After a surprisingly slow start to the year, the Los Angeles Clippers now find themselves right in the mix as the Western Conference playoff-bound teams continue to jockey for positions. Our Jesse Blancarte did an excellent job of breaking down how the Clippers may actually be underrated at this stage, and when you take a moment to look at the numbers, he definitely has a point.
Although much of the attention out West has been paid to teams like the high-flying Warriors, Grizzlies or even Thunder as they begin their predictable ascent among the standings now that they’re finally healthy, the Clippers have actually been flying somewhat under the radar and find themselves just two games out of what would be the second-seed. The Clippers are 16-6 vs. Western Conference foes, including a respectable tally of 7-4 against teams currently in playoff spots.
Overall success in the NBA can be both a finite and/or relative thing depending upon the expectations of a given organization. While the ultimate goal around the league should be somewhat uniform throughout, the Clippers are one of the teams with a greater sense of urgency in terms of capitalizing on their proverbial “championship window” before the rest of the league – the West in particular – makes it necessary to reconsider their current mix of talent.
Their offense is every bit as potent, as the Clippers are averaging 107.1 points per game (fourth overall). Chris Paul (17.3 PPG, 9.8 APG), Blake Griffin (23.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and J.J. Redick (15.0 PPG) provide the bulk of the heavy-lifting on offense with the starting unit with a sprinkling of Matt Barnes and DeAndre Jordan here and there. Jordan is still one of the more exciting players on a fast break or as the recipient of the backdoor lob, but has really developed into a difference-maker of an alternative sort under Doc Rivers. He patrols the paint both as a primary and weakside defender, and is one of the better bigs at disrupting the pick-and-roll.
Just the same, the Clippers still find themselves routinely surrendering too many points for Rivers’ liking. This year’s team actually defends the paint better than last (by nearly five points per contest), but still doesn’t rebound as well as you might expect – 41.1 per game, 25th overall – given the level of athleticism they have in the frontcourt.
To Jordan’s credit, he actually leads the league in rebounds (13.4 RPG) and is second to New Orleans’ Anthony Davis in blocks, but the soon-to-be free agent center cannot be the only player to consistently provide the “dirty work” in the paint if these Clippers are to finally reach the Conference Finals for what would be the first time in franchise history.
They’ve been heavily reliant upon the productivity of the starters (in general) so far this season, which could be why Rivers (the team’s coach and president of basketball operations) decided to pull the trigger on a recent flurry of moves that landed Austin Rivers and resulted in former first-round pick Reggie Bullock and Chris Douglas-Roberts heading to Phoenix and Boston, respectively, and reserve guard Jordan Farmar being released by the team. The jury is still out on whether the addition of Austin Rivers will be able to provide the perimeter defense and playmaking their second unit has lacked, but the movement seems to have at least opened the door for additional reinforcements to come.
Dahntay Jones was issued a second 10-day contract by the team, as the 34-year-old shooting guard brings a willingness to defend on the perimeter. Jones is never going to be a guy that amazes you with his numbers or productivity, but he brings a desired level of intensity the defensive-mindset Rivers has to appreciate.
Following his recent buyout with the Boston Celtics, there have been rumors of a potential reunification between Nate Robinson and Rivers. Robinson played sparingly as a part of Rivers’ rotation for portions of the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons in Boston, but has proven an ability to provide a significant scoring spark in a reserve role at various times throughout his career and has 32 games of playoff experience under his belt. Our Alex Kennedy reports that Robinson’s preference is to join the Clippers.
The team is also rumored to have an interest in veteran swingman and local product Tayshaun Prince if he were to reach a similar buyout with the Celtics. Boston is expected to explore all potential trade options, but would prefer to add Prince after a buyout since they’d be paying him much less. Prince probably isn’t a guy you want to rely upon for 30+ minutes a night, but he is a proven and willing defender with the type of length that can at least make things more difficult for guys like Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson or the myriad other deadly scorers the Clippers are likely to face if a deep run in the postseason happens to be in the cards.
Other free agent options could emerge for the Clippers as more players are bought out or return from overseas. L.A. made similar midseason signings last year, adding Danny Granger, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkgolu after they were waived.
Outside of Jamal Crawford, the Clippers really don’t have many bargaining chips to work with, and it seems unlikely they’d be willing to part ways with the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and main reserve scoring threat. Crawford’s contract may be expiring, but unless they were to receive an unlikely offer that would significantly improve the roster in the immediate future, it probably makes more sense to attempt another run with him.
For a team currently 20th overall in bench scoring (31.7 PPG), you can never have too many players capable of contributing. If the past few postseason struggles have proven anything – beyond the need for additional interior toughness – this team knows it has sorely lacked guys that can make plays and create their own shots outside of Paul and Griffin.
They don’t have seem to have the flexibility it would take to bring in a more significant piece without ‘upsetting the applecart’ so look for Rivers to really lock-in rotations and roles for the playoff push once the roster is set. Robinson and Prince may not seem like world-altering additions – if both were to come to fruition – but these Clippers would have to hope they would be enough, combined with the chemistry they’ve been cultivating over the past few years, to finally get this team over the hump in terms of postseason success.
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