Ah, Tuesday Mailbag. Much less catchy… but also much less cranky than a Monday version. Again, thanks to everyone who sent in questions this week. Let’s get to it:
Why did the Clippers sign Rasual Butler to a one year deal? I felt that he played selfishly last year, taking contested shots, not moving the ball around, and playing lackluster defense at times. It seemed to me he was trying to fill up his stats to get an offseason contract. The fact that he didn’t get signed to a multi-year deal by any other team in the NBA confirms to me that I was correct about his bad season. This signing takes away valuable playing time from a rookie like Aminu who the Clippers have a vested long-term interest in developing. This decision has been puzzling me all summer, thanks. –John M
Breene Murphy: John, you’ve got company. I was slightly confused by the signing as well. But I think Butler will be used in a different manner than last year. I think he will see much more time backing up Gordon at the 2 and filling in more sparingly at the 3 because Ryan Gomes is a similar player, but both rebounds better (career 5.1 to 2.7 rbs.) and he’s just as good of an outside shooter (both career 36%, although Gomes shot 37.2% to Butler’s 34%). As for developing Aminu, I’m hoping they’ll still give him consistent minutes, get him into a professional routine, because he clearly has the upside to develop. And while he doesn’t have the outside shot yet (the reason for Gomes and Butler), I’m excited about seeing Aminu playing a little bit of power forward, his main position in college, in the meantime.
D.J. Foster: I’m way on the other side of the fence on this one. He’s on a one year deal for 2.4 million, so it was a no-risk signing. He can play both wing spots. He’s streaky, but he’s another guy who can stretch the floor. In a toned down role, both in terms of minutes and shooting opportunities, he should be valuable to the second unit. He’s a good rotation piece, and it’s crucial to have depth with the amount of injury prone players on the roster. As for Aminu, maybe he should be playing more four than three in his first year anyhow…but that’s another discussion.
How many roster spots are still open and who will be competing for those spots? Anyone else we should know about? – Dara K.
BM: Right now, the Clippers have 13 players on guaranteed contracts. If you watched summer league or you caught Arnovitz’ article a few weeks back, you should be excited about Marqus Blakely making the team. He’s a hyper athletic small forward out of UVM that is looking to make the team by his defense and his athleticism. He’s developing a shot with the eye to have a Bruce Bowen/Wesley Matthews/Matt Barnes type career. And oh man can he dunk.
DJF: I think who we see now (Blakely included) is who will be on the opening day roster. I highly doubt they’ll add someone else and carry the full 15 players going into the season – GM’s almost always leave that roster slot open for midseason acquisitions, etc.
Kaman’s play was improved last season after taking a summer working on his shot-has he shown any new wrinkles to his game during this summer’s pick-up games at the training facility? –Allan F.
BM: D.J., did you get to see any of Kaman’s pickup games at the training facility? Because I didn’t.
DJF: I hear he’s added an unstoppable 720 dunk.
BM: I like it. Too bad he doesn’t have the mane anymore, that would look awesome on a 720, all frilling out.
DJF: It’s not the same without the hair really.
We haven’t seen enough games at the practice facility to really tell, but Kaman looks like he’s in good shape and ready to go again this year.
We’ve talked a lot about what the Clippers offense will look like this season–How do you foresee this squad performing on the other side of the ball? – John P.
BM: The most important part of defense is effort and the best news is that VDN got his Bulls teams to play hard, all year, both years despite being outside the playoffs at the end of both years (they surged in April twice). The next most important thing is communication, which worries me. The team has a lot of new faces so I think it will take some time to gel. There are going to be missed assignments.
What I do like about the team is how athletic they are. No matter how well they play team defense, you’re going to see some highlight-reel plays. I’m already waiting the Eric Bledsoe swipe that leads to an Eric Gordon slam and the Blake Griffin block that leads to BD bowling through to drop it back to a trailing Blake for a jam.
