As Lisa Dillman writes in today’s Los Angeles Times, the meme that the Clippers would improve once all the starters were healthy and on the court has been debunked.
Baron Davis has suggested that the problem is an offense weighted down by a heavy playbook. Chris Kaman says, “Coach is throwing a lot of different lineups in there. Some guys are trying to adjust to that a little bit.” Mike Dunleavy hasn’t pointed fingers, though he tells Dillman that guys who slough off defensively will find their minutes reduced.
What’s frustrating is that each of these diagnoses belies a larger truth. The Running Team v. Set Offense debate? The Clippers rank 12th in pace. That means they’re pushing the ball more than Utah, more than Phoenix, and more than Washington. Against Golden State on Saturday, the Clips had 22 transition opportunities. The Warriors had only 15. Pace is not the problem — and if it is the problem, it’s not because the Clippers are too slow to shoot.
When the Clippers struggled offensively in the past, the sets had that rigor mortis quality. But that isn’t happening here. They got 20 unguarded looks on Saturday. The problem is that the Clippers are settling for low-percentage shots.
Long Shots: 26
Medium Shots: 9
Short Shots: 10
Long Shots: 19
Medium Shots: 17
Short Shots: 10
And last Wednesday against Sacramento?
Long Shots: 20
Medium Shots: 14
Short Shots: 9
Long Shots: 15
Medium Shots: 18
The data don’t require too much explication: The Clippers are settling for shots way out on the perimeter, while they’re allowing their opponents easy mid-range stuff.
On a more specific note, Baron has gotten shredded defensively. He was the primary defender on 10 possessions Saturday; the Warriors came away with points in seven of those 10 possessions. The sad truth was that he wasn’t even that good. He failed to rotate on Turiaf at [2nd, 4:25], but Turiaf missed the wide open 14-footer. On another occasion, Stephen Jackson missed a layup after beating Baron off the dribble. Against Sacramento, the Kings scored on 4 of 8 possessions in which Baron was the primary defender.
I don’t want to lay this strictly on Davis, because virtually everyone has been terrible. Mobley got beat all afternoon on Saturday. Thornton has played soft defensively, and he’s yet to pick up the nuances of NBA defense — knowing how to cut a slasher off from the rest of court, knowing when to give up, knowing how to antipate a screen. Ironically, Camby has looked a little better the last couple of games, but the other Clipper big men are being drawn away from the interior when they’re most needed inside. Part of this is employing the likes of Tim Thomas at the PF. Part of it is Chris still getting comfortable with his new teammates along the perimeter in defensive S/R situations. The genius of Sam Cassell was that, despite being a really limited defensive player laterally, he and Chris communicated effectively in those situations. They trapped when they were supposed to trap; Chris learned where he was supposed to be vis-a-vis Sam on a switch or on a show. Chris instinctively knew when it was okay to drop back. But he doesn’t share that kind of trust yet with any of the new guys — Cat excepted — and it’s evident.
I don’t know what’s more frustrating — the Clippers 1-8 record, or the fact that we have no idea what’s wrong with the patient. “Everything” is an apt response — because they suck in every respect right now — but it doesn’t begin to prescribe remedies.
Please give me three things you’d do differently tonight against San Antonio.
With Parker and Ginobili out, the Spurs are running primarily a straight S/R offense with either George Hill or Roger Mason as the small in tandem with the Big Fundamental. Michael Finley is picking up a bunch of shots on the perimeter off the collapse on Duncan — but that’s not news.