Larry Brown’s Charlotte Bobcats are an incredibly scrappy team. They play in your face defensively, fly all around the court, and hit the glass with reckless abandon. They fight, they hustle, and they grind out wins. Not surprisingly, their star player goes by the nickname of “Crash”. Basically, the Bobcats are a nasty bunch.
So what does a win against a tough Charlotte team say about the new look Clippers?
The additions of Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Drew Gooden were made for monetary reasons first, but Dunleavy sure did acquire some gamers in the process. Let’s take a look at the three new guys and their play tonight:
Steve Blake: Is there a better backup point guard in the league right now than Steve Blake? With the exception of Darren Collison, there probably isn’t. Tonight was Blake’s third game as a Clipper, and from an efficiency standpoint it was his best: 7 assists and zero turnovers. That puts Blake’s totals in his first three games at 28 assists and only 6 turnovers. When you consider that Blake is still learning how to play with his new teammates in addition to grasping the offensive sets, that’s a pretty incredible statistic. Perhaps the best part about Blake’s game can’t be measured in statistics: Blake seems really, really fun to play with. He’s completely unselfish, gets everyone involved, and is always looking to set someone else up with a better look than his own. Blake is one of those guys that takes absolutely nothing off the table. He isn’t perfect, but he’s about as good as it gets from a backup point guard.
Travis Outlaw: Outlaw made his Clipper debut tonight and quietly contributed with 10 points in 16 minutes. Outlaw isn’t renowned as a dangerous perimeter threat, but he went 2 for 3 tonight from deep and made the Bobcats respect him out on the perimeter. Outlaw may not be the superhuman force Clippers’ fans have been clamoring for at the small forward position, but he brings some nice scoring punch and the length and speed to be an effective perimeter defender. Chemistry wise Outlaw is another great addition for the Clippers. Blazers fans everywhere have been mourning the loss of their guy “Trout” because on top of being an incredibly nice person, Outlaw meshed well with his teammates. Clippers teams in the past have underestimated how important it is for a team to get along out on the court. We’ll get to see more of Outlaw’s actual game as the season progresses, but so far so good.
Drew Gooden: Immediately upon checking into the game, Gooden’s pick and roll defense was put to the test. Perhaps my eyes are trained by watching the slightly slower Chris Kaman lumber out and hedge, or Marcus Camby lay back and do nothing at all, but watching Gooden fly out in front of the screener and harass the ballhandler was a beautiful thing. Gooden was so ferocious in this particular approach that he appeared to be doing everything at once; he was hedging, he was trapping, he was blocking passing lanes and he was getting after the ball. It was like watching Anderson Varejao on Red-Bull. On the offensive end Gooden was even more active. He tipped back shots, crashed the offensive glass (5 offensive rebounds) and flew around the rim all night long. Gooden is limited in that he’s a pretty awful passer out of the post (5 turnovers tonight) but his energy matched with Craig Smith’s constant motor carried the Clips tonight. Rhino and Gooden (16 rebounds combined) were like the Mighty Ducks’ “Bash Brothers” tonight: They went in, tossed it up, and essentially brought the fight to Charlotte.
It’s pretty fun to watch the new guys carve out their roles on the team. Steve Blake is obviously a distributor first, but he’s also a willing shooter left alone. Drew Gooden is a defender and rebounder, your quintessential energy guy off the bench . Travis Outlaw is a little trickier to pin down, but he’ll likely fill the role of a natural scorer, a guy who can take his man one on one and go get buckets. It’s not easy to find guys who suit their roles well, know them, and are hungry enough to fulfill them on a nightly basis. This type of bench play should not be taken for granted.
It’s far too early to speculate, but what do the new guys need to do to remain with the team next year? If the Clippers want to go after a max player this year (they do), they’ll have to renounce all their free agents. That means Rasual Butler (20 points, 4 for 8 from three), Craig Smith (7 points, 7 rebounds), and the aforementioned new guys will all be put out on the open market, and all their Bird Rights will be lost. It may be foolish to put the cart in front of the horse, but at what point does the idea of retaining these guys come into play? Do the Clippers really have a shot at LeBron James? It’s logical that Clippers should at least see if they can attract a superstar…but what if they already have that superstar? He just might be that tall guy who has been sitting behind the bench all year.
Right now, it’s not a tough decision. You renounce the free agents and try your luck in free agency or via trade this Summer. However if the Clippers play well, and the new guys stay hungry and keep performing, the lottery ticket will become just a bit more pricey.