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The ‘Shop: Expectations vs. Reality & Korver’s Potential Impact

In this edition of The ‘Shop, the guys discuss fan expectations vs. reality, CLE’s power move and much more.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back into The ‘Shop for another week of NBA-related banter between our Jabari Davis and Lang Greene. The two of them will get into:

Jabari: Alright Lang, always good to be back in the mix with you. Let’s kick things off with the Cavs and the addition of Kyle Korver. Particularly, because he’s been in your market for these last few years and you’ve seen the best and worst that he has to offer. Korver isn’t quite the player he was a few years ago when he nearly went 50-50-90 (48.7 percent/49.2 percent/89.8 percent) from the floor/three-point line/free-throw line, but he’s still one of the league’s top shooters and will be joining a squad that will undoubtedly get him the type of looks shooters would die for. One, what are you expecting from Korver down the stretch? Two, would you like to reassess your opinion on the best team in the league now that Cleveland has added a piece like Korver?

Lang: My man. As the church folks say “it is good to be in the number” this week. A lot of stuff to get to this week and you’re starting us off with a banger.

My first thought when I heard the news that Kyle was traded to Cleveland was that the old adage of the rich getting richer was true. No, Korver isn’t at All-Star form like he was in 2014 but to paraphrase Reggie Miller – the shot never leaves you. I think Kyle is in the perfect spot as his career winds down. Remember, he entered the league playing with Allen Iverson in Philly. Think about that. In my view, Cleveland gets a steal. Kyle is a solid team defender, total professional and damn near automatic shooter with any type of space. He will get plenty of clean looks with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James slashing into the lane causing havoc.

Personally, going to miss Kyle here in Atlanta. Always good for a nice quote and his work in the community here is also worthy of note. Let me end with this … Cleveland IS the team to beat. Period.

Jabari: Speaking of teams to beat, while I think Golden State is still clearly the best Western Conference team, is it possible that Houston might actually be the best (eventual) threat to dethroning the back-to-back WC Champs? I guess, the better question might be whether this style of play that leans so heavily upon one player as the main, driving force can ultimately be as successful in the postseason?

Lang: I don’t think anyone is capable of knocking out the Warriors in the West. But I also said this about San Antonio last season and look at what Oklahoma City pulled off. I think Houston would be a live dog in a series versus Golden State, but they have injury issues (and/or concerns) that I would like to see resolved. How will Clint Capela come back from his extended absence? Also, guys such as Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have been known to be brittle in the past. Their style of play also concerns me. The Cavaliers dethroned the Warriors last season with physical defense. The Rockets’ philosophy this season is about outscoring their opposition. No one … and I do mean no one … is beating Golden State in a track meet.

Jabari: I can’t fault you for thinking no one could or would have beaten San Antonio last year, especially once Steph Curry got hurt early in the playoffs. The uncertain nature of sports (injuries, matchups, etc.) is precisely what makes each season so much fun. Plus, as someone that bought in “hook, line and sinker” to what Minnesota was supposed to be bringing to the table this season, I can’t question anyone’s predictions!

That said, I tend to agree with you regarding the most likely way to beat these Warriors. It simply isn’t going to happen by attempting to outscore or outrun them. Speaking of things not (necessarily) working out the way we anticipated, now that we are right around the halfway mark for most teams, what are the biggest surprises and disappointments so far this year for you?

Lang: Like you bought into the Minnesota Timberwolves prematurely, I put all my stock in the Detroit Pistons making a bigger leap this season. So I think that’s one of the disappointments for me. I thought after getting a taste of that postseason nectar, the Pistons would enter the season favored more times than not to leave an arena with their hands raised in victory. I know, Reggie Jackson getting hurt early has played a role so we’ll see how things ultimately play out.

