Here is a broad grade report of the Clippers 2010-2011 season, which will be followed up by posts on individual players and coaches in the following weeks.
Blake Griffin: A-plus
This is not to say that he was perfect this year, he wasn’t. He struggled for most of the season with defense and the first half with his free throws, but those were the only problems. In every other way he far exceeded the already atmospherically high expectations for his rookie year. Before the season, an optimist would have said he’d average 18 and 10, and yet Blake averaged 22 and 12 with almost 4 assists a game. He played every game, frequently was the team’s energy source and played so well that he got Baron Davis to rejuvenate his game. The Clippers were both playing well and could trade Davis despite the fact that Davis had $28.8 million owed to him after the season. Blake provided a perfect roll partner for Gordon, crashed the boards, was a positive influence on DeAndre, was the best alley-ooper in years (even Randy Foye was throwing three quarter court oops to him), lead by example, started to develop his outside game and entertained everyone while doing it. Blake had an amazing year, comparable with the greats. And if he makes the Clippers a contender, that would be the greatest and most improbable feat of all. But the testament to his greatness is that that achievement seems not just possible but, maybe, likely.
Eric Gordon: A-minus
EJ’s time to shine was in his first month, when he took the reins over from Baron and ran the team. He averaged 26 points, 5.5 assists and 10.3 free throw attempts per game. At no point in Gordon’s career did he look like he would have that sort of capability, but after his time with the gold medal winning Team USA, he changed. Before he settled for outside shots and struggled to facilitate, appearing to have the ceiling of a stronger, smaller Reggie Miller. But after November? Gordon looks like he can be a perennial top-5 shooting guard in the league. However, once Baron came back and Gordon shifted off the ball, not only did his assists drop (which were expected) but so did his free throws, to the point that even before he injured his wrist he was averaging less than 6 free throw attempts per game. That’s a huge decline. The summer will be good to get Gordon back and healthy, but he’ll need to re-learn some of his good tendencies from the beginning of the year.
Ryan Gomes: D
Initially, I thought his signing would be an underrated boon to a team on the rise. Instead, he had his career worst year and only existed as a starter to block Aminu’s minutes. I still have hope that this was just a single season anomaly (PER may be a flawed metric, but Gomes’ 9 is about right. Soundly mediocre, and a ways below his career levels at 12.8), but despite his positive lockeroom presence, Gomes hasn’t shown any signs of turning it around.
Baron Davis (pre-trade): C
Baron showed up to camp overweight and out of shape. As a result, his knee suffered and the momentum that the Clippers could have had out of the gate was completely lost. However, once Blake and the Clips turned it around, Baron rediscovered some of his old magic and organized the Clippers into a well run circus. He was a huge part of the Clippers surge in January, but I think the organization made the smart move to trade him when they could.
Mo Williams (post-trade): B
The trade was largely financially motivated, but don’t think that it hurt the Clippers play. Since Mo came over, the Clippers were 11-10, despite playing a different style from Baron and the Clippers coming off a devastating month of February when they could have easily packed it in. That’s not to say that he’s the greatest player ever, he certainly has his shortcomings on defense and appears to be quite streaky, and unlike Blake and his weaknesses, Mo’s weakness don’t seem like things that will ever change. However, he was the first veteran that the Clippers have had on this team that was a complete professional, kept saying the right things and playing hard every night. Mo also had a propensity for big buckets in games, which was really helpful, and he seemed to make those shots in conjunction with Gordon instead of at his expense. As the team moves forward, figuring out Mo’s place will be the most difficult, especially with Gordon needing the ball in his hands more, Bledsoe maybe coming up and the likelihood that he’ll probably need to be a (expensive) bench player in his last season.
DeAndre Jordan: B-plus
Consider where DeAndre was at the end of last season. He was completely lost on offense, had no clue on defense and didn’t look like he even knew where to start. Admittedly, he still has a long ways to go on offense, but he did make significant progress as a part of the Clippers dunkalicious front line. He shot a ridiculous 68.6 percent from the field and even, every other game or so, had a decent little post move. Maybe a nice step in layup or a righty hook, nothing huge or significant, absolutely inconsistent, but definite progress. After all, he was drafted as a project. On the defensive end there were greater and worse results. When DeAndre was clued in, like against Kevin Garnett, he played tough man defense and patrolled the paint. But he could never consistently do that and would sometimes allow guys like Nazr Mohammed to go 4 for 5 on him. Still, that’s progress. Also, he’s starting to block shots with a little bit more control. DeAndre said he’s going to work with Hakeem in Houston over the summer (VDN wants him to work on balance and timing as a start), which seems like an improvement in mentality, too. He still has a ways to go, but DJ jumped in this season and really improved.
Chris Kaman: B-minus (incomplete)
It’s hard to blame a guy on his injuries, but that doesn’t mean that his season was great. Kaman started out the season ice cold (shot under 30 percent) and took touches away from Blake. It was so ugly. However, when he came back, since he worked his way through the bench, Kaman looked much better. He was making his shots, even if he rarely worked inside as much and he played some spirited defense at times (more than I was used to). Not his best season but I liked that he tried to adapt his play to the team. It’ll be interesting to see if Kaman sticks around through the season, considering that, even with the knee, he is about the only real trade bait that the Clippers are willing to use (and has a contract that could bring them back something).
