A review of the “Lob City” era in Los Angeles reveals that the Clippers were seemingly missing some key components of a championship contender each season. Over the last few seasons, the team suffered from a rotating combination of inadequate depth, unreliable defense, shaky chemistry, a consistent lack of what we generally call “luck” and a constant stream of injuries at inopportune times, among other things. Winning an NBA championship is extremely difficult and often requires a combination of these attributes and more. The Clippers, depending on the season, seemed to always be missing some component of the championship formula. The one constant was the need for an upgrade at small forward.
Under Head Coach Doc Rivers, who relinquished most of his front office duties earlier today, the Clippers have made some questionable deals over the last few years that deprived the franchise of the flexibility and tradeable assets to acquire an adequate small forward. The result was a rotating door of players like Matt Barnes, Danny Granger, Jared Dudley, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Douglas Roberts, Stephen Jackson, Jordan Hamilton, Dahntay Jones, Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson, Jeff Green, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce and Luc Mbah a Moute. In a league saturated with good-to-great small forwards, the Clippers simply could not acquire one that wasn’t limited in overall talent or limited by age. To be fair, Barnes was more effective than many give him credit for and Mbah a Moute was a defensive wizard last season and shot a career-high 39.1 percent from three-point range. However, neither Barnes nor Mbah a Moute had the kind of talent that is generally needed at the starting small forward position to have a truly legitimate chance at winning a championship.
It was not until Chris Paul decided he would take his talents to Houston this offseason that the Clippers were in a position to acquire the type of small forward they so deeply needed over the last few seasons. In early July, the Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks agreed to a sign-and-trade that would send Danilo Gallinari to the Clippers on a new three-year, $65 million deal, Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone and a 2018 first-round pick to the Hawks and a 2019 second-round pick from Atlanta to Denver.
The question now is, does Gallinari, whom the Clippers have coveted for years, fit the team’s new roster and bring the kind of production that warrants such a lucrative contract? Like most things in life, the answer is, it depends.
If Gallinari were joining the Clippers’ core roster from the last few seasons, this acquisition would be a homerun. However, at this stage of his career, after suffering a torn ACL in 2013 and going through multiple procedures to fully address the injury, Gallinari doesn’t quite have the athleticism he used to. He is a combo forward that needs to play at power forward, at least intermittently, to utilize his full arsenal of skills. Depending on how Coach Rivers manages his frontcourt talent, this could either be a really good or really bad thing. For example, if Coach Rivers leans on, to some extent, a small-ball lineup with Griffin at center and Gallinari at power forward, he will have the chance to unleash a potent offensive attack. The Clippers will likely hemorrhage points on the other end of the court, but it’s a good option when DeAndre Jordan is in foul trouble, being hacked, or is caught in a bad matchup. It also opens up the small forward position for newly acquired Sam Dekker, who has the skillset and athletic profile of the sort of player the Clippers have been searching for at small forward for years. Dekker has his own injury concerns, but if he can squeeze into the small forward position in this sort of lineup effectively, the results could be significant for Los Angeles.
Additionally, Gallinari brings the kind of playmaking and scoring that the Clippers will desperately need with both Chris Paul and J.J. Redick out of the picture. Gallinari’s advanced numbers in terms of playmaking, offensive efficiency in the pick-and-roll and isolation are impressive and his ability to get to the foul line and knock them down (90.2 percent last season) will be very important to the Clippers’ offensive attack next season. With Paul’s departure, the offense will certainly flow through Griffin in large part, but Gallinari is a consistent three-point threat who has the ability to attack the basket against scrambling defenses that may throw help defenders at Griffin. While Gallinari can effectively play off the ball, he does need to initiate the offense to take advantage of his full range of offensive skills. How exactly Gallinari is to be utilized remains to be seen, but the skill and fit is there. However, how well things come together will largely depend on Coach Rivers’ ability to tailor the system to his new talent and manage his rotations appropriately. For his part, Gallinari seems prepared for the challenge.
“There is a lot of pressure, for sure,” Gallinari told Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com after his introductory press conference. “First of all, it is L.A., so there is pressure no matter what. But that’s what I like. If you don’t like the pressure you shouldn’t play basketball. I like it, I like the way that we can fit together, I like to play with veteran players. The last years I’ve been playing with a lot of young guys. The fact that I can play with a lot of veterans is very good for me, a big motivation for me.”
Gallinari will need that motivation to help the Clippers maintain at least a league-average level defense next season. While the Clippers did well to add in players like Patrick Beverley, they still lost defenders like Paul and Mbah a Moute. The Clippers weren’t exactly an elite defensive team after their explosive start to last season, so losing top-level defenders will be costly. Beverley will do his part and Jordan seems to improve defensively each season. But players like Lou Williams, Dekker, Gallinari, Willie Reed, Montrezl Harrell and, in particular, Gallinari and Griffin will need to improve their respective defensive intensity and overall effectiveness for this Clippers team to do more than make it to the second round of the playoffs. That’s a lot to ask and probably unrealistic over the course of the entire regular season and playoffs. However, if a player like Gallinari is able to effectively guard opposing small forwards on most nights, it will be a major boost for a Clippers team that, outside of last season with Mbah a Moute, has struggled to slow down opposing small forwards. That’s a lot of pressure to put on Gallinari, especially at this stage of his career, but he doesn’t seem intimidated by the challenges he will face in Los Angeles.
“I want it because I love it,” Gallinari said. “I loved it my whole career. I’ve always played with a lot of pressure, since I was a little kid. That’s what I need. That’s what I need to perform at a high level and that’s what I need to bring the best out of me.”
The other factor to consider with Gallinari is his health. Gallinari hasn’t played in more than 70 regular season games in a single season since 2012-13. Gallinari did manage to play in 63 games last season but he’ll need to exceed that number to make his annual salary worthwhile for Los Angeles. Gallinari is off to a poor start in this department after injuring his thumb in an on-court confrontation last month. It is believed that Gallinari will be ready for training camp.
This Clippers team will almost certainly take a step back after the loss of Paul, Redick and other contributors from last season. But Coach Rivers, Jerry West, Lawrence Frank and the rest of the Clippers’ front office has done well to bring in a collection of talent that, at the very least, should be competitive on most nights and perhaps a bit more entertaining to watch than this team has been in previous seasons. There’s a lot to like about what Gallinari brings to the table for the Clippers, but it’s not clear his production will justify the heft price tag on his deal. Regardless, the Clippers got the player they’ve coveted for years and presumably are excited to see what kind of impact he can have alongside Griffin.
The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft
College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.
Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.
It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.
However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.
A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.
Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.
There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.
This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.
But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.
With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.
Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.
Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.
But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.
College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.
NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?
Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.
The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.
But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.
The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.
So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.
Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up
The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.
The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.
Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.
Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.
Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.
Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.
NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs
The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.
Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.
Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.
“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”
Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.
“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”
Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.
“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”
That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.
“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”
In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.
“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”
That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.