To: Steve Perrin
From: Kevin Arnovitz
Date: June 17, 2009
I don’t want to belabor the Randolph trade debate, only to say that there are creative ways to clear minutes for a young player that don’t involve having Zach Randolph move into your living room for two years. Both Mobley and Thomas’ contracts had real value on the market. We’ll never know if a more patient approach could’ve returned a more favorable deal. But that’s sludge under the bridge at this point.
We will have a most excellent time watching the Lakers-Clippers on July 13 in Las Vegas. The Gordon-Griffin duo offers a lot of promise. Aside from their individual talents, don’t you get a potential buddy movie vibe from them? Gordon is the serious straight guy, rarely smiles, expresses an steely frustration at times, yet is fundamentally good at his job. Griffin is the exuberant, mischievous jokester. Gordon plays the role of Paul Giamatti. He wants to hit the wineries, play a few rounds of golf, have a nice dinner — all without incident. Meanwhile, Griffin can charm anyone on the Central Coast, wants to schtup all of Santa Barbara County a week before his wedding, and finds himself running through the streets of Buellton naked.
Gordon, of course, was a revelation last season and, along with Ralph, was really the only thing to tune in for by the All-Star Break. Coming into his rookie season, I don’t think any of us grasped the extent of EJ’s shooting range and his willingness to draw contact. How good is Gordon in toto? Pretty friggin good. Imagine how good he’d be if didn’t have to go one-on-one every trip down and had a big or two who could find him on the kickout. I don’t care for rankings, but if your assessment of him in relation to the other members of the 2008-09 rookie class are inflated, it ain’t by much. With that disclaimer on the record, Gordon presents some challenges — and I want to be careful about how I characterize them. These aren’t flaws, per se. They’re merely the byproducts of being a small shooting guard. When a reporter asked Mike Dunleavy this season if there was anything he’d change about Eric Gordon, his immediate response was an outright dismissal. Then, he paused for a second and, with a shrug of the shoulders said, “He’s not 6′ 5″?”1
If Gordon’s size is his biggest drawback, then the Clippers are in good shape — but Dunleavy’s mild statement has some merit. We’ve seen in the postseason how the ability to cross-match defensively gives teams the flexibility to adjust on the fly. The good news about Gordon is that he can guard the ball, but he doesn’t give Dunleavy the luxury of placing him on the opposing 3. That wouldn’t be such an issue except that Thornton defends the 3 most nights. If Corey Maggette — who was actually a better defender at the 3 than Thornton — wasn’t doing the job, Dunleavy could always stick Mobley on the more potent opposing wing. And Quinton Ross could pick up 15 minutes of a big defensive assignment if need be.
Again, I want to emphasize that this isn’t Gordon’s fault. It’s merely a limitation, but it’s a measurable factor when you want to gauge precisely how complete a player he is. The same goes for the rebounding rate. There are those2 who insist that the rebounding rate of your shooting guard is irrelevant, especially if you have guys like Camby, Randolph, and Kaman working the glass. But the Clippers finished 28th in rebounding rate, and the low marks can be traced to SG, where the Clips were 28th, and SF, where they were 30th. These aren’t incidental, noisy numbers. They’re lost shots and, in turn, lost points. How do the Clips address these shortcomings? By acquiring players who can offset them. With a little bit of vision, that’s doable.
I’m agnostic on the tempo argument. There are no data that support the idea that fast-paced teams outperform slower-paced ones. To the extent there’s any evidence of a correlation, the trends point the other way. Successful teams that play up-tempo basketball have rebounding rates greater than 50%, and have forwards who can rebound, handle, and pass in transition. They also get defensive stops and play a solid brand of transition defense. To that end, I think Portland and Houston should run more, while Chicago should probably run a little less. So far as the Clippers? You’re right. Nothing good comes out of pounding the ball into the floor for 12 seconds before any semblance of action materializes. But a team with the league’s 4th worst defensive rebounding rate and only one legitimate playmaker on the floor at a time can’t possibly run an effective transition game for sustained stretches. The Clippers don’t get easy shots because their personnel doesn’t have the collective capacity to get them those shots– not because they don’t run. But with Griffin on the floor, that should change a little. He’s got incredible open court skills for a big man. Kaman might be agile, but Griffin is a thoroughbred.
Any discussion of Baron leads me to a place I never like to go — psychoanalysis of a ballplayer’s inner life. My sense about Baron is that if the basketball isn’t interesting to him — and under Mike Dunleavy it wasn’t — he has enough curiosities and interests in the world outside the game to construct a fulfilling life for himself, and is more than happy to assuage his boredom with those extracurriculars. In the context of basketball, and season ticket holders’ hard-earned dollars, and the spirit of competition, that makes him a bit of a schmuck. But in a broader context, there’s a part of me that can admire that quality from a distance. For Baron, basketball is a passport to something bigger. Some of that external reality is frivolous (the Conga Room), but a lot of it is meaningful. From a basketball standpoint, Baron’s 2008-09 season — horrible as it was — was about league-average for the most part. The Clippers are paying for a lot more than league average, so I don’t offer these numbers as a wholesale defense, but they speak to your point: If Baron can eliminate a sliver of his worst habits, the Clippers will be a much better ball club. And I think he’ll be much more apt to do that if Dunleavy lets him establish an improvisational rapport with some of the younger guys.
1 I have issues aplenty with Dunleavy as coach and general manager, but at times, I’ve also found him to be thoughtful in discussion, even if some of what he says resides in fantasy. How those thoughts are applied on the floor and upstairs is an entirely different conversation, of course.
2 Well-intentioned, but uninformed.