Today, ESPN.com unveiled its Western Conference edition of #NBApicks, in which 100 “experts'” aim to predict the records of each NBA team. (Experts must be in quotes when it includes the three of us). The result: an even 50 wins for the Clippers. What do you guys think? High, low or just right?
1. How many wins did you predict, and why?
Andrew Han: I predicted 51 wins. They had about a .600 win percentage last season with no training camp and essentially a whole new roster. This season is starting with almost an entirely new bench with the two key players (Odom & Crawford) both coming off down years. They’ll likely both recover off last season’s lows, but by how much is the question. It sounds silly because 50/51 wins would be the most wins in franchise history, but it’s a safe guesstimate and I went safe.
D.J. Foster: 49. Here’s a fun fact: The Clippers have 5 rotation guys (Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Caron Butler) that rank in the top 50 of career minutes played for active players. That experience is great and will pay dividends come playoff time, but in the middle of January, all those miles might take their toll. I think there’s potential for a much better win total because of the growth of Blake Griffin and the developing chemistry between him and Chris Paul, but 49 wins feels safe to me.
Charlie Widdoes: I had them at 50, so I guess that makes me the big winner. That was their pace last season, had it lasted a full 82 games, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince myself they’d be any better or worse. They are deeper, sure, but they are even older and don’t figure to shoot the ball nearly as well. And they still have the same coach. We are in a new era of Clipper basketball, but 50 wins still seems like a reasonable benchmark.
2. What has to happen for the Clippers to win more than 50 games? What’s their regular season win ceiling?
AH: They need production from the SF position. Last season the Clippers’ small forward PER was 9.9, 4.7 points lower than the next lowest position (SG, you know, where the Clippers basically used point guards). Charlie wrote in an earlier piece that Caron could be improved this season simply by virtue of a normal season and another year removed from knee injury. And Grant Hill should still be able to provide at least 20 minutes/night of above average service. Barring any health or chemistry issues, 60 wins would be a reasonable ceiling.
DJ: Kind of funny, isn’t it? After all these years, the Clippers’ postseason aspirations once again rest with Lamar Odom. For the Clippers to eclipse the 50 win mark, they’ll need Odom at the top of his game, versatile as ever, filling in at all three frontcourt spots effectively. Aside from getting Good Lamar, the Clips will have to defend better as a whole. Ranking 18th in defensive efficiency this year probably won’t get you more than 50 wins in an improved Western Conference, but the Clippers did start defending well towards the end of last season — a positive sign going forward. I’d like to hop on the back of Eric Bledsoe and blast through any ceiling for regular season wins, but let’s put the true best case scenario at 60 wins.
CW: The biggest key to exceeding 50 wins has to be Lamar Odom. I’m still skeptical, but if he’s right, he could make them very dangerous. That’s a couple extra wins right there, and if they could get close to 82 high-quality games from Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill, along with steady improvement from Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, I guess I could see them pulling 60 wins out of somewhere. Who said I wasn’t optimistic?
3. What could happen to make them win fewer than 50 games? What’s their worst-case-scenario record?
AH: Injuries and injuries. Did I say injuries? If Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are healthy, the Clippers will probably motor to a high 40s win count despite any other problems. The duo is just that good. But both needed offseason surgeries to address nagging injuries. And Billups is returning from injury. And Caron had a broken hand. If we’re talking about worst-case scenarios, then it’s obviously health (that’s true for most teams, though). A “sky-is-falling” prediction? 42 wins if Paul or Griffin miss significant time at any point of the season.
DJ: All the usual fears — injuries to key players (Paul or Griffin), heavy decline in the older players (Billups, Hill), a lack of development from the younger players (Jordan), poor coaching and rotations (Vinny), and shoddy team defense (everyone) — can be brought up. Honestly though, I feel like this team has a high floor. When Chris Paul plays close to a full season, his teams make the playoffs. They just do. With solid depth and a bunch of amazing locker room guys, I have a hard time seeing this team get derailed. Worst-case scenario? 44 wins and a 7/8 seed.
CW: This is the one I’m worried about. All it takes is one of a number of things to make things fall apart, including: Chris Paul or Blake Griffin missing more than, say, 15 games; Odom doing, you know, what he did last year; Billups and Hill succumbing the the inevitability of serious decline. What if Jamal Crawford is really inefficient and inadequate on defense and, with no job security whatsoever, Del Negro is too slow to adjust his rotation? I cannot see a scenario in which the Clippers miss the playoffs, but I could see the defense staying below league-average and the offense stagnating, and they wind up sneaking in with somewhere around 44 wins.