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2015-16 Los Angeles Clippers Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Los Angeles Clippers’ 2015-16 season.

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The Los Angeles Clippers seemed to be on a path to something special last postseason, advancing past the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and taking a 3-1 advantage over the Houston Rockets in the second round. However, the team stalled and dropped three-straight games to be ousted once again in the second round of the playoffs. With a 56-26 record, the Clippers have a lot to live up to, but after a productive offseason, they may now be better positioned for a deeper postseason run.

Basketball Insiders previews the Los Angeles Clippers’ 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

In my recent Q&A with Blake Griffin, I described the Clippers this way: They have two Most Valuable Player candidates (Griffin and Chris Paul), a former Coach of the Year (Doc Rivers), a Finals MVP (Paul Pierce), a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (DeAndre Jordan), a two-time Sixth Man of the Year (Jamal Crawford) and a combined 23 All-Star appearances. There’s no question this team is talented. Don’t sleep on the Clippers in the Western Conference this season, as this could be the year they put it all together and play to their full potential.

2nd Place — Pacific Division

-Alex Kennedy

Few teams had as good an offseason as the Clippers, who not only wrestled DeAndre Jordan away from the white-knuckled clutches of Mark Cuban, but also added Josh Smith and Paul Pierce on friendly deals and nabbed Lance Stephenson away from Charlotte for very little. A lot has been made about what role Jamal Crawford will have on this team moving forward, but all that means is the team’s biggest problem is having too much talent. Philadelphia would trade all their first round picks for the next 15 years to have that problem. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jordan constitute an elite big three, but Pierce, Stephenson, Smith, Crawford and J.J. Redick put them in the conversation for title favorites. Golden State is a fast rabbit to catch, but the Clippers look like they’re closer than anybody to getting there. If only their new uniforms weren’t so painful to look at it would be a lot easier to get unabashedly excited about the upcoming season.

2nd Place — Pacific Division

-Joel Brigham

The Clippers were winners in offseason free agency. They kept DeAndre Jordan from the lures of the Dallas Mavericks; signed Josh Smith, who is coming off a turnaround season with the Houston Rockets; brought playoff sharpshooter Paul Pierce back home; and added backcourt depth with Pablo Prigioni. The Clippers also traded for Lance Stephenson, who is looking to bounce back from a forgettable season with the Charlotte Hornets. Then again, winning in the regular season hasn’t been the Clippers problem. They should, once again, be one of the top teams in the West. But if they don’t become a legitimate title contender this season, at some point it is time to change up their core.

2nd Place — Pacific Division

-Jessica Camerato

In short, the Clippers have everything they need to win a championship. Their depth is vastly improved thanks to the additions of Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson and Pablo Prigioni and the experience of last year’s meltdown against the Rockets could, in theory, make them stronger. I believe the Clippers could have won everything last year, so this year, I am leaning toward choosing them as my preseason favorite to win everything. I did that last year and ended up looking silly, but what can I say? I believe in Chris Paul and I believe in Doc Rivers. I’ll take the Warriors to repeat as division champions but if they see the Clippers in the playoffs, I might take Paul and Pierce to score the upset.

2nd Place — Pacific Division

-Moke Hamilton

What an up and down summer for the Los Angeles Clippers. The team almost lost center DeAndre Jordan in free agency but managed to convince the big man to stay home. Jordan’s change of heart could be the difference between title contention and what appeared to be a trip to the middle of the pack out West. The team added Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Wesley Johnson to solidify depth on the wings and interior. There’s no doubt the Clippers are geared up for a title run – on paper at least.

2nd Place — Pacific Division

-Lang Greene

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: Chris Paul

Blake Griffin could easily be listed as the team’s top weapon, and the Clippers need him to be neck and neck with Paul, but the veteran point guard drives the team’s offense both as scorer and playmaker. Paul is a true point guard, who almost always looks for his teammates first — but he’s also a crafty individual scorer. The Paul/Griffin duo is a special combination.

Top Defensive Player: DeAndre Jordan

Jordan was the top rebounder in the NBA last season, and is a shot-blocking presence. The Clippers rely on their center to protect the rim, and have struggled to get stops in recent years when he’s on the bench. Almost losing Jordan to the Dallas Mavericks would have been a significant setback defensively for the Clippers.

