There isn’t much to take out of a preseason game, but that is all we can base our opinion of this Clippers team off of thus far. If anything, playing the Lakers at Staples resembled a regular season game, and the Clippers passed the test with flying colors. However, as with any team, there’s room for improvement. Here are some notes and observations after re-watching the game.
• Caron Butler looked horrible defensively. It’s either from not being in shape (he looks 5-10 pounds overweight) or his knee is that bad — I doubt he doesn’t care enough. He was caught upright and out-of-position too many times early in the game, leading to open jumpers and wide-open lanes for Kobe Bryant. Even worse, he’s played terrible help defense and didn’t get back in transition. Heck, even World Peace effortlessly drove by him one time.
• Chauncey Billups is a very good team defender. In the first quarter he realized he was guarding Matt Barnes, an average shooter at best, and sagged off to either trap Bryant or double down on Gasol or Bynum. Compared to Butler, who’s more athletic and step quicker, Billups was actually played better on-ball defense on Bryant … which is why the switch was made for the remainder of the game.
• Chris Paul is fiesty. Despite his 6-foot, 175 lb. frame (maybe 10 lbs. heavier after this offseason), he bravely took on the 6-foot-7, 260 lb. Metta World Peace on a few occasions. He’s a good help defender, plays suffocating on-ball defense, slaps at the ball (5 steals) and has those hands. THOSE HANDS.
• At times, it felt like DeAndre Jordan was taking on the Lakers frontline by himself. While Blake Griffin’s defense against Pau Gasol was much improved, Jordan had to basically shut down the paint by himself (although he did have 4 blocks). That’s too much to ask of one man (unless they’re Dwight Howard or Tyson Chandler, which Jordan is not … yet). All in all, he did an impressive job though.
• Brian Cook actually impressed me defensively. Of course, him impressing me is like someone else playing average defense. But he showed on pick-and-rolls, played solid post defense and did his best to box out and help on the massive bodies of Bynum and Gasol. Solid effort.
• Paul is the master of splitting the pick-and-roll. Most guards use it as either a launching pad to middle of the paint (opening up a plethora of scoring and passing options) or as space to step back and calmly hit a jumper. Sam Cassell used a screen as a divergence to attack the opposite side (usually going away from the screener than towards him), but Paul likes to split it, turning the court into a 4-on-3 chess match in his favor.
• When in doubt, Butler thinks shoot. This isn’t a good thing. He forced a few shots he shouldn’t have taken and needs to realize he should kick it out to one of the point guards if there’s nothing there.
• There was no doubt for Mo Williams or Randy Foye. Anytime either of them got the ball, they both thought shoot. Williams routinely made the wrong decisions, looking to pull up for contested jumpers rather than run the offense (a potential problem that may continue as Williams “adjusts” to life off the bench). Foye’s a gunner, but we already knew that.
• Jordan was a terror on the offensive glass. More than half a dozen times he had at least one hand on the ball, trying to tap the ball in or tip it to teammates. His effort was encouraging, although he should never attempt a post move ever again.
• Griffin looked a step slower on the evening and struggled to score off of his offensive isolations (almost all of his baskets came off feeds from Paul). More troublesome, he seemed to settle for jumpers a little too frequently, instead of attacking the basket with a flurry of spin moves and ball fakes. That’s a cause for concern, as he struggled in the scrimmage too, but I won’t start worrying until the regular season starts.
• Trey Thompkins and Cook (now that he’s in a permanent, more prominent role instead of fighting Ike Diogu or Craig Smith for minutes) added a nice touch offensively as stretch big man, each hitting a couple of 3-pointers. When/if the Clippers add another big man, Cook and/or Thompkins will thrive without the pressure of guarding a mammoth center.