A pleasant surprise has been the play of James Johnson down in Miami. Listen, his numbers aren’t going to blow you away, but his play for a team going through the fire right now has been strong. He’s probably playing himself into a nice multi-year deal somewhere. Salute to him. I definitely was surprised by DeMar DeRozan’s early scoring barrage and defying the statistical crowd by shooting long twos and still giving folks that work. And how can I forget about the Houston Rockets. Who had them balling this hard? Who? Show me! James Harden has brought his can this season and is a legitimate M-V-P frontrunner.

Jabari: What’s funny about it is that you were one of the only ones telling us to pump the brakes on Minnesota and I have never been a believer in Detroit taking that next step. In fact, I’ll be straight up about it… I’m not a believer in the Andre Drummond hype anywhere near the level as (seemingly) most others. I’ll admit that I don’t watch a ton of Pistons basketball, but I tend to check out five-to-10 full games (not including highlights and recaps and such) of most teams per season and never feel like they are as good as others seem to think they are… or want them to be. As a guy who still appreciates big men like Drummond (whether you can win with a team ‘centered’ around them at this point or not), and someone that REALLY appreciates Sir Pepsi Swig as well, it’s absolutely nothing personal against them or the team. I just don’t see them as a true threat of any kind in the Eastern Conference.

Not mad at that James Johnson reference in the slightest. The HEAT aren’t going anywhere but to the top of the lottery (they HOPE), but Johnson and others still compete and play hard. That, and the fact that Johnson recently introduced your boy Steph to his personal poster party:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtSyAaILlq0

Play basketball long enough, you’re bound to get dunked on. Some of us just wind up on the wrong side of SportsCenter Top-10 lists.

I agree that Harden has usurped the Westbrook train at this point, but still think Russ has time to make another push after the All-Star break when it comes to the MVP discussion – especially if Houston runs into any additional injury issues with some of those players you mentioned in particular. For me, DeRozan’s continued progression has been great to witness, not just because he is a Southern California native (shameless reference), but the same reason you mentioned. I appreciate outliers and anomalies like that. I also appreciate someone that sticks to what they know and are best at. DeRozan is a mid-range and deep-two phenom and (clearly) isn’t about to change that while he’s playing so effectively and efficiently.

Transitioning to some rookie and young player talk, while I love that “Basketball Twitter” continues to entertain and enlighten (in some cases) on a nightly basis, part of me really hates the fact that we have become so intent upon labeling and determining a player as either a “bust” or the “next great” within 25 games of a guy’s career. I’m not even limiting that to “fans” as it seems like more and more writers and analysts are becoming guilty of this as well. I realize we are watching more basketball and discussing it even more than ever before, but the demand for 19- and 20-year-old players to enter the league as polished and poised products from the moment they walk on the court seems as futile as it is foolish.

Lang: I have one reaction for that James Johnson dunk on Stephen Curry: WhewLawd. My goodness. Steph knows better than that. Got to read the scouting report a bit more. As a player, you have to know who has the springs to deliver. But like I’ve told you before, Chef Curry offensively serves the plates, but defensively, guys put him on the main menu.

Let me go back to DeRozan for a second. A few years back, I remember Damian Lillard and him huddled up for what seemed like an eternity in Las Vegas during summer league. A few months later, I asked DeMar about it and he said they naturally just push each other to be great. In a competitive way. Hold each other accountable for working on their respective games. I thought it was really cool. So while some people don’t like the idea of guys being so cool with each other nowadays, there’s definitely a benefit to those relationships.

Personally, I just try to enjoy the game. I don’t get too high or too low on these guys. Most players in the NBA will produce “stats” if given minutes, but we also don’t know what each team is asking of these guys. Sometimes guys don’t have the green light to pull up from 17 feet. Sometimes guys are told to facilitate and are used as decoys to get other guys off. I learned a long time ago watching the league that just because a guy isn’t doing something doesn’t mean they can’t do it in another system. Guys like DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore come to mind.

