In most cases, a sequel is hit or miss. Some advance the narrative, introduce new characters, and are masterpieces (The Dark Knight). Others drag out the storyline, try too hard to replicate the prequel’s success, and end up being forgettable (The Hangover 2).
Unfortunately for the Clippers, almost all signs point towards the latter heading into the 2012-2013 season.
This offseason was supposed to address L.A.’s most dire needs – a “stretch” big man (Lamar Odom), an athletic wing-stopper (Grant Hill) and a big guard who can take offensive pressure off of Chris Paul (Jamal Crawford) – yet it seems they’re in the same position they were in three months ago.
Miami reloaded with more shooters, OKC’s young talent is only going to get better, especially with their Olympic reps, and the team across the hall just added two future Hall-of-Famers. The Clippers’ shot at a championship couldn’t look grimmer.
Using The Hangover 2 comparison, the parallel is uncanny.
Alan is the breakaway star and the engine that keeps everyone interested (Chris Paul). Phil is the flash and glamour of it all, and is arguably just as important of a character (Blake Griffin). Unless he’s marrying a stripper or getting a face tattoo, we know what to expect out of boring old Stu (Caron Butler). And whenever we think Doug is going to have a large role, he disappears (DeAndre Jordan).
It’s harder to find comparisons for Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe, as neither was a major factor for more than one-third of the season. In that case, Billups can be Mike Tyson and Bledsoe can be Mr. Chow, two other supplementary characters that play vital roles.
In The Hangover 2, the plot remained virtually the same. There wasn’t any further character development or new elements that changed the narrative’s dynamic. Basically, Alan poisons the group, they black out, do something crazy, and then spend the rest of the movie trying to pick up their forgotten pieces. Then, it all works out, everyone’s happy and they somehow end up reviewing pictures of their inebriated outing.
The keys to making a great sequel are using what worked in the first (yet not in the same boring fashion), developing the characters/storyline into something more advanced or interesting, and adding in original nuances that elicit the same organic reactions. It’s as challenging as it sounds, and The Hangover 2 failed miserably in this department.
For the Clippers, this idea couldn’t be more on point. They need to continue what worked for them last year — Paul/Griffin pick-and-rolls, perimeter shooting, their defense in the second half of the season, etc. — while simultaneously developing their young players and making sure they fix what didn’t work.
I was skeptical of going to see The Hangover 2 because I felt it’d almost be impossible to improve off the first. It was too unique, too original and too priceless. Like I predicted, the sequel ended up being a carbon copy, except with worse humor, the same hackneyed plotline and a drug-dealing monkey.
What I felt the movie needed, as well as what I felt the Clippers needed, was an injection from a supplementary character. It got boring just watching Alan, Phil and Stu do the same ‘ole thing. They needed someone else to come in, be crazy with them and shake things up. It didn’t happen.
The same analogy can be applied to the Clippers. They won’t go far in the playoffs if they solely rely on Paul, Griffin and a merry-go-round of Butler, Jordan, Bledsoe or Odom filling in as their “third” star. The Hangover 2 didn’t add that one character to get them over the edge, and I don’t see the Clippers having one on their roster either.
Additionally, with Paul/Eric Bledsoe and Griffin/Odom, L.A. is comfortably set at the point guard and power forward positions for the foreseeable future. And, with Butler/Hill and Jordan also in tow, they’ve placed large investments at the small forward and center spots that will be difficult to move.
Therefore, four-fifths of the starting line-up is likely set for the next two seasons, leaving one logical conclusion: the only position they can possibly improve on, whether it be via the draft or free agency, is shooting guard.
Unfortunately, with limited cap space, the Clippers are stuck. They could only use their mid-level this offseason, which rarely brings in the ideal player. With other squads loading up on stars, and the Clippers only having two such players and a few starting-level guys, it looks as if the role players will be counted on more than ever … especially at shooting guard.
Last year, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Nick Young were the primary occupants at shooting guard. Bledsoe got some run there at the end of the season, but since he’s poised to be a main character this year, we’ll leave him out of the supporting cast conversation.
Besides the fact that three of the four aforementioned players are 6-foot-4 or shorter (which is undersized for shooting guards, especially alongside Paul), they’ve all become spot-up shooters or been relegated to that distinction by the Clippers. In layman’s terms, they don’t need the ball to be effective and are good shooters. This is the sole requirement for playing shooting guard in the Clippers’ current system.
