The indispensable 82games.com has launched its 2009-10 coverage, and the advanced numbers for the Clippers are both fascinating and encouraging.
Improved Ball Movement
For the first time in a long while, the Clippers are truly able to space the floor effectively. As a result, the ball has been flowing freely from post to perimeter and from sideline to sideline.
As of Sunday, the Clippers rank second in the league in assist rate, and 65 percent of their field goals have been assisted. Last season, only 58 percent of the Clippers’ made shots were assisted. The Clips are “out-assisting” the opposition at every position except for small forward.
Eric Gordon, Dominant
When you examine Eric’s numbers closely, it begins to dawn on you: He rarely takes a bad shot.
If the pass hits him low or not in stride, he’ll survey the floor for the next best thing. If the defender is up in his face, Eric will gladly put the ball on the deck and drive. If the shot is contested, he’ll keep the ball moving — and he rarely takes an ill-advised heave off the dribble.
An eye-popping 88 percent of EJ’s jump shots are assisted, and his true shooting percentage mark is 63.5 percent.
How valuable has he been to the Clippers to start the season? The team scores 108.8 points per 100 possessions and allows only 100.9 when Eric is on the floor. When Eric’s on the bench, the Clippers are a basket case (94.0/125.4).
Baron Davis, More Restrained
As a jump shooter, Baron isn’t any better this season than he was last season (his eFG is actually a bit worse on jumpers). One thing has changed, though — jump shots represent fewer of Baron’s overall attempts, and it’s paying off.
In 2008-09, 70 percent of Baron’s attempts were jumpers, while only 30 percent were “close shots.” This season, that ratio is down to 59/41.
Think of Baron and his jumper/close shot distribution like the national Democratic Party and evangelical voters (or the Republican Party and Latino voters, if you prefer): “Close shots” don’t need to compose a majority of Baron’s attempts for him to be effective, but Baron needs to keep that gap narrow.
He’s being more selective, one of the reasons for his 52.8 percent true shooting percentage — well above his career average.
Baron’s conditioning can be seen in his shooting percentage on those inside shots. Last season, Baron converted only 48.6 percent of his close shots. This season, he’s finishing at a much better 58.1 percent clip. Baron is also rebounding the ball better and dishing out more dimes — two more reasons his PER is at an impressive 18.62.
Chris Kaman, Almost Too Good not to be an Outlier
I can’t stop looking at Kaman’s early stats. They’re irresistible.
Chris’ Estimated Wins Average (a stat that approximates how many wins a player is worth to his team) is second only to Dwight Howard among centers. His eFG on jump shots is 50 percent, his turnover rate has plummeted, and the Clippers are a markedly better defensive team when Chris is on the floor.
Aside from his offensive rebounding rate, it’s hard to find an area where Chris isn’t exceeding his career numbers — and the explanation for his drop in ORR is pretty logical: Guys who are killing you 17 feet from the basket as their team’s primary scoring option aren’t likely to scoop up a lot of misses off the front of the rim.
Is it fair to expect Chris to keep this pace up? Probably not. But even if Kaman’s true shooting percentage dips into the upper-50s from its current rate of 62.3 percent, the Clips will benefit from his efficiency, so long as the defense is there.
Lineups & Rotations
Though they’ve played lesser competition, the starting lineup of Davis-Gordon-Butler-Camby-Kaman is unstoppable. In the 99 minutes of basketball they’ve played as a unit, they’re a +39. In effective field goal percentage, the gap is .503 for the Fabulous Five and .405 for the opposition. This unit has also attempted 47 more free throws than the opponents during those 99 minutes. The only thing they don’t do well is rebound the ball.
When Thornton starts at the 3, the Clips are doing pretty well, too — a +13 in 76 minutes.
What does this tell you about the Clippers?
For one, Sebastian Telfair hasn’t been effective. In his 126 minutes on the floor, the Clips are a -30.
But wait a minute! Isn’t Bassy shooting the ball better than ever, with a true shooting percentage over 50 percent for the first time in his pro career? Well, yes. The Clippers are shooting the ball just as well when Telfair is at the point.
It’s Telfair’s defense that’s killing the Clippers’ reserve unit.
How bad is it? The Clippers give up a whopping 13 points more per 100 possessions when Telfair is on the floor (and more times than not, he’s guarding the ball). On top of that, the team takes a big rebounding hit with Telfair, turns the ball over more and gets to the line less frequently.
Mike Dunleavy has been giving substantial minutes to eight players. Advanced stats show that four of them (Gordon, Kaman, Camby, Baron Davis) have been very efficient to stratospherically insane. Two of them have been quite useful, if limited (Smith, Butler). And, for whatever reason, the Clippers are likely to be outplayed when two of them (Thornton, Telfair) are on the floor.
What can we take away from all this? First and foremost, the health of the four principals is vital to the Clippers’ success. A prolonged absence by any one of them — particualrly the two starting guards — would devastate the team.
Beyond that, we’re seeing that a semi-controlled post-and-kick attack is where the Clippers are most effective. Break opportunities will surface as the Clippers tighten their defense (which we’ve witnessed over the past week) and as they improve on the glass (work in progress), but if they can continue to run the offense through the post and force opponents into making tough choices (double Kaman off Gordon? Yikes), there’s a blueprint here for success.