I see former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett was waived the other day. It’s not shaping up too well for him, to get cut on a lottery team devoid of top talent. If you’re judging him as the number one overall pick, then it is okay to call him a bust. But he didn’t get to choose where he was drafted. If he was drafted No. 16 overall, he likely would’ve had the necessary time to get acclimated to the game with less pressure. Blame the Cavaliers for skewing the expectations and (likely) shortening the man’s career span.

Jabari: Great reference with that story about Lillard and DeRozan. That type of kinship and camaraderie is what makes it really fun to be able to peek behind the curtain as we cover the league. I also agree with you on the Bennett situation, as that was more about the Cavs simply making a foolish choice with that top pick. It seemed, essentially, like a “well…why not?” choice based on pre-draft hype rather than making an actual informed decision. I know the draft wasn’t chock full of top-tier talent, but Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert sure would look incredible with this group. So would Giannis, but I’ll leave that alone.

Bennett is now a legitimate candidate for bust status, but “we” are also beyond quick to label guys that are progressing at completely normal pace for young players. Take Brandon Ingram, for instance. The kid turned 19 (NINETEEN) in September, but folks were acting as though he was some sort of disappointment simply because he didn’t hit the court scoring 30 points a night. Not to pick on fans that focus on stats, but he’s a prime example of a player you cannot solely judge based on the box score. Not only does he influence the game in ways that don’t necessarily show up, but you won’t get a true appreciation for how vast his skill set is unless you actually take the time to watch him. To start the year, I said he would be that guy you suddenly look up and say, “WHOA, where the hell did THAT come from?!?” at some point during the second half of the year. He’s already making those types of plays all over the court, and doing it with regularity at this stage. Are there any young players, beyond Ingram, that you expect to see really take a step forward here in the second half?

Lang: I feel you. Fans’ expectations are tough to live up to. For instance, they saw Ingram scoring close to 20 a night in college and the team loses Kobe Bryant to retirement. So they expect a new top-dog type to come in and wreck shop. When they see a guy averaging 7-8 points a game and not putting up highlight reel packages on YouTube, the casual fan is going to gripe. I am a boxing guy, as you know, but not many people appreciated the brilliance of Floyd Mayweather. The technical skill, precision, alluding thunderous shots by centimeters in order to land a counter. People said he was running and would prefer to watch guys like Arturo Gatti (RIP). I mention all of this to say, only a small segment of any population is going to appreciate the subtle things. While you can appreciate the slip screen and the pass-to-assist percentage Ingram may provide, casual observers want something more visible.

Also, it’s tough for some fans to determine how good some of these guys are when they come into the league playing well within a system. Spotting an Allen Iverson or a Karl-Anthony Towns is easy because they destroy guys. I think people are spoiled by some guys coming into the league right out of the cereal box ready to perform. Guys like Shaq, Penny, C-Webb, Zo, AI, Duncan, Admiral, etc. came into the L ballin’ – no assembly required. For the record, Ingram will be fine. He has a high basketball IQ and there is a beauty in his patience in a market that is a pressure cooker. Shows maturity to me.

Jabari: No doubt, but the difference between many of the guys you listed and these new players is those guys went to school three of four years (in many cases), so they were more complete products by the time they made it to the league. So many of these current guys are one-and-done that there’s simply no way for them to be as polished at 19. For the record, you know I appreciate that boxing reference and since we were just talking about one of the thinner players in Ingram (not to mention your reference of AI earlier), let me get your top-five pound-for-pound players right now? For those unfamiliar with the idea, they would specifically be players that play “larger” or make more of an impact than you’d expect. For example, people might look at a player like Larry Nance Jr. at face value and not realize all of the ways he actually impacts the game (on both sides of the court) when he’s healthy and available for the Lakers. Let me get your top “little guys” OR Odom/Battier-type players for right now?

Lang: In boxing, the pound-for-pound designation is a way to compare fighters in varying weight classes. Heavyweights will never fight welterweights, but P4P evaluates fighters as if they were the same size.

