Before I go in on the subject I most want to cover, let me first say that the real issue in tonight’s 25-point road loss to the Spurs was not the Clippers’ offense. It was their inability to guard Manu Ginobili or DeJuan Blair or Richard Jefferson. We could expect Ginobili to abuse Chauncey Billups’s old bones, and we might have expected to give up some open 3-point looks to the opposing wing(s). But to have DeJuan Blair take your team to the woodshed is not a thing that should happen to anyone, barring some very strange circumstances.
Moving along. Offensively, if there’s one issue I’ve heard harped on in regards to the Clippers, it has been Chris Paul’s passivity and the lack of pick-and-roll action. Now, has Chris Paul been passive in terms of looking for his own scoring? Maybe. He certainly isn’t putting his shot up or going one-on-one from the wing much.
But I think we’ve all been victimized by the idea that having Chris Paul and Blake Griffin means that the pick-and-roll is going to result in 70-percent shooting at the rim and an endless array of dunks. But that isn’t how this thing works. The pick-and-roll is indeed one of the simplest, most perfect plays in basketball. When run the right way, you will never end a possession with a bad look. Ever. It’s impossible to guard the 2-man game and guarantee a great defensive possession if the team running it has good spacing and personnel.
So am I saying that the Clippers don’t have good spacing, or good personnel? No. Well, not in terms of the starting lineup, at least. There’s the weakside threat to dunk when the defense overcommits to the roll man (DeAndre). There’s the shooters to make sinking into the paint dangerous for the defense (Butler in the corner, Billups on a wing). And then you have your explosive big man setting the screen (Blake); and of course, arguably the most important element, the skilled point guard (Chris Paul) who can shoot from deep, mid-range, off-the-dribble, take it to the rim or dish for a layup to that excellent young rolling screener.
So that leads me back to that point about not always getting dunks and layups on every pick-and-roll. Why isn’t it happening, with this excellent personnel setup?
Because, while it’s impossible to perfectly guard the pick-and-roll, it is possible to take away elements of it that might otherwise lead to easy scoring for the offensive team. And what we’ve seen (and what the Clippers have seen) so far is two teams that have flat-out crowded the paint. We’re talking 4 guys shading towards a possible driver or roller. And when that happens, it’s going to limit paint scoring out of the initial pick-and-roll action.
But what it doesn’t limit is open spot-up opportunities, swing-drive-kick opportunities, or any other simple plays to be made against an overloaded defense. The real issue is in how well the players outside of the initial pick-and-roll action are using their open space. Not every open 3 for Caron Butler or Ryan Gomes or Chauncey Billups is going to fall. But they could aid the process by giving a shotfake on a closeout and driving to draw a foul. Or not hesitating and giving the defense a chance to close out in the first place.
Because that covers a lot of issues I saw in the pick-and-roll for the Clippers, as I reviewed the tape against the Warriors and Spurs. Chris Paul hasn’t been hesitant at all in the pick-and-roll, at least in terms of making the right play and the quick decision. He has indeed been hesitant to force an interior pass, or force his own offense when the defense has left his teammates.
I haven’t mentioned Blake yet, you may have noticed. And that’s because he somehow has managed to make himself almost invisible in the pick-and-roll thus far. He’s allowed himself to become a jumpshooter rather than a roller who forces the defense to commit to him all the way, in this extremely young season. Blake Griffin does not have a jumpshot, ladies and gentlemen of the blog. Don’t trust your lying eyes when you see him mange to knockdown a couple of forced jumpers. He’s better off being in position for a pass in the lane after Chris Paul swings to an open perimeter shooter than popping off of his screen for an ugly 16-footer.
And even as I rant about all this only a couple of games into the season, I realize one of the most important points of all — the Clippers aren’t struggling from a lack of talent. Execution can be fixed when you have the talent and reasonably well-fitting personnel the Clippers have. So don’t worry too much just yet, denizens of Clipper Nation, you Princes of Lob City.
At least not about the offense. Because the personnel is significantly less fitting for defensive success. But that’s another subject for another time, when we have a larger sample size. For now, let’s enjoy the ability to have expectations and as Jovan said — be patient.