With a 5-3 preseason in the books, it’s time to ask the tough questions and find out what it all means for the regular season…
How did the new additions fare?
The word was that these guys genuinely enjoyed playing with each other, and that was most evident in the way they shared the ball during the preseason. They finished 11th in the league in assists per game, and that was without Chris Paul for three of them. Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, in particular, impressed by making the extra pass and the result was open looks aplenty.
On the other hand, Lamar Odom showed up looking like Benoit Benjamin and averaged as many fouls (2.7) as points in 17 minutes per game during the three games he played. Now he, along with 40-year old Grant Hill, are out with the dreaded Bone Bruise. None of this is particularly surprising for players in their situations, but it doesn’t bode well for two guys who the team (perhaps haphazardly) was counting on to contribute.
So does that mean the Clippers are, indeed, as deep as they say?
Yes and no. Between Barnes, Crawford and Eric Bledsoe (if he didn’t earn a starting spot) they have some perimeter guys who should terrorize opposing second units and give Vinny Del Negro some flexibility to play with some different lineup combinations. Barnes did everything you could have hoped for: move without the ball, knock down shots, