Kim Hughes is a delightfully candid man. Not Stan Van Gundy candid, or even Gregg Popovich candid. It’s more of a plain-spoken Midwestern brand of candor.
As forthcoming as Hughes has been over the past 48 hours, his frank answer to the question, “Does the team have enough playmakers and ballhandlers to truly execute a running game,” was disarming.
“Perhaps not,” Hughes said in his first postgame press conference. “That was somewhat exposed tonight.”
I have no qualms with Hughes or anyone else knocking down some walls in the Clippers offense, but to mount a running attack just because Mike Dunleavy subscribed to a militantly structured offense seems rash, especially if you don’t have the personnel to execute that kind of game effectively. The Clippers simply don’t have the playmakers to be a transition-oriented offense. That requires wings who can handle the ball like points, and players apart from the point guard who can legitimately create for others.
The Clippers are built to be a half-court offensive team. Though he might not want to admit it, Baron Davis is no less a half-court point guard than he is a transition improviser. He’s best when posting up at the left elbow, where he can generate higher-percentage shots. So far as long distance goes, Davis is far more accurate off the catch-and-shoot (which generally occurs on a reversal or skip pass in a more deliberate possession) than off the dribble (something he’s tempted to do in transition). His incredible passing skills allow him to find angles in the half-court that few other point guards can.
I realize Baron has more fun running the break, but to suggest that the best way to maximize this particular collection of players is to unfurl organized chaos is preposterous. Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis and Al Harrington aren’t walking through that door.
You don’t have to run a half-court offense as Mike Dunleavy did. Hundreds of professional coaches have designed schemes that don’t grate on their players. I suspect Kim Hughes could find opportunities for Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Davis to get open looks at the basket. But to say that “you want to run” just because, as a tactic, you sense it represents a 180 departure from what wasn’t working, seems silly. Sometimes life requires only a 75 degree adjustment, at least schematically. If you want to completely flip things tonally, then go right ahead. No complaints here.
In short, assess the personnel, and figure out some stuff that gets your scorers space. Sometimes those opportunities will come in transition. But often they won’t, particularly for this collection of talent.
Excerpts from my piece on the game at ESPN Los Angeles:
“It wasn’t a whole lot of fun,” Hughes said.
The Clippers’ desire to refashion their offense as an up-tempo outfit overlooks a key problem: The roster might lack the personnel to turn that vision into a reality. Hughes conceded that possibility when asked if he had the playmakers and ball-handlers to truly execute a running game.
“Perhaps not,” Hughes said. “That was somewhat exposed tonight.”
Next door in the locker room, the Clippers’ players were of a different opinion. To a man, they regarded the blowout loss to San Antonio as nothing more than basketball throat-clearing.
“It’s going to take some time,” Davis said. “We’ve all been playing a certain way for a year and a half. It’s just a matter of time before we all get together and start clicking.”
In his new role, Davis was shaky in 28 minutes. He scored eight points, dished out nine assists but turned the ball over eight times. Still, he was in decidedly good spirits after the game and bullish on the path set out by Hughes. After Davis finished his formal session with the media, he ambled over to the other side of the locker room to offer encouragement.
“We’re gonna be alright,” Davis said to some teammates. “I’m not trippin’. We just got to stick with each other and change our mentality — not turn the ball over and get shots. If we can get our turnovers down to 10 or 11 a game, we’re going to be alright.”
… On a night when the Clippers sought to ignite the fast break, their most successful offense came in half-court sets run through Kaman. He led the Clippers with 21 points on eight-for-16 shooting from the field. Encouraged by his new coach to move the ball when confronted by double teams, Kaman delivered some nice passes, including a pretty kick-out to Gordon in the far corner that led to an old-fashioned three-point play…
The Clippers are a team in transition, engaged in a dialectic between the more formal offense of Dunleavy and the run-and-gun style professed by Hughes. But the recipe for this loss was all too familiar: The team coughed up the ball on 21 of their 97 possessions.
Whether you play in transition or move more deliberately in the half court, wins are hard to come by with that kind of carelessness. The stylistic argument is merely academic.