Before you abandon ship after the Spurs’ 115-90 thumping of the Clippers, please remember that I (as well as other writers) cautioned this type of game(s) would occur early on in the season. But don’t panic — the Spurs are a good team (if it weren’t for their awesome shooting night, this game would have likely resembled the Spurs victory over the Grizzlies) and the Clippers are still developing. If it makes you feel any better, the Warriors just beat the Bulls and the Knicks, proving that they’re no scrub team.
The truth is there’s not much to take away from two games. Neither Clipper performance was admirable — in reality, they could be 0-2 if Chris Paul hadn’t gone off on his fourth quarter tear on Christmas Day. However, he did, and he saved the Clippers from a code-red panic. Looking at the numbers after a couple of games (yes, I know it’s a small sample size but there a few perturbing trends here), here are a couple of areas that need improvement for the Clippers.
Chris Paul pick-and-rolls
According to Synergy Sports, as the ball-handler in 20 pick-and-roll situations, Paul has called his own number 12 times (60 percent). In those 12 scenarios, he’s two-for-three on jumpers, one-for-two on layups, missed the only floater he took, has two turnovers (one offensive foul and one travel) and has drawn four fouls (three shooting, one non-shooting). While he hasn’t been as aggressive as most would hope, Paul is a bulldog in the pick-and-roll. If he decides to try and score, it’s almost a guarantee he’s attacking the basket, unless the opportunity for an open jumper presents itself.
When he’s decided to pass to the roll man (who in many cases has popped out instead of attacking the basket), it has resulted in three-for-five shooting on jumpers (one made 3-pointer), one-for-two shooting on lay-ups (one missed alley-oop lay-up to D.J.) and one drawn foul. There’s no “Lob City” because Paul isn’t throwing lobs. He’s mainly kicking it out for jumpers as teams pack the paint and try and avoid the embarrassment of making SportsCenter.
What do these numbers mean? That positive outcomes (either scored baskets or fouls drawn) have occurred in 12 of the 20 pick-and-rolls that Paul has been involved in (60 percent). Despite the small sample size, that’s an astounding number. If you count missed lay-ups has high-percentage opportunities, the number jumps up to 15 out of 20 (75 percent). That’s an absurdly high rate for scoring opportunities.
The problem is that the Clippers have only run 40 pick-and-rolls (19.3 percent of their total plays). As Nick Flynt points out, Paul’s perceived passivity is somewhat of a folly. He’s making good decisions in the pick-and-roll, it’s just not being run that often. Moving froward, the team will need to address this befuddling conundrum: Why aren’t they running more pick-and-rolls for Paul (with Griffin as the screener)?
The four factors
According to HoopData, winning at least three of the four factors (effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, offensive rebound rate, free throw rate) is usually a good sign as to which team is going to win a basketball game. Against the Warriors, the Clippers won effective Field Goal percentage (+8.5 percent), Turnover rate (-6.4) and Free Throw rate (+17.6). The only factor they lost was Offensive Rebound rate (-6.7).
Against the Spurs, however, the Clippers were mauled in eFG% (-18.6 percent — the Spurs had a ridiculous 62.5 eFG%) and lost offensive rebound rate again (-4.2). But for the second straight game, they took care of the ball better (-5.4 TOr) and got to the line more (25.8 FTr).
Those are two great signs. The additions of Paul and Billups has increased the Clippers trips to the foul line (both draw a lot of fouls and create opportunities for teammates) and limited their turnovers (which is key to running an efficient offense and limiting opponents’ transition opportunities). They had one average shooting game (GSW) and one horrid shooting game (SAS).
The only bad sign so far from the Clippers, that doesn’t appear to be a fluke, is their lack of rebounding. Including the two preseason games, they’ve been out-rebounded by a total of 42 boards (10.5 per game). The second Lakers game, where they got embarrassed by being out-boarded by 17, is an outlier. But it hasn’t really been close — the Clippers as constructed are going to struggle on the boards. Reggie Evans will help, it’s just a question of how much.
Determining the Clippers’ season-long fate after two games isn’t logical. We can’t deem the Clippers championship contenders after their win in Oakland, and we can’t say they’re underachieving because of the bashing they took in Texas. Wins and losses don’t matter right now — how the games are being played does, however.
At this point in time, all we can do is analyze their performance and look for ways they can improve. Step No. 1? Run more Chris Paul pick-and-rolls. They’re effective. Step No. 2? Box out and grab a few more rebounds. Playing Evans (once he’s healthy) and signing Joel Przybilla are two ways to lessen the rebounding gap.
There, that was easy.