I’m not much of a poker player — blogger budgets don’t allow for that type of thing — but at a few different points in time, I’ve put my big boy pants on and pushed my chips to the middle of the table and went all-in. It’s a moment that fills you with terror and relief — which is kind of an odd combination. While you’re fearing that you’ll never see those chips again, you’re simultaneously glad you don’t have the onus of controlling your own fate any longer.
The Clippers may have folded in the Neil Olshey negotiation and saw a free flop with the Vinny Del Negro option pick up, but the acquisition of Lamar Odom was a nice fat stack of chips pushed to the middle — a risky move that could pay huge dividends. Signing Jamal Crawford was putting the rest of the chips in the center. Adding Grant Hill and Ryan Hollins? The equivalent of throwing in the car keys and the fake gold watch on to the pile.
And you know what? I’m impressed. It’s not because I agree with every individual move, because I don’t. But I am impressed with the cohesiveness of the front office’s plan and their ability to see it all the way through and never waver. The Clippers are absolutely all-in, and all on the same page. Is it ideal to have a head coach fighting for his job and a star point guard on an expiring contract make the decisions for a franchise that will exist beyond this year? Probably not, but at least the hand is being played accordingly.
If Del Negro truly means it when he says, “There’s not been one that was our first choice who we haven’t gotten,” then there has to be a sense of relief accompanying that thought. Paul, likely the most powerful player in the league right now in terms of personnel decisions, should probably feel the same way. If they lose on the river (or riverwalk as the case may be), it won’t be because the general plan at the outset was flawed. The execution of the plan? Maybe, but not the plan itself. Can you really find fault in the Clippers wanting to appease Chris Paul, both by setting themselves up to win this year and bringing in players he goes to bat for? It’s pretty hard to, because the Clippers aren’t what they are without Paul.
With that in mind, it’s hard to find any fault in the Clippers using their Bi-Annual exception to sign Grant Hill.
Yes, he’s old. He’ll be 40 years old by the time the season starts. But as the Lakers also showed this offseason, you play to your plan. So what if Grant Hill disintegrates into nothingness like old dude from Raiders of the Lost Ark next season? As long as he can help this year, that’s all that matters.
It’s funny, because the Hill signing actually makes the Crawford signing more palatable. It’s the same theory — if you have to pay Jamal Crawford 5 million next year (and possibly the next two years) but you have Chris Paul to show for it, so what? The thought process makes sense if keeping Paul is the sole objective.
And no, it’s not a coincidence that the Clippers just signed two of the nicest guys in the league in Crawford and Hill. We get caught up in so many other things, but it’s kind of great working with friendly people you enjoy spending time with. If Charlie Widdoes and Andrew Han were like Rasual Butler (he was always kind of the worst), coming back to ClipperBlog next year wouldn’t be nearly as enticing for me, you know? Paul will get wooed by his huge group of friends sprinkled throughout the league, but the Clippers have created a solid environment in Los Angeles for him with solid dudes slated to return next year. That matters.
But now let’s (finally) get to the real meat of it all — how do Grant Hill and Ryan Hollins fit with the Clippers as basketball players?
Pros: Gives a damn about defense, plays smart.
Cons: Made me wear one of the ugliest jerseys ever for a large chunk of my childhood.
It’s a killer signing for the intangibles that Hill brings to the table — his experience, leadership, pretty much all of the same things you can say for Chauncey. What gets me most excited about Hill though is his defense. Yes, he’ll be 40 years old and he might lose another step, but Hill is routinely praised as one of the smartest, most capable defenders in the league who can stop wings and shift down a spot and defend post players, which is something we’ve seen him do against Blake Griffin plenty. Hill’s experience as a help defender and firm grasp on when to rotate should greatly benefit a Clippers’ defense that struggled mightily with teams who moved the ball.
When the Clippers swap out Caron Butler for Hill, they shouldn’t lose much. Butler and Hill’s rebounding numbers are nearly identical, and both make their money offensively as mid-range shooters. Like Butler, Hill has grown to depend more and more on others creating shots for him — something you can afford to do when Steve Nash or Chris Paul are your point guards. Hill’s experience working off the ball, finding creases in the defense and properly spacing the floor will be a welcome addition, as it takes a special kind of scorer to work off a ball-dominant point guard. Hill won’t take many shots from behind the arc (about 1.5 a game the last few years), and that’s a good thing because he’s sporadic from out there. After hitting 43 percent three seasons ago, Hill hit just 26% last year. Good news is, Hill is much more reliable and consistent when he takes a few steps in from the 16-23 foot range, where he’s shot between 40-46% in 5 of his last 6 seasons according to HoopData.com.
Although his points come in a similar fashion to Butler, he’s a much more complete player. Hill has great court vision and is a selfless team player, and he’s never afraid to make the extra pass. You could make the argument for starting Hill over Butler, but considering how Butler has a tendency to start games hot and the age of the two players, it’s probably best to leave that alone.