Billups and Williams’ transition to off-the-ball guards were a bit of an adjustment as they’re both accustomed to playing “traditional” point guard roles throughout their careers. But since both are better shooters than scorers or creators, it eventually worked out.
Foye is a journeyman in the greatest sense, likely benefitting the most from playing with Paul. As a bench player he was virtually useless, on the fringe of losing his rotation spot. As a starter, he quickly became one of the best shooters in the league, capable of blowing open a lead with a barrage of three-pointers, most of which were wide-open and initiated by Paul’s wizardry.
Young, a late addition, had the adequate size and skillset to earn the most minutes at shooting guard, but never quite got the hang of it. He struggled early, yet came on strong during the Clippers’ playoff push. In the end, though, he wasn’t the best fit for L.A., his defensive effort left much to be desired, and he suffered from the same pitfalls that have plagued him his entire career.
Now, three of last year’s four main contributors are gone, and we don’t know when Billups will return. And even when he does, there will be questions. Will he be the Billups of old? Will he have lost another step? Is he a starter or a 15 minutes per game guy?
Billups took too many shots and disrupted the offense a bit, but even then, the Clippers’ starters were far and away the best offensive unit in the league. If he’s back to normal, and the Clippers run things similarly, the promises of a Western Conference finals berth may not be too far-fetched.
So, who’s replacing the departed? Jamal Crawford, a former sixth man of the year and notorious gunslinger, and Willie Green, a journeyman with similar talent to Foye, were added via free agency. And, of course, a healthy Billups and Bledsoe are set to stop the bleeding.
Neither Crawford nor Green had the pleasure of having the best point guard alive feeding them open looks, so it’s difficult to compare their numbers with Williams, Foye or Young. Plus, Crawford was comically bad last season, and Green had a career-shooting year. Both will likely return to their averages, although being on the wrong side of 30 doesn’t bode well for Crawford and Green was never that good to begin with.
As I mentioned earlier, the key to being a Clipper shooting guard is, well, shooting. Is the new duo as good at shooting? No. Green had a career year from beyond the arc (44.2 percent), especially in the corners (54.0 percent), where he’ll likely get most of his shots. The problem is he’s traditionally never been proficient from the 3-point line (career 33.4 percent shooter and always hovering around mid-30s in the corners), so it’s tough to gauge how much of his success was a fluke. Nonetheless, reuniting with Paul will likely make things easier on him.
On paper, Crawford is probably the Clippers’ best shooting guard over the past two seasons, which isn’t saying much. He’s the league-leader in four-point plays, can put up 15 points in a quarter, and is a fearless offensive player. The main reason he was brought in, most likely, is his ability to create his own shot. That’s something the Clippers lacked last year besides Paul, Butler and at times Young, who isn’t as talented as Crawford is.
What his scouting report lists under the “cons” section is that he can just as easily hog the ball, has yet to see a shot he hasn’t liked, and will frustrate Clipper fans by taking away possessions from Griffin and Paul. For a guy that shoots so much, he doesn’t shoot very well (career 40.8 percent shooter). Oh yeah, he’s also horrible defensively and is even worse at rebounding. In fact, he’s one of the worst ever at the guard position.
Overall, it’s probably a wash from last season to this one. Even with Billups’ return, the trio of Billups, Crawford and Green won’t be as potent as Foye, Williams and Young were last year. However, that’s disregarding Bledsoe’s impact, the only non-question at off-guard heading into next year.
The new triage is a bit better defensively, but not by much. They’re also bigger, which is a plus. Even more promising is the fact that they’re not as one-dimensional as last year’s guards, although last year’s group had the rare ability to obliterate an opponent with they’re shooting. This year’s quartet will need to find its own identity, as Billups appears to be the only “true” shooter.
A lot of the Clippers’ success will depend on Billups’ rehabbing, Crawford’s understanding of his role within the offense and Green’s ability to continue his shooting deftness. That’s a lot of question marks for a team that will need everything to break right for them to be playing in June.
Despite all of the change, much remains the same. The Clippers are putting together scraps at shooting guard, with the result likely not ideal. They’re still undersized and can’t guard anyone. Their outside shooting, which torched opponents last year, is all but gone.
Like The Hangover 2, the Clippers will be relying too much on their leads to carry them this season. And yet again, the outcome will be predictable and disappointing.