When we weren’t busy obsessing over Ramon Sessions, Clipperblog spent the last days of Summer detailing our hopes and fears for the upcoming season. Now that we’re past the midway point of the 82 game schedule, let’s review that Hopes and Fears series to get some perspective on where the Clippers currently stand.
The Preseason Hopes on Baron Davis:
“Relevance is an alluring motivating factor for Davis, and when motivated, he’s awfully good. The narrative is set for redemption.”
The hope: Baron is pragmatic (and image-conscious) enough to know that moderation is his best route into his veteran years.
The Preseason Fears on Baron Davis:
“As good as Baron looks right now, who’s to say these are only temporary conditions? What if this is basketball mortality rapping on the door? What if this is as simple as a 30 year old on the downward trajectory of his career? What if Baron believes that the best way to restore his game is by relegating himself to the perimeter and he displays the same kind of inefficiency we witnessed last season?”
“The fear: He’s wed to a singular persona, one that won’t allow for an admission of humility.”
The Midseason Take: Whether or not Baron could play with some semblance of shot moderation was the fear going into the season. How’s Baron doing so far? Well, he’s shooting the ball less often for a higher percentage, he’s getting to the line a lot more, and he’s slowly cutting out the early shot clock, ill-advised jumpers he was famous for in Golden State. With his shot moderation issues slowly being curtailed, we’ve been able to unabashedly enjoy the other aspects of Baron’s game. The elite distributing skills, the post game, and the above average on-ball defense are certainly much easier to see this year. Behind renewed desire, Baron has essentially actualized all our hopes and similarly quieted all our fears with his play halfway through the season.
The Preseason Hopes on Defense:
“Crisp as 2005-06”
“The Hope: Gordon and Griffin become quick studies under the tutelage of a coach whose specialty is this kind of instruction.”
The Preseason Fears on Defense:
“I’ve been asked/forced to go on record with a prediction of the Clippers’ win total this season, and the optimistic number I’ve come up with is 36-38. And it’s this dynamic — along with the rebounding on the wings — that’s kept that number in check.”
“The Fear: That learning process takes far longer than anticipated. Thornton continues to get the bulk of the minutes at the 3, and the base pick-and-roll defense up top will leak like a sieve.”
The Midseason Take: The Clippers rank only 15th in the league in defensive efficiency, but they’ve certainly had their moments. The stretch of games where Eric Gordon and company turned Kobe Bryant, Brandon Roy and Dwyane Wade into inefficient chuckers stands out in particular. So why aren’t the Clippers an elite defensive team? They’re 11th best in the league in terms of efficient field goal percentage against, but they get absolutely killed in two important areas: The Clippers don’t cause turnovers (29th in the league in turnover rate ratio), and they don’t rebound very well on the defensive end (21st in the league in defensive rebounding rate). It’s the extra allowed possessions that are keeping the preseason hopes in check and stopping the Clippers from being a top ten defense like they were in ’05-’06.
The Preseason Hopes on The New Guys:
“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.”
“The Hope: The new guys acclimate quickly and help alleviate some of the pressure off the returning players.”
The Preseason Fears on The New Guys:
“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. 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.”
“The Fear: That unreasonable expectations or the demand for increased roles lead to a letdown.”
The Midseason Take: The new guys didn’t exactly acclimate quickly. Rasual Butler spent his first month as a Clipper taking ill-advised shots off the dribble and missing wide open looks. Craig Smith and Sebastian Telfair practically disappeared altogether in the month of December. Once the expectations cooled a bit for Butler and he started knocking down his looks, he became an integral part of this team. The Clippers are 9-1 when he starts alongside Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman. Lately Craig Smith has been called upon to fill a new role, and he’s responded beautifully by averaging 11.8 points per game on 62% shooting from the field in 19 minutes per game. While the primary hope didn’t exactly come true, neither did the fear. The Clippers’ new guys were mostly non-contributors at first, but that is clearly no longer the case.
Preseason Hopes on Chris Kaman:
“Kaman stays healthy and regains his 2007 form”
“Can a team compete with a healthy Chris Kaman as its 4th best option? The hope is that the answer to that question is a resounding “yes”.”
“The hope: Kaman proves himself to be dependable by staying healthy.”
Preseason Fears on Chris Kaman:
“The Clippers are paying for potential, not production.”
“The fear: Kaman will never actualize his full potential with the Clippers, or perhaps even worse, he’ll eventually actualize it elsewhere.”
The Midseason Take: In August I wrote that Chris Kaman “usually destroys expectations, one way or another.” That said, I still don’t think anyone (myself included) could have predicted the season Chris Kaman is currently enjoying. He’s playing a career high in minutes (36.4 a game), has only missed 4 games, and is the Clippers leading scorer at 20.1 points per game. Kaman has emerged as the Clippers’ go to guy, and might even end up with a spot on the All-Star team this season. All this after a Summer where most fans were ready to ship him out for Kirk Hinrich. To say that Kaman has fulfilled our hopes and vanquished our fears in the first half of the season is a gross understatement.
Baron Davis has surpassed expectations and looks like a completely new player this year. Chris Kaman is playing out of his mind and finally appears to have harnessed all of his potential. The new guys took a while, but Craig Smith and Rasual Butler are now both crucial players in the rotation. The defense hasn’t been great, but it’s been much improved from last year.
For the most part, all of our preseason hopes have been actualized.
So why are the Clippers still a sub-.500 team?