New Faces: Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass, Marreese Speights, Alan Anderson, Brice Johnson (R), Diamond Stone (R)
2015-16 Regular Season Record: 53-29
2015-16 Regular Season Achievements: 2nd: Field Goal % (Defense). 3rd: 2-Point % (Defense), 3-Point % (Defense). 4th: Free Throw Attempts. 6th: 3-Point %, 2-Point %. 7th: Steals,Points. 10th: Blocks.
Leading Scorer: Blake Griffin, 21.4
Leading Rebounder: DeAndre Jordan, 13.8
The enduring image of last year’s playoffs- whether you love the Clippers or think the Clippers are overrated- was the Clippers curse winding it way through another playoff series. This time it was Chris Paul’s hand injury that sealed their fate. Add to the ever growing Clippers can’t do anything right list: the Blake Griffin’s quad injury which he never fully recovered from and J.J. Redick being banged up and the Clippers lack of depth which all added up to another not Western Conference Finals finish for the best team in the Los Angeles market. But that best team can’t find a way to separate themselves from the always discussed Lakers franchise. It’s more complicated than just being the little brother which always was a trite way to describe their relationship in the city. It feels as if the Clippers are always the victim of something. So it’s hard to take them seriously. That other L.A. team, a joke of a disaster but more popular in the city and with higher television ratings, would have been erased from memory in the short term had Blake Griffin not punched the s___ out of a Clippers employee and if Doc Rivers had the foresight to build his bench with quality backups that could be counted on and, of course, had Chris Paul not freakishly injured his hand. But no. The Clippers did what was so Clipper like and so very familiar. They fell on their own sword. And so here they are again.
Their Achilles heel last season wasn’t addressed this season: rebounding. They were 29th in offensive rebounding and 25th in defensive rebounding. That won’t change much this year. Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass will do their part but not enough to make a dent in the Clippers major weakness.
Their rebounding woes aside, are the Clippers finally ready to ascend to the throne? Perhaps if they didn’t play in the Western Conference. But they are just as good as the Spurs and Warriors but not incrementally better.
As for the new additions. Ray Felton is a mediocre guard and that’s exaggerating. His best year was five years ago though he was decent last year in Dallas. He’s a career 41.2% scorer who makes 32.7% of his threes. For a team without an offensive rebounder to grab those bricks, that means a lot of wasted possession.
Marreese Speights is one dimensional. He can score some but in limited minutes. His athleticism has diminished.
Brandon Bass plays hard but isn’t as explosive as the players he is charged with boxing out.
The Clippers starting four: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick are so used to playing with one another they can read each other’s minds. Rivers main challenge is getting the rest of the team to develop the same sort of cohesion and chemistry.
The starting small forward is an issue. Wesley Johnson is a boring player who couldn’t even thrive on a bad Lakers team when he had the green light to do whatever he wanted. Watching Johnson is like watching a man without oxygen climb up a hill; he plays lifeless. But Paul Pierce, because of his age, can’t start, and he can’t shoot either so what’s the point of highlighting how close he is to 40 (13 months and counting)? The Clippers are stuck with Johnson and his addictive passivity. Or Luc Mbah A Moute who averaged 3.1 points and 2.3 rebounds last year. Is he the answer for Kevin Durant?
The Clippers start the season by going back to the scene of the crime, the crazed atmosphere of Portland. Five days later they have a oh f____ stretch. They play the Thunder, Grizzlies, Spurs, Pistons, Blazers, Thunder. They get their first crack at the Cavs on Dec. 1st and renew their Warriors hate-fest in L.A. a few days later, adding another chapter to the rivalry, this time with the new look Durant Warriors at Staples. They don’t go to Oracle until January.
The Warriors match-ups are filled with emotion and vitriol and a lot of chest thumping and finger pointing but they also are early insight into how the Clippers perform against a loaded offensive team. Did the Clippers add enough defense in the offseason to handle the Warriors high octane attack? Or will it be just another Clippers regular season and a bounce out in the second round?
It feels like this is the year the Clippers have everything to prove. But then doesn’t it feel like that every single year the core has been together? With Blake and CP3 on the last year of their deals, there is a sense of finality to this Clipper season. Something has to give. Chris Paul has never been out of the second round. The Clippers added a few pieces. What could go wrong?
It’s the Clippers. So everything.
photo via llananba