without Blake Griffin

Even without Blake Griffin, the Clippers seem to have righted their ship in Los Angeles.

Moke Hamilton

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Clippers Thriving Without Blake Griffin

Even without Blake Griffin, for the Los Angeles Clippers, it’s been smooth sailing.

Griffin last took the floor for the Clippers on Christmas Day. The Clippers were just 16-13 at that point and widely considered to be one of the more disappointing teams in the Western Conference.

Now, just 18 days later, they’re the hottest team in the NBA.

“If anyone would have said you’re gonna lose Blake Griffin and win nine in a row, not a lot of people would have believed you,” Jamal Crawford said recently.

And regardless as to whether that win streak extends into double digits, it is easy to see that the Clippers have found what Doc Rivers has been searching for.

* * * * *

It’s about two weeks before Christmas and the Clippers are playing a Saturday matinee in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The team pulls out the win, but afterward the upbeat Rivers let it be known that his team still has a long way to go.

Offensively, Rivers said that he believed the Clippers were among the top teams in the league, but their defense, the coach said, is what would make all the difference in the world. And that second unit? Rivers wanted to see more from them.

One month later, the Clippers have seemingly flown under the radar and have established themselves as one of the top teams in the West. It just so happens that nobody is paying attention.

BlakeGriffinInsideOnly12“I don’t think we found anything new,” Chris Paul said with a shrug. “I think our defense—we’re just buying into the principles a little more consistently.”

“For us, we’re just trying to stay consistent,” Crawford said. “We’re not trying to break any streaks or anything, we’re just trying to play good basketball and figure out exactly what we’re gonna do and hold the fort until Blake gets back and incorporate him from there.”

Funny thing is, the rest of the NBA is trying to figure these Clippers out, as well.

Secretly being driven by a want to avenge their collapse to the Houston Rockets during last season’s playoffs, at least publicly, these Clippers are following the old adage that Rivers used to preach his to Boston Celtics.

It’s a long season. 

Don’t listen to what anyone else thinks or says about you. 

Just take it one day at a time.

So far, so good.

“It’s just the spirit that I think that we’ve been playing with,” Paul says when asked what has changed for these Clippers.

“When you lose someone as important as Blake, everybody knew they had to step up, so it’s by committee. A lot of times, we just throw it to him and watch him go to work. Now, you know we’re having to do a lot more, our defense sort of came together and we just keep trying to hold it down until he gets back.”

Like the Washington Wizards, the Clippers have dealt with quite a few issues en route to their slow start, but since 2016, the team will enter play on January 12 as the hottest team in the league and one that seems rejuvenated in their pursuit of the accomplishments that their collective talent could yield.

When asked to explain the cause of the slow start, Crawford offers several reasons.

“I think a combination of things,” Crawford said. “Obviously, I missed time before in the past, J.J. [Redick] has missed time, Chris has missed time, Blake has missed time. The only guy out of that core group that’s been a constant has been DeAndre [Jordan].

“We’ve kind of figured out ways to play and I think we’ve all stepped it up; it doesn’t have to be one person every single game and I think our second unit is finding continuity and I think that helps keep the starters off the floor so they’re fresher down the stretch.”

Luc Mbah a Moute, a new face on these Clippers, points out that there are nine new faces on this Clippers team. According to the veteran forward, the team’s recent success has just as much to do with their improved effort on the defensive end as it does with the simple fact that the team is collectively building chemistry.

Whatever the cause, the Clippers have very quietly been playing great basketball. A lot has changed over the past month.

Yet still, surprisingly, even without the All-Star Griffin in the lineup, at least recently, it’s been smooth sailing for the Clippers.

New Basketball Insiders Podcast!

In the latest installment of the Basketball Insiders Podcast, Alex Kennedy and Tommy Beer discuss players who may be traded before the deadline, the success of the New York Knicks and the Eastern Conference landscape. Listen below:

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#27 – Robert Williams III – Boston Celtics

With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Ben Nadeau

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With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Although there were early week rumors that the Celtics might try to trade up, they’ve ultimately elected to find a difference-maker at the end of the first round instead. For a team that nearly reached the NBA Finals despite debilitating injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston’s roster didn’t need a wholesale change on draft night. But at No. 27, they’ll be more than happy to leave with the mysterious-but-talented Williams.

Last year, Williams was viewed as a potential first-rounder before he returned to Texas A&M for his sophomore year. In 2017-18, Williams averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds on 63.2 percent from the field, fueling the Aggies to a 22-13 record. During this current pre-draft process, Williams looked poised to become a mid-first-round selection once again — but his stock faded as the big night got closer. In fact, Williams even decided to watch the draft with his family, even though he was a green room invitee.

His stock has undoubtedly dropped as of late, but this may end up being the steal of the draft — naturally, he dropped right into general manager Danny Ainge’s lap. Williams, 6-foot-10, is a freak athlete that’ll bring a new look to an already fearsome defensive unit in Boston. At A&M, Williams won back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Of course, he’ll get the opportunity to learn from the hard-nosed Al Horford, a five-time All-Star and the defensive linchpin for Boston — a win-win situation for all.

Williams, 20, joins an extremely young core in Boston that also includes Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, among others.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#26 – Landry Shamet – Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers select Landry Shamet with the 26th overall pick.

Dennis Chambers

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With the 26th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select guard Landry Shamet of Wichita State.

Shamet, if he is able to fulfill his potential, should provide the Sixers with some much-needed shooting, as their rotation was noticeably starved for another deadeye sniper.

A career 43.7 percent three-point shooter, Shamet sank 44.2 percent of his shots from downtown last season, and he did so while firing nearly six attempts from deep a game. Sliding Shamet at the guard position alongside franchise point guard Ben Simmons allows for another weapon at Simmons’ disposal.

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 21 years old, Shamet has the size to play either guard spot in the NBA (especially given Philadelphia’s lengthy and versatile lineup). Along with his shooting ability, Shamet also led the American Athletic Conference with 166 assists last season. With Markelle Fultz still a question mark for Philadelphia, Shamet provides a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, whether in the starting lineup or in the reserve unit.

The first round of the 2018 NBA Draft was a whirlwind for the Sixers, and they ultimately land two guards of very separate varieties: an upside-laden athlete in Zhaire Smith, and a skillful “veteran” rookie whose skillset is established.

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