This NBA season was a hopeful one for the Los Angeles Clippers. The offseason drama that was DeAndre Jordan’s free agency played out in the team’s favor and this was supposed to be the breakout year for the Clippers in some onlooker’s estimation. Well, drama found the team once again in the form of Blake Griffin, and it definitely wasn’t the year the Clippers expected to say the least. They do find themselves in a position to do some damage as the four seed in the Western Conference, but Griffin’s return may not be enough.
To begin, the Clippers are 9-1 in their last 10 games and seem to be playing their best basketball all season, With that being said, they have three teams ahead of them who each have had historic seasons in their own right – The Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are the elite of the elite right now for many reasons. For the Clippers to win on the road against any of these teams, it will take some extreme effort and performances that they haven’t shown consistently all year.
From an offensive standpoint, the Clippers found a way to win without Griffin’s 21.7 points per game. They went 31-15 in his 46 game absence. The Clippers have as talented of a roster as anyone in the league and their ranking of 7th overall proves that. They are top 10 in field goal and three-point shooting percentage, and just outside of the top 10 in assists per game.
The bulk of their shots comes within 10 feet from the rim (35.4% of all shots), which is probably largely due to the fact that Jordan is second in field goal shooting percentage in the NBA (70.2%). While he’s a high percentage asset around the rim, they fail to get shots near the rim at a high percentage collectively. They are third to last in post plays ran among all teams.
The Clippers are also fond of pullup jumpers (33.9% of all shots). You can count on Jamal Crawford to fill it up with his isolation moves to a pullup jumper of some sort – shooting those 55.1% of the time. Speaking of isolation, the Clippers are second in the league in isolation plays ran. While that might get them by in the regular season, it won’t bode well against experienced teams like the Warriors or Spurs, who are more than capable on the defensive end.
Scoring is not a problem for this team. They average about the same points at home (104.7) and on the road (104.2). Even statistically, they’re not that bad defensively – ranking 7th overall in opponents points per game. They even rank number one is opponent field goal percentage within 15-19 feet (36.5%), but they are suspect in pressure situations. The Clippers are in the league’s bottom 10 in opponent three-point shooting percentage (33.3%) and opponent points per game (9.2) in the last five minutes with a 5 point of lower difference in score.
What the Clippers will have to do is find out ways to avoid closer games, especially on the road. The addition of Jeff Green may be a tool that Doc Rivers can exploit on the offensive end. The Clippers will need to get quality looks in the paint for outside shooters like J.J Reddick to be effective, and Green has the ability to create baskets in the paint, along with Griffin, Luc Mbah A Moute, and Cole Aldrich.
Another possible x-factor is old man Paul Pierce. While he isn’t the player he used to be, his clutch gene is official. He’s always been capable of knocking down a big shot when needed, but he is always a huge defensive liability at the same time.
It seems like many playoff games come down to one or two possessions and the defensive fortitude to get stops in those moments appears sketchy on the Clippers’ end. Griffin doesn’t necessarily make them that much better in that area, so his return can be argued as irrelevant. They’ve never been a team that strikes fear in the hearts of teams on the defensive end and their ability to close games has always been a concern. These glaring chinks in the armor won’t be fixed with a Griffin cure-all, so the future is limited for this squad.
Outside the obvious performances that we can expect from Chris Paul, the Clippers find themselves in a familiar yet uncomfortable place. They have the talent and coaching to be great, but continue to find themselves at the pinnacle of mediocrity.
Stats per NBA.com