The Clippers are mired in one of their most angering, exciting and bewildering season maybe ever. Before the season it appeared that the Clippers were going to continue with the improvement in the win loss column, just like they had a season before. Unfortunately, the Clips gut punched their fan base with one of the worst starts to a season by any team, ever. The only teams to start out worse are the 2009-2010 New Jersey Nets, the 1972-1973 Philadelphia 76ers, the 1970-1971 Cleveland Cavaliers, the 1988-1989 Miami Heat (in their first year as an expansion franchise), and, of course the 1999 Clippers in the lockout shortened season.
This Clippers team is even terrible in the history of a particularly terrible franchise. They are worse defensively than any other Los Angeles Clipper team and only the 1982-1983 San Diego Clippers have a worse defensive rating in their entire history.
Comparing to the rest of the NBA, the Clippers fare about the same. No team in the NBA combines to have a worse offensive and defensive rating than the Clippers (the Wolves come close). They sport a 28th ranked offense and a 30th ranked defense, only two spots away from having the worst possible combined ranking. And it’s not looking like things are going to change any time soon, which makes checking the box scores and reading about them especially brutal.
However, the simple act of watching the games has been enigmatically enjoyable. Yes, the Clipper players miss assignments, turn the ball over, don’t make cuts, don’t swing the ball to the weak side, and most everything else emblematic of a bad team, except they frequently make spectacular plays. If you can divest yourself from caring about the outcome of the game (which is difficult because what are sports about other than vicarious triumph over an opposition?), then you can enjoy the spectacular individual highlights. Clippers have more spectacular plays than all but a small handful of teams. Blake Griffin explodes for stanchion rattling dunks. He doesn’t have the elegant hang time of a guard, no glide. He’s Wolverine on a sugar high. His attacks are equally compulsive, trained and planned. He violently explodes towards the basket and the only thing that can possibly stop him is the rim.
Not Timofey Mozgov. Amar’e even recognizes it.
Eric Gordon has the side to side, herky jerky dribbles and then springs up over the defenders to shove the ball through the hoop (although my favorites are his lazy boy layback bank shots as he drifts through the air to the baseline, it just looks so icy cool).
Bledsoe and Aminu run the break as well as any rookies not named Wall and Griffin.
And DeAndre is one of the more vicious alley oop options (when he catches it).
It’s strangely magnetic and I can’t help but feel like a bizarro Bill Walton when I write about the Clippers. Instead of spewing laudatory Waltonisms like “That was the best bounce pass in the history of the NBA!!” and “Look at the camaraderie, the love of sport!” I start saying “That was the worse defensive rotation in the history of the NBA!”, “Look at the disgruntled lack of communication, the complete apathy!” mixed with “that was the best dunking performance I’ve ever seen!” No matter what I do, I can’t help but latch myself onto what would, if the games weren’t being watched, sound like hyperbole.
And because I’m so compelled by this beautiful train wreck of a team, I can’t help but draw the comparisons to bad reality television. It’s Real World. It’s the Jersey Shore. It’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians. All they are missing is some identifying gesture (which the 2002-2003 Clips knew about) like fist pumping. There is no good reason to watch these shows or follow the story arcs, other than they are addictively enjoyable despite having barely any substance or merit. It’s just outrageous actions spliced into a designated time frame, with only sporadic redeeming moments. Just like the Clippers and their 48 minutes of basketball 3-4 times a week. 13 trashily enjoyable moments with one redeeming victory over the Thunder.
So when the Clippers tip off against the Hornets tonight, I don’t expect anything different than we’ve seen so far. There has been no indication of change. Which means that the defensive rotations will be atrocious, they won’t have success if/when they switch to a zone (Chris Paul will get to the rim, collapsing the D, they have good-very good rebounders in Emeka Okafor and David West and good outside shooting), their offense will probably involve a lot of pick and roll, with very few passes and extremely rare rotations from strong to weak side, they’ll continue to shoot poorly from 3 (EJ just doesn’t seem right and he knows it, which makes it worse) but there will be those beautiful plays. We’ll see Gordon rise up and jam over West or Okafor or both, at once. We’ll see a spin move to Blake Smash. We’ll see Bledsoe pick off a pass and race to the end of the floor. It will be exciting in the same way that the 2002-2003 Clippers were. All swag, flair and promise of future wins. All they are missing is an identifying goofy and cryptic gesture.