At the top of my P4P list is Isaiah Thomas. Smaller guy, enormous heart.

Second is Damian Lillard, he is so Oakland. Tough. Now we just have to work on his defense. Ha. But he’s on my P4P list without a doubt.

Third is Patrick Beverley. Tenacious.

Fourth is Chris Paul – no explanation needed.

Finally, Russell Westbrook. He is eleventh in rebounding. He averages more rebounds than DeMarcus Cousins. Let. That. Sink. In.

Remember, this list is off the top of my head so Hoop Freaks don’t kill me. I’ll add two more though: Andre Roberson and Draymond Green. Those guys get after it.

Jabari: LOVE this list, but would also include Kyle Lowry to that mix with the how he’s playing this season. Folks, if you feel like we are missing anyone that deserves to be in this discussion, then remember to let us know about it in the comment section!

Going to introduce a new segment this week and it will come in the form of a ‘final shot’ of sorts. This will be an opportunity to address any topic (whether NBA related or not) before signing off. So, let me get your final shot of the week.

Lang: Final Shot: Hoops Freaks take the time to appreciate this current era of dominant guards. We hear all the time about the death of the big man. And this may be true from the fact we likely won’t see another Shaq, Hakeem, Admiral or Ewing in the post. But the big man in his new incarnate is on the way. I’m talking seven-footers pulling off crossover pull-ups out at the three-point line. Seven-footers euro-stepping and shooting 20-foot fadeaways. Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Greek Freak and Kristaps Porzingis are here and it’s amazing to watch. Throw in guys like Hassan Whiteside and Nikola Jokic out in Denver, and it becomes clear as day to me that the big man is alive and well. LG Out.

Jabari: LOVE this, too! You know I will forever be on #TeamBigMan, so I appreciate that reality check for those claiming the position is “dead” or anything like that. The game continues to progress and change over time, and each position is no different.

My final shot goes to the fellow fans and Hoop Heads who continue to show support and provide feedback for these weekly discussions. I know there were some that didn’t ‘quite’ get it at first, but S/O to those that stuck with us and keep providing topics and questions for us to address.

Beyond the comment section, remember to tag us with the topic of your choice via Twitter: @JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene.

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NBA DAILY: Victor Oladipo Gets His Opportunity With The Pacers

The NBA is an opportunity league and Victor Oladipo has found the right mix of role and surrounding talent to break out with the Indiana Pacers.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s a cliche because it’s true: The NBA is an opportunity league. And nobody personifies that statement like the Indiana Pacers’ Victor Oladipo, who languished in a rebuilding situation in Orlando before languishing in Russell Westbrook’s shadow for a season in Oklahoma City.

It can now be said without controversy that the Magic’s trade of Oladipo, a potential All-Star, 378-game starter Ersan Ilyasova and former first-round pick Domantas Sabonis for a 56-game rental of Serge Ibaka was one of the worst trades in recent NBA history. After the Pacers lost by a point at home Monday to the Celtics, the East’s best team, Boston coach Brad Stevens gushed about Oladipo’s complete offensive package.

“He’s so good,” said Stevens. “We didn’t do a great job on him. I thought we went under too much. But he’s a hard guy to guard because he gets going downhill. He’s playing at an unbelievable level.”

How did the Magic fail to see what it had? Oladipo came out of college with a reputation as a two-way wing, one of the NBA’s most valuable commodities. His three-point shooting in his first three seasons hovered just below league average, which showed potential. But during his time with the Magic, Oladipo played out of position at point guard at times and was paired with Elfrid Payton, who struggled terribly as a long-range shooter in his first three seasons.

Payton’s inability to stretch the floor allowed opposing teams to sag in the lane to cut off driving lanes Oladipo has since been able to exploit. And that’s how Oladipo’s opportunity came to fruition. In Orlando, the Magic organization failed to surround him with complementary talent to help him reach his potential. In OKC, Oladipo was an afterthought behind Westbrook. In Indy, Oladipo has the right mix around him for his complete package of talents to shine through. As he stated recently, confidence was never the problem.