Top Playmaker: Chris Paul

“Top Playmaker in the NBA” would work here as well.  Paul is a ball-dominant point guard, but he’s not holding onto the rock without purpose or stagnating the offense to get his shot – rather he’s orchestrating one of the NBA’s better offensive units with the Clippers. Low turnovers, on-the-money lobs, pick and roll, Paul is the best at what he does.

Top Clutch Player: Paul Pierce

Both Paul and Griffin have had their moments as clutch players — and their failures, especially in the postseason. The Clippers have added aformer Boston Celtics champion in Pierce, and while he’ll turn 38 years old before the season starts, the Inglewood star is still a go-to end-of-game scorer. Last playoffs, Pierce was a big part of the Washington Wizards’ success — although his last-second shot to tie against the Atlanta Hawks was a hair late. In the moments where the Clippers have crumbled in the recent past, Pierce now gives the team a different option to turn to.

The Unheralded Player: Wesley Johnson

Johnson came into the league as a heralded player with the Minnesota Timberwolves as the fourth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He didn’t live up to the hype, and after two aimless seasons with the struggling Los Angeles Lakers, Johnson has yet to earn his keep in the NBA.  All that said, he’s very athletic and has good instincts as a perimeter defender. Johnson can’t be relied on for consistent offense, but can hit an open three-pointer. Finally surrounded by a quality team, Johnson may show he has something of true value to offer the Clippers. A wild card could be Lance Stephenson, if he can return to form after a down year with the Charlotte Hornets.

Best New Addition: Josh Smith

In addition to Pierce,  Smith was a great get by the Clippers for a one-year minimum salary. The versatile veteran can defend multiple positions and may play a bit of everything in the front court; from small forward all the way to small-ball center. Smith isn’t a great shooter but he can hit in bunches, and is an above-average playmaker for a forward.

-Eric Pincus

Who We Like

Chris Paul: Because Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin: At times over the past couple of years, Griffin has shown signs of being an unstoppable force near the basket. He’s improved his shooting range, but needs to find that consistency where he flat out can’t be denied every night. He recently discussed that (and many other things) with our own Alex Kennedy.

The starting five: J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan complement Paul and Griffin well. Coach Doc Rivers hasn’t committed to a small forward yet. Whether they go with the veteran scorer Pierce or the athletic Johnson, the Clippers will have a formidable starting five.

The improved reserves: The Clippers’ biggest weakness last season was bench depth. Now with Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith, Austin Rivers, Pablo Prigioni, Cole Aldrich, Lance Stephenson and either Johnson or Pierce, the team has a strong reserve core.

-Eric Pincus

Strengths

In each of the last two years, the Clippers have had the No. 1 offense in the NBA. They clearly score the ball with ease, averaging 109.8 points per 100 possessions last year. This L.A. squad has talent, depth, continuity and hunger. Some of the bench pieces have changed, and Matt Barnes is gone, but the core of the team has put in time together. They’ve fallen short year after year, but have the most talented roster in the Griffin/Paul era.  The Clippers should have a formidable run in them this season.

-Eric Pincus

Weaknesses

Maybe the Clippers don’t ever get over that playoff hump, and remain an almost-great franchise that never quite got it done. The depth behind DeAndre Jordan at the center position is a bit of a concern, although small-ball could work well as a backup plan. Jordan’s free-throw shooting is always an issue as well. The Clippers aren’t perfect behind Paul at the point with an aging Pablo Prigioni and a still developing Austin Rivers.

-Eric Pincus

The Burning Question

Are the Clippers’ short-comings an inherent defect or will they finally break through in the playoffs?

Two years ago, Chris Paul made key errors that cost the Clippers a playoff game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and ultimately the series. The Clippers had the Rockets on the ropes at Staples Center in an elimination game and just fell apart. In both years, the Clippers’ only failure wasn’t in the “choke” games, but in the subsequent games where they didn’t show the fortitude to overcome and prevail. Was it bad luck, lack of depth or situational issues – or will the Griffin/Paul/Jordan core always find a way to flame out in the first or second round?

-Eric Pincus

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