A few notes as I get back into town and the groove of things: last night, I came home late to check in on the Clippers and the first thing I find is that Blake Griffin isn’t in the box score and I’m instantaneously nervous. I try to evaluate how the Clipper players have played (Cookie 28 points, awesome!) but Blake Griffin’s health has turned into a zahir for me. I obsess over his well-being, cringe not only whenever he falls but whenever he’s up in the air, which is a lot. So I search more to learn that it is an injury, an ankle injury. My imagination is running wild. Can he play in those Sumo-wrestler fat suits for protection and not lose too much of his effectiveness? If not, he’s going to need screws of NASA grade metal to keep his foot together! Maybe NASA or the Army needs to give him an adamantium skeleton to protect him!
But no, it’s just a mild ankle injury and not only am I relieved, but I’m almost glad. Being that Blake plays not just basketball, but a ferocious assault disguised as basketball, he’s going to incur injuries. I began to wonder if each injury was going to match the intensity level with which he plays. Thankfully, this is not the case. Every injury won’t be an implosive, season-ending injury that demoralizes the rest of the team. Blake, like everyone else, can have small tweaks. Like his current tweak of an ankle that will only result in him missing a day or two, meaning he may or may not play the final pre-season game. Watching him play, he’s ready, so I’m hoping that VDN takes this as an opportunity to sit Blake to ensure that he plays in his first regular season game for the Clippers. Once he starts playing “real” games, I may start to relax.
The other worry is that the Clippers are allowing too many points. The Clippers have given up 100 or more in 6 of their 7 games this season and as much as it is about defense, it’s also partly about offense too. Before the season even started, I thought this team was going to have problems with turnovers. Just the nature of having a new team, it takes time for them to acclimate to each other in this new system. But on top of that the team is so, so young and some of them are being asked to play different positions than last year. Al-Farouq saw more time at the 4 last year as opposed to the majority of the time at the 3 he’ll play this year. While Bledsoe grew up playing the 1 he was asked to switch positions, in his first year at a higher level, because of John Wall.
The Clippers have addressed it, which is reassuring. This type of self-awareness strikes me as refreshing. However, I don’t think that it will make them an efficient team, at least not this year. I expect this to be the Achilles Heel for them the entire year. Opposing teams are going to get easy buckets off of Clippers’ turnovers, running up the score in the process. It’s going to cost them a few victories for sure, but for a team that is developing, I like the fearlessness that comes with some of the turnovers I’ve seen so far (other than the poorly thrown lobs to Blake that rob me of my breath). My hope is that it doesn’t get in their head so they start playing timid and hesitant basketball, this team needs to grow.
Lastly, a shining light is Al-Farouq Aminu’s rebounding. And I don’t just mean on the glass. Let’s face it, he’s been really up and down this pre-season (which he’ll probably continue to do) but he keeps coming back to play. Last night, Farouq got to play 29 minutes (23 more minutes than the previous game) and he tallied 15 points and 8 rebounds, very heartening after he posted a three game total of 2 points and 2 rebounds in the 3 (yes, 3) previous games. Some of it is just because he’s young. Some of it is just because he’s playing in the NBA. Some of it is because he’s playing more time at the 3. VDN can’t do a lot about that but what he can do, that he hasn’t done so far, is give Farouq consistent playing time. In the seven pre-season games Farouq has played 18, 27, 28, 4, 7, 6, and 29 minutes. Not exactly a model of consistency. I think Farouq would fare better if he knew what to expect. Like if Vinny told him that he could expect to enter the game at the 4 minute mark in the first quarter and then leave at the 6 minute mark in the second, with that schedule mirrored in the second half, Farouq could prepare for that. He’d know how he’d fit in that unit’s offense and defense and what he should do to prepare for it.
One of the really difficult things about Basketball is that the interactions with players is so often in flux, just look at the combinations of the 5 man units for the Clippers last season. 82games.com only shows the top 20 of them. Really it’s like there are 20+ teams on every team. If Farouq knows he’ll mainly be a part of say, 3 or 4 of those teams, he’ll be able to narrow it down and create his own consistency. It’s funny because when he has played more than 25 minutes, his averages are respectable, 15 points and 6.7 rebounds.
I know it’s basketball and my clean cut strategy won’t apply perfectly. But I like to think of ideas as being malleable. I have no expectation of Vinny adhering to rigid structures, just meeting the guy (and watching the Clippers’ inbounds plays) I get the sense that he’s more of a “feel” guy. I just hope he doesn’t feel like yanking Farouq’s minutes around like he has so far.