“My confidence is always the same,” said Oladipo after scoring 26 in a win Sunday in Brooklyn. “No matter what is going on — lose, win — my confidence is always high. It doesn’t waver. I stay even-keeled the entire time.”

Confidence hasn’t been an issue and the mix of talent on the Pacers’ roster has allowed Oladipo to emerge as a focal point. His steadying influence has been observed and appreciated by his teammates.

“I think he’s playing amazing,” said shooting guard Lance Stephenson. “He’s living up to the high expectations. He’s here early at practice, being a leader and showing it on and off the court. He’s playing awesome and I feel like, when I’m on the court with him, we’ve got great chemistry.”

There was no guarantee that chemistry with Stephenson would emerge since Oladipo plays the same position. The Magic made a valuable addition in Evan Fournier during Oladipo’s time in Orlando. But Oladipo’s struggle to convert to point guard — the NBA’s toughest position — limited his effectiveness while sharing the court with Fournier. Opportunity is everything, and the Pacers — by sheer luck or underrated genius — were able to bring Oladipo into the exact right dynamic for a breakout season.

One player who has been able to observe Oladipo’s progression over the last two seasons is Sabonis, who accompanied Oladipo to Indianapolis in the trade that sent franchise centerpiece Paul George to the Thunder.

“I think this year his confidence is on another level,” said Sabonis. “He’s shooting the ball great. He’s making the right decision, passing, rebounding. He’s doing a bit of everything — steals, blocks — so that’s just helping us in a major way.”

The signs were there if you know what to look for. The NBA’s elite wings are hyper-athletic, able to get stops and make opponents work on the defensive end, and have versatile games on the offensive end. Because Oladipo was asked to play out of position early in his career and was surrounded by talent that was either redundant or not complimentary, his true potential remained hidden.

In Oklahoma City, Oladipo’s pairing with Westbrook produced the most efficient offensive season of his career. With Westbrook as the primary ball handler, Oladipo shot career-bests of 36 percent from three and 44 percent from the floor. But now, with an expanded role in Indy and surrounded by complimentary pieces, Oladipo has been ridiculous. He’s currently shooting nearly 43 percent from three and over 48 percent from the floor. His field goal shooting is four percent higher than any previous season.

Despite his current success, Oladipo doesn’t disparage opportunities he had with previous teams and recognizes that he needed to grow to get to where he is now.

“My first couple of years was a little roller coaster but everything happens for a reason,” Oladipo told NBA TV after his career-high 47 points in an overtime win over the Nuggets. “I learned a lot in Orlando and I learned a lot in OKC that I’m applying to my game even now.”

But there’s no question that the Pacers presented the right mix of role, surrounding talent and budding chemistry to make his breakout possible.

“I think the chemistry right now is unbelievable,” said Oladipo. “We have great men and great personalities and people who genuinely care about each other. And when you have a group of guys who do that, the chemistry kind of comes pretty fast. We’ve only been together for three, four, five months, if that. I feel like our chemistry is growing every day.”

The Pacers are currently fifth in the East, and within range of home court advantage despite a youthful roster and the loss of franchise cornerstone George. Surrounded by the right personalities and talent, Olidipo has become a textbook example of how opportunity is everything in the NBA.

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NBA DAILY: Hield a Bright Spot in Tough Season for Kings

Buddy Hield has been a bright spot in a tough season so far for the Sacramento Kings, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Sacramento Kings have made a number of moves going back to last season. The franchise sought to continue a rebuild following last season’s trade of disgruntled franchise cornerstone, DeMarcus Cousins. This past offseason the franchise chose to spend much of its available cap space to bring in new players. The decision was made to bring in capable veterans and supplement a talented but young team that is not quite ready to compete at a top level.