Eric Bledsoe: B-minus
Bledsoe filled in great over the course of November and brought his energy and athleticism, but he struggled after Baron came back and didn’t really catch any rhythm until late in the season when a rematch with former University of Kentucky teammate John Wall. Even with the blossoming, Bledsoe still didn’t figure out how to keep from turning the ball over and he even drew a suspension for violating team rules. He did bounce back in the first half of the last game with some of his best dunks and some great steals (plus the lob to Blake), but Bledsoe has a long ways to go.
Al-Farouq Aminu: C-plus
In the month of November, he shot 52.9 percent from three, and had a 20 point, 8 rebound game against the Hornets. However, not only did not he plateau, but he regressed over the course of the season. His three point shooting was under 20 percent in the last 4 months and he hasn’t started a game since December even though Ryan Gomes went down with a knee injury after a largely ineffective season. He has shown the desire to get to the rim, but he gets called for charging so often that I wonder how much control he actually has of his body. If he could even just work on a pull up 8-10 footer and improve his outside shot, then Aminu could immediately become a decent offensive weapon off the bench.
Randy Foye: B
He did the best he could filling in for the injured Eric Gordon, and his inexplicably good defense on Kevin Durant allowed the Clippers to come back from 16 points to beat the Thunder, but he was just a stopgap solution. No one on the team took more foot on the line twos that should have been threes and while Foye did put the Clippers on his back in New York, he’s just not good enough to be more than a bench player. And yet he started and played big minutes. Not his fault really, but he wasn’t exactly overwhelming.
Jamario Moon (post-trade): B
It’s hard to really evaluate Moon, since he played so few minutes post trade, but he did jump in and give the Clippers another reason not to give Al-Farouq more minutes. He played hard, and had some nice threes and dunks, but he is most likely heading out of town. Gave some good effort, but he didn’t provide any solutions.
Ike Diogu: A
Talk about a guy that came out of nowhere and did everything that was asked of him. Had the Clippers not already had Craig Smith, Ike would have earned more minutes, but how many minutes can you give to two undersized bench power forwards? Still, in the time that Craig, Cook and Kaman were all out, Ike came in and gave the Clippers an offensive weapon and a decent rebounder off the bench.
Craig Smith: B-plus (incomplete)
He suffered a back injury, but when Craig was in he always provided the muscle and put-back buckets for the Clippers. He even showed to be a solid force for backing up Blake. It could be tied to Blake’s improvement on his free throws, but once Craig came back from injury, those hard fouls on Blake sure seemed less frequent.
Brian Cook: B
Another big that came out of nowhere to give some decent minutes for the Clippers. He shot the ball well from deep and even worked as Blake’s defensive replacement for the first two months of the season. But as the Clippers got healthy, he was no longer needed. He didn’t have the same scowling ways that he had before, which was a surprising relief.
There were just too many guards for Willie to get any serious playing time, but when he did get in he had some moments. He crushed it in the D-League, averaging 19.2 points and 5.5 assists, but never got a chance when he came up.
Rasual Butler (pre-release): D
The guy who was brought in to make threes, struggled to do just that (32.6 percent). Outside of his shooting, he’s not very good at anything else.
Jarron Collins (pre-release): D
The best you could say is that he played decent man on man defense, but really, he was just a tall man.
Vinny Del Negro: D-plus
Vinny played the young guys, allowed Blake to flourish but struggled to create any semblance of a system that would help the Clippers in times of injuries to key players. It’s no small feat to get players to play hard almost every night after starting 1-13, but the team probably should not have started that bad. At that point in time he had, aside from an overweight Baron Davis, a healthy complement of players and the schedule was tough, but at least they played a majority of games at home. A bad start was to be expected, but a historically bad start should not have happened with the talent of this team. He has a lot of room to grow particularly as it concerns giving up huge leads, I liked the way Eric Bledsoe and the team bounced back from the Bledsoe suspension (similar to how Vinny handled the Baron debacle at the beginning of the year, pretty well), but all evidence suggests that this team will struggle to get where they ultimately want to go with VDN at the helm.
Clipper Front Office: B-minus
The front office took a swing and an embarrassing miss on LeBron James. However, they drafted pretty well, they didn’t overload on any of the knee-jerk reactions after LeBron (Like Joe Johnson, Josh Childress, Rudy Gay, Wesley Matthews), and they unloaded Baron on Cleveland (at the price of a draft pick, ugh) saving money for the Clippers for either A) Donald Sterling’s pockets or B) (if you’re hopeful) the Clipper team. Although, they did hire Vinny Del Negro, so…
Clippers Team as a Whole: C-plus
Prior to the season a lot of pundits (including myself) thought that the Clippers would finish close to .500. That obviously didn’t happen, but the Clippers did show guts in playing hard the entire year even after they lost Baron Davis and Chris Kaman the entire year. Although they are probably further along in their evolution because of those injuries. Now, Blake and Gordon are the faces of the franchise, and that’s how the team should be.
(Tip of the cap to Metal Matty)