That said, Hill could be the starting 2-guard once the season kicks off. I’ll eat my computer if Chauncey Billups is ready for the opener (more on that in another post soon), and Vinny Del Negro might like the idea of leaving Jamal Crawford in the Mo Williams role of a true 6th man. Eric Bledsoe would be the obvious choice given how successful he’s been in lineups playing next to Paul in the regular season and playoffs, but he’ll also have full backup point guard duties without Billups active. That might leave the job to Hill until Billups is fully healed.
Even if that isn’t the case, Hill is a great insurance option for the injury-prone Butler, and a phenomenal alternative to throwing Jamal Crawford at the 3 — something that should never, ever happen. Hill fills the need of a wing defender with size, but he also provides much more than that. There are natural concerns that he’s no longer quick enough on the perimeter or that his shot isn’t sharp enough from behind the arc or that he wasn’t allowed to bring Phoenix’s medical staff as a carry-on item with him to Los Angeles, and those are all valid points. But for the price, it’s hard to imagine the Clippers could have signed a better all-around player. He’s not the FILA wearing, Sprite slamming All-Star we all remember, but Hill is never going to embarrass himself out there. Great pickup.
Pros: Very tall, jumps very high.
Cons: Incapable of grabbing things while being very tall and jumping very high.
It’s a bit troubling that the Clippers replaced Randy Foye (38.6% from 3), Mo Williams (38.9%), and Nick Young (35.3% — but one of the best corner 3 guys in basketball) with Jamal Crawford (30.8%) and Grant Hill (26.4%) out on the perimeter.
Getting Chauncey Billups back will help (38.4% from 3) and Lamar Odom may be able to pinch in (31%), but the Clippers are going to be hard-pressed to shoot as well as they did from 3 last year (12th in the league) given their roster changes. That’s a big deal for a team that took the 5th most 3-pointers (using 3-point rate) in the league last year. If the Clippers are to remain a top-5 offense, they’ll have to find other ways to score.
Of course, that has nothing to do with Ryan Hollins, but it serves to a greater point. One of the reasons the Clippers could overcome their 18th ranked defense and have such a good year was because they hit the glass hard, particularly on the offense end. The Clippers finished 7th in total rebounding rate, bolstered heavily by the 4th place ranking in offensive rebounding rate.
Obviously Reggie Evans was a big part of that. Lamar Odom is a terrific defensive rebounder, but his more perimeter-oriented offensive attack keeps him away from the offensive glass.
After trading Evans for the right to swap draft picks in 2018 when hopefully life is just like The Jetsons told us it would be, the Clippers effectively lost a big chunk of what made them successful on the glass. At least in that regard, they found quite literally the worst possible replacement for Reggie Evans in Ryan Hollins.
Hollins is one of the worst rebounding centers ever, and that’s not hyperbole. His numbers alone are laughable for a 7-footer (6.3 rebounds per 36 minutes), and it’s not an exaggeration to say Reggie is twice the rebounder Hollins is…because he actually is. Reggie Evans’ career total rebounding percentage? 21.1 percent. Ryan Hollins? 10 percent.
But it’s not that Hollins doesn’t live up to Evans as a rebounder — very few guys not named Dennis Rodman do. It’s just that Hollins’ last 3 seasons all registered in the top 20 of worst rebounding seasons for a 7-footer ever. In basketball history. Yeah.
I know, you get it, Hollins can’t rebound. So what can he do?
Well, he can jump and dunk, which is probably enough for the most MacGuyverish of all the point guards out there to work with. He’s mobile, which is nice, and one can only hope he picked up something from Kevin Garnett during his time in Boston in the way of communicating on the backline/headbutting things. Hollins isn’t much of a shotblocker, as he’s lost something in that regard since his foul rate has dropped. He’s active defensively though, and will at least attempt to break up a pick and roll instead of rolling out the red carpet.
There aren’t many decent big men available for the league minimum, so bringing Hollins back home to Los Angeles (born in Pasadena, went to UCLA) and pairing him with an expert lob artist isn’t the worst thing. Given the objective, tutoring a young big man through playing time didn’t seem like an option or something that interests Vinny Del Negro. If Hollins could shoot free throws at a higher clip (64 percent career) or hit the glass in a non-Jamal Crawford like way, he’d be a much better fit. As it is, he’s an athlete with 6 fouls to give.
The Clippers may have lost something with their 3-point shooting on the perimeter, although both Crawford and Hill should certainly perform better than last year in that area. The Clippers may have also taken a hit on the boards, but a revitalized Lamar Odom should be able to limit the damage. But with Hill, and to a far lesser extent Hollins, the Clippers gained ground defensively, which is absolutely their biggest need going into next season.
The Clippers have star power, the mix of young players and veterans, and more depth than just about anyone — but now there’s a need for the creation of a better system to maximize it all. By their own design, the Clippers and Vinny Del Negro will have one season to do just that.