There wasn’t a lot to take away from the Clippers’ 91-88 win Friday night over a Hornets team playing without both Chris Paul and Emeka Okafor. The Clips had a better night on the glass and were more careful with the ball, but despite playing hard, the game had a very preambulatory feel to it. The Clippers — players and coaches alike — are ready for the regular season to begin. Before they do, they might want to consider a few red flags that reared themselves last night:
- Sebastian Telfair will be a boon to the Clippers second unit and should enable the team’s freakish athletes like DeAndre Jordan, Al Thornton and Blake Griffin to find great opportunities on the break or in early offensive sets. That said, there’s no good reason that any Clipper possession should result in a 17-foot Telfair jumper — to say nothing of his four 3-point attempts. Whether it’s because he never had to shoot from distance as a ballhandling prodigy who could get to the rack at will or his stroke is fundamentally unsteady, Telfair’s outside shot is a fast-break elixir for opponents. When your team rebounding is as troubling as the Clippers, there’s no reason to be running Telfair around screens to launch from 20 [1st, 0:45].
- Rasual Butler is an effective tool to spread the floor in the halfcourt — and not a bad passer from the perimeter [1st, 10:00; 1st, 8:23] — but he’s not the guy you want creating from nothing when the shot clock is winding down. That’s simply not his game.
- You don’t want to put too much of a evidentiary premium on Friday night because a team’s 8th preseason game is essentially 48 minutes of garbage time, but Baron Davis’ shot selection conjured up last season’s nightmares. Watching Baron fire up bad shots in a meaningless game reminded me of something Dan Rosenheck wrote about the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks. That season, the D-backs had a very good W-L record despite the fact that they’d been outscored over the course of the season. How come? One of the primary reasons was their propensity for using their mop-up guys in blowouts (i.e. garbage time), while reserving their better relievers for tight games. To the extent that Baron Davis needs…must…can’t help but launch low-percentage shots off the dribble, can he confine that compulsion to garbage possessions? That’s probably a lot to ask, but we can hope.
- Blake Griffin is so incredibly active on the defensive end, which couldn’t be a more pleasant contrast to Zach Randolph. But movement in the defensive halfcourt also demands anticipation and rotation from everyone else. There’s little doubt that Griffin’s mobility, balance and instincts are going to make the Clippers a much better defensive team, but there will be instances when he might be better served to stay home on his man, particularly when he’s guarding someone as dangerous and multifaceted as David West. If that means letting Hilton Armstrong have a shot one-on-one against DeAndre Jordan, then so be it.
As Kevin Pelton asked in his twitter feed last night, at what point does DeAndre Jordan’s rapid development force the Clippers’ hand and trigger a transaction that gets DJ the minutes he needs to sustain that growth? It’s uncanny to watch DJ prowl the paint on the offensive end and, even more remarkably, defend the pick-and-roll proficiently. Is Jordan ready to play 35 minutes a night on a potential postseason contender? Maybe, maybe not. But if the Clippers want to maximize their assets — and they’ve demonstrated that they do — investing in DeAndre Jordan has to be a priority.
Al Thornton’s effort this month warrants praise. The third-year forward was told in no uncertain terms that his starting job was up for grabs, and he’s responded with fierce activity on the boards, and dogged defensive intensity. Thornton still might not be the appropriate starter for this Clippers’ squad, but whether he’s on the floor for the opening jump this season or comes off the bench, Thornton has proven that while he might not be a paragon of efficiency, he’s a model of professionalism.