It’s going to be a work in progress, but at least it’ll be progress.
DJF: Del Negro had a few good individual and team defenders (Hinrich, Noah, Deng) and a few not so good defenders (Rose, Ben Gordon) while he was in Chicago. His teams were young, but they always performed well defensively and picked up the schemes pretty easily. That’s a promising sign going into the season, but as Breene said, there will definitely be lapses.
What about Willie Warren? I’ve heard that if he had entered the draft with Blake Griffin he would’ve been a 1st round pick. Do you think he is that good or did BG just make him look that good?–Anthony L.
BM: What we found out from last season: Willie Warren isn’t The Man. I think that‘s the problem with last year, he wanted to be (and was forced to be). His percentages plummeted and his turnovers rose, but I think with a designated role he could absolutely shine. The hard part about this Clipper team though, is that there are so many young guys that need time. So whether Willie gets the minutes will be a huge factor into how we eventually evaluate his career.
DJF: I don’t think he has the typical upside of a first round pick, but he could develop into a solid role player. He’s not the only college player to experience a sophomore slump, ya know?
What kind of numbers do you expect from Blake Griffin this year? Would 13 PPG, 8 RPG, 50% FG%, and 65+ games played be considered a success? – Sam K.
BM: Unless you’re Greg Oden or Yao Ming, I don’t consider 65 games a success. Decent? Sure. I mean the Clipper Organization would have loved that from last year, but that’s only in comparison to missing all of the year. Playing 65 games is missing 20% of the season. Let’s make it like grades: I want him to shoot for an A plus with the realistic goal being that 90-92%, so 74 games is a success for me. Blake’s injury was freak, he has recovered and he takes great care of his body. As for the per game averages, I think 13 and 8 would be a good season, definitely a success. What’s nice is that he doesn’t have to carry the entire load in his first year, seeing as Kaman returns to the team after his first All-Star bid. It wouldn’t surprise me if Blake averages better than that, though.
Who do you have representing the US for their London team? Do you think there will still be a spot for Eric Gordon on that team, and do you think Blake Griffin would be able to make an impact in the international game if he were selected for 2012? – David C.
BM: In reverse order: If Blake projects into the NBA like everyone thinks, then yes, he’ll be a great addition. But it’s still to be seen. As for Eric, I think there is a very, very outside chance that he makes the team. But still a chance. The reason being that his style fits International Play so well. He’s a physical defender and he’s a great outside shot that can, when needed, take it to the rack. There aren’t a lot of options on the wing for the Americans in 2012 like that. Derrick Rose? Russell Westbrook? Great players, not great shooters.
Okay, now let’s look at the 2008 team to see what’s going on:
Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony will probably all return barring some sort of injury or playoff fatigue (most likely for playoff fatigue/age: Dwayne Wade and Kobe, but I still say they play). So that right there is 8.
Quick insertion: The next guarantee will be Kevin Durant who, if you saw him all summer, will probably be the number one scoring option. KD can play.
Carlos Boozer would have a great chance to return, but I don’t see him in the same company as those first 9. Still, let’s make him number 10.
So what does this team need? Maybe outside shooting (KD takes pretty good care of that, but they’ll need one more) and another big body. I would love to see Gordon and Blake snag those last two spots, as unlikely as it may be, but they’d fit in. Blake will have lots of competition for a big man spot: Kevin Love (played great this summer), Amaré Stoudemire (has bad knees and is not your standard Team Player), Al Jefferson (knee problems, but has a great post game), David Lee (energy/rebound guy that would get all the put backs and dirt rebounds), Lamar Odom (great this summer but inconsistent historically), and Brook Lopez (sound young center). That’s a lot of competition but Blake could put together two great years and snag that spot. Possible? Yes. Easy? No. I have a gut feeling that Kevin Love will sneak into that spot, maybe Brook Lopez.
