There’s a certain optimism currently surrounding the Clippers, and it’s managed to infiltrate the mindset of even some of the most hardened and bitter of the Clippers faithful. Lucking into a lottery win and subsequently Blake Griffin has a lot do with that, but the excitement this offseason can also be attributed to the acquisitions of the three “other” new guys. Craig Smith, Rasual Butler and Sebastian Telfair may not be big names, but they’re the additions pundits point to when they call for an increased win total and a competitive Clippers team this year.
Can the three new guys really push this team to a playoff level?
Hope: The new guys play as well for us as they did against us
Count this as maybe the first and last time this comparison will ever be made, but Dunleavy had a downright Bill Belichik-ish offseason. Every summer the Patriots target players in free agency that consistently play well against them. No one is suggesting that Craig Smith will become our very own Wes Welker, but the logic behind getting the guys that burn you makes enough sense. Rasual Butler and Craig Smith aren’t usually threats to hang a 20 spot, but last year both of them did just that against the Clippers. In a Hornets 107-80 victory against the Clippers, Rasual Butler led all scorers (!) with 27 points. Any team with Chris Paul will kill opposing defenses who rotate poorly, and on that evening it was Rasual Butler twisting the knife with a barrage of completely wide open looks from deep. Butler would splash in six threes total that night, four coming from his ideal location in the corner, with absolutely none of them being closely contested. Butler actually outscored Al Thornton and Eric Gordon all by himself, helping to limit the duo to a combined 26 points on 38% shooting. With Butler, the hopes aren’t that he’ll consistently put up herculean scoring efforts and dominate the ball game, but rather it’s exactly what he did against the Clippers on this occasion; provide good floor spacing, knock down open looks that comes his way, and play tough perimeter defense.
In years past the front line has been terribly susceptible to high-energy bangers who love hitting the offensive glass like Craig Smith. In a 94-86 victory against the Clippers, Craig Smith led his team in scoring with 20 points, chipped in 6 offensive boards, and made all 9 of his field goals well within in the painted area. In another T-Wolves victory over the Clippers, Smith would score 16 points, 6 of them off offensive rebounds, and would convert all 7 of his made field goals in the paint. For those of you keeping track at home that’s 2 games, 58 minutes, 36 points, 9 offensive rebounds and not a single made shot outside of the paint against the Clippers.
Sebastian Telfair is probably the most exciting addition of the new guys. His playmaking ability is well chronicled, but rarely is Telfair lauded as a solid game manager. Yet in three contests against the Clippers last year, Telfair totaled 20 assists to just one turnover in 83 combined minutes. I implore you to find a similar stat for Rick Brunson, Dan Dickau or Mike Taylor. Telfair, even with no growth or further development, is already the best backup point guard the Clippers have had in recent memory.
The hope is that these weren’t just “flashes” of talent from players performing well against inferior and unmotivated opposition, but instead were performances that prove what each player is capable of at the peak of their game.
Fear: The Unknown
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” – H.P. Lovecraft
Change is good. Change on a 19-63 team is better than good; it’s great. Still, roster turnover can be a scary thing because it increases the amount of factors that are unknown. Basically, we know what a guy like Al Thornton is going to bring. We know he’s going to score the basketball. We know how he gets along with the coaching staff, we know the places he likes to be on the court, we know how he plays with the other starters, and we know his limitations. Al Thornton is a known entity. Rasual Butler, on the other hand, is not. We don’t really know yet for sure if Rasual Butler is a good fit. We can only project the type of player and the type of fit he’ll be.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s the things we do know that can hurt us the most. We do know that Sebastian Telfair was a highly touted point guard straight out of high school with tantalizing talent and we do know what it’s like to become attached to a player like that. When Shuan Livingston blew out his knee, it really hit some people like a bad breakup. We were upset because Shaun would never become what we thought or wanted him to be, we grew bitter because we got let down, and we absolutely swore off anything or anyone that reminded us of him. Everyone recovers from a breakup at their own pace, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t the only one that thought “Oh no, not again” once Telfair became a Clipper. Telfair has all the talent and all the ability, but in his case we fear what we know, and we fear that we’ve been here with someone before. I suppose the higher your hopes, the greater your fears.
The Hope: The new guys acclimate quickly and help alleviate some of the pressure off the returning players.
The Fear: That unreasonable expectations or the demand for increased roles lead to a letdown.