Since you’re probably tired of me saying “DEFENSE BAD!” over and over again, let’s bring some more nuanced analysis in from Kevin Arnovitz on the Clippers problems with Vinny Del Negro. This is an excerpt from his piece at ESPNLA — you can read the full article here. – D.J.
At some point in the near future, you’ll probably encounter a graphic that will rank in descending order the NBA teams who have improved their winning percentage the most over the past two seasons. Barring a complete meltdown between now and late April, the Los Angeles Clippers are on track to sit atop that list.
Yet as the Clippers stumble home from a disastrous road trip with turmoil swirling around the team, none of it means a thing. The giddiness that surrounded the team in December and January has long disappeared, buried beneath some troubling realities. The warm glow of the Chris Paul acquisition has receded, and talk of lofty aspirations has devolved into a discussion of damage control.
Management cleverly scratched and clawed to acquire a megawatt talent like Paul, but there’s something fundamentally flawed about the on-court product:
This is a team that doesn’t know what it is.
And there is little evidence that Vinny Del Negro, the person in charge with forging the Clippers’ identity, has the imagination and direction to cultivate one, despite being furnished with an impressive collection of talent.
Try to chart the team’s maturation since Christmas night, when they dispatched an inferior Golden State team, and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with specifics. The offense still relies on the simple diet of high ball-screens with Paul and Blake Griffin, isolations for Griffin and, of course, Paul’s magical improvisation with the ball when things get hairy. The Clippers rarely go to counters, secondary actions or misdirection. In-game adjustments are far and few between, and simply inserting Kenyon Martin to check a terror like Pistons center Greg Monroe last Sunday is regarded as monumental progress.
Opponents are now prepared for that pick-and-roll, and back-line defenders are ready to rotate to Griffin when there’s even the hint of a dive or a spin to the hoop. After a confounding loss to Phoenix recently, Del Negro confessed that the team’s fourth-quarter offense was predictable and disorganized. Players have confirmed as much.
The defense has yet to climb out of the bottom third of the league statistically and lacks bite. Rarely does a big man jump out aggressively on a ball handler and force the action to the sideline. Whether that’s by design or by nature, opponents with refined offensive game plans are having their way with the Clippers’ defense. Aware that the Clippers primarily use a “flat” coverage to guard pick-and-rolls, penetrators attack the team from the get-go, scrambling the Clippers’ base defense and wreaking havoc with rotations. After that, it’s a sampler platter of options that includes wide-open 3-pointers, baseline duck-ins, or mismatches gone bad.
All of this, in turn, puts an unreasonable burden on Paul, who must unilaterally manufacture a game plan. Time and again, Paul cruises through the first three quarters of a ballgame, well aware that if he doesn’t pace himself, the Clippers are likely doomed in the fourth. That’s because the Clippers don’t have a fourth-quarter offense so much as they have a fourth-quarter offender — Christopher Emmanuel Paul.
Many of the Clippers’ wins feel like found money — games won spontaneously, but not methodically. All teams need a little bit of timeliness — whether it’s an unconscious shooting performance like Mo Williams‘ in San Antonio or the Chris Paul Show that has carried the Clippers home during most of their victories. But an outstanding team wins games through collective mastery, something the Clippers haven’t accomplished for any sustained period of time this season.
To read the rest of Kevin’s excellent breakdown, click here.