To effectuate the above plan, the Kings signed George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to contracts of varying length (three, two and one year, respectively). These vertans joined a young core featuring De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Boganovic and Buddy Hield, among others. The goal was to have the veterans help guide the younger players, show them how to be true professionals and win more games than the youngsters could on their own.

Unfortunately, the plan hasn’t worked out so far as the team is falling out of contention quickly. The team hasn’t given up as they’re 4-6 in their last 10 games, but they have much better odds of winning the lottery than they do of making the playoffs at this point.

Despite the disappointing record, one bright spot this season has been the continuing development of Hield. At the time of the trade, both the Kings general manager Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadive made it clear they thought highly of Hield.

“He’s [a] talented guy,” Divac said. “His work ethic is exactly what we want here.”

Around the same time, Ranadive reportedly said that he believes Hield has “Steph Curry potential.”

It’s not fair to compare Hield to a player of Curry’s caliber (a champion, MVP and probably the greatest three-point shooter of all time and a future hall of famer). However, Curry’s teammate, shooting guard Klay Thompson, who has played directly against Hield and also comes from a Bahamian background, spoke highly of Hield.

“He’s the next great,” Thompson said of Hield after an early season game. “I’m really proud of Buddy. People don’t realize he has a whole country [The Bahamas] watching. That’s a lot of responsibility and he’s not going to disappoint because he works so hard.”

In a recent podcast, Hield confirmed that he works hard on developing his game, which helps generate confidence in himself.

“You willing it and putting yourself in situations to make yourself better. You can go to everybody and ask them for advice. All of that is good but you got to put the work in,” Hield said. “You got to make yourself believe. I got to go out there and make stuff happen. Because if you don’t make stuff happen, nothing is going to happen.”

In spite of Hield’s potential and work ethic, it’s not hard to notice that his statistics don’t jump off the computer screen. His scoring average is actually down to 12.3 points per games after averaging 15.1 points last season. This can be attributed mostly to the fact that he playing roughly seven minutes less per game. Per 36 minutes, his scoring, rebounding, assists are all up from last year. In addition, his three-point and free throw shooting percentages have also improved, although his two-point shooting has dropped. Hield was asked about what he thinks about his statistics recently.

“When it comes to numbers and how I’m playing, I just don’t like to really talk about it. You know I don’t like to be too high or too low or overconfident. I want to keep that same mindset every day,” Hield stated. “Let my work stand for itself.”

The drop in playing time can be explained by the infusion of veterans and competition at the two guard spot from Garrett Temple (who has been starting at shooting guard recently), Fox and Bogdanovic. Hield spoke highly of Bogdanovic.

“He’s been one of the few that really helped me to like expand my game, on how I can get open better,” Hield said.

Now in his second season, Hield has again bounced back and forth between a starting and bench role. This season he has settled into a more consistent bench role after beginning the season as a starter. When asked whether being a starter or a bench player mattered, Hield didn’t mince words.

“It doesn’t matter,” Hield stated.

Hield elaborated on his mindset as a bench player and how to be successful in that role.

“When you come in, just ball. Have the mindset, just ball. And don’t worry whether I’m starting or not,” Hield stated. “Just go out there and do your job, do everything you can do to help your team.”

As a second-year player, Hield made it clear that the way he sees the game has changed and that he has benefited from this.

“[T]hings start to slow down. You start to understand the game more,” Hield stated. “You start to pick and choose where you’re going to score in spots and be a better player in the league.”

Finally, Hield boiled down the keys to being successful.

“You can make sure you can guard and defend. I feel like you’re going to be on the court longer,” Hield stated while adding. “And the ability to score.”

The franchise took a risk by signing multiple veterans to come in and help create a winning environment in Sacramento. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet and the team has suffered through far too many blow-out losses. When the team will turn things around is not clear but Hield’s work ethic, attitude and development is a bright spot in a tough season so far for the Kings.

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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