As for the other spot, assuming they go for a shooter and not this summer’s revelatory garbage man, Iguodala, Eric basically has Stephen Curry and OJ Mayo to fight for the designated sniper spot. With exception of the last few games’ shooting, Eric played remarkably well. Although, I think Mayo has it in him to earn a spot. So it’s going to be close. But screw it, I’m making the long shot guess and predicting he makes it, Coach K loved him.
Do you believe Kaman can continue his All-Star performance from last season? – Anthony L.
BM: Last year, Kaman rebounded well even with Camby ripping down boards the first half of the season, so I don’t see why he can’t keep the rebound numbers around 9-10 a game. Offensively, though, he’s going to have to share some touches with Blake Griffin and you could easily see (foreshadowing the next point) Eric Gordon getting a boost in the offense as well.
Do you think it is realistic to believe that Eric Gordon will lead the Clippers in scoring this season? He has obviously thrived this summer in World play. Although the international style of play is very different from that of the NBA, one cannot ignore his outstanding play in the tournament where he conveyed to us his mean defense and pinpoint accuracy from three-point-land. E.J. reminds me a lot of Ben Gordon. Let’s compare their stats in their respective rookie and sophomore seasons: EG- 16.1ppg, 16.9 ppg. BG- 15.1 ppg, 16.9 ppg. Relatively similar numbers. Do you know how many points per game Gordon (Ben) averaged in his third season? Almost 22. – Coby W.
BM: While it wouldn’t shock me, there is a slight fissure in your logic. Yes, Ben Gordon did make the third year jump, but it was in large part due to his increase in minutes, going from 24 mpg to 31 mpg to 33 mpg. EJ hasn’t had the same rate of increase as he’s played 34 and 36 mpg in his first two years. That said, D.J. made a good point a few posts ago that if Eric is willing to take touches from Kevin Durant/Derrick Rose/etc. then the confidence boost could easily translate into more attempts for him. He only missed leading the team in scoring by 2 points last season and I could see him easily making that up, possibly averaging 19-20 a game, even if he doesn’t do the Ben Gordon leap to 22 ppg.
DJF: How does Ben Gordon keep sneaking into this mailbag? Anyway, I like the idea of a “leap” similar to Ben’s, as long as efficiency isn’t sacrificed. Gordon’s shooting and scoring has never been an issue – it’s his ballhandling, playmaking, and rebounding that need to start showing signs of life.
How long (if ever) will it take for Aminu to become a starting quality small forward? – E. Castro
BM: E. Castro wins the prize for the question most likely to make me look like an idiot. This is by far the most nebulous of the subjects considering that Aminu will have many players to compete for time, still has to learn a new position and adjust his shot to make him a perimeter threat and he’ll have to get used to guarding more players, NBA players, on the wing. That said, if Aminu is going to develop well, we’ll probably get a glimpse of it this year. He’ll get a few minutes and make some great plays. Then the following year, he’ll get respectable minutes, and play well. The third year seems like the right time for the first big jump for Aminu, he’ll be 22 and could inhabit those starter’s minutes. Then the fourth year, he develops into a Gerald Wallace type player: great rebounder, fantastic defender, decent outside shot and can take it to the hole, and has the ability to play both the 3 and the 4.
Side note: It’s Al-Farouq’s Birthday today. Happy Birthday, Chief!
DJF: Love the Gerald Wallace comparison. Like Wallace, it’s going to take some time for Aminu. His current skillset doesn’t exactly fit the wing. He can go one of two ways – become an efficient outside shooter over time (Wallace shot 37% from three last season after being pretty bad in prior years) or abandon it completely like Josh Smith did last year (he shot just 7 threes last after a career filled with terrible attempts from the perimeter.) Either way, if Aminu eventually resembles anything close to Wallace or Smith, that’s a very good thing.
BM: Thanks for all your questions, be sure to rub my answers back in my face if/when I’m wrong. Like you, I can’t wait for basketball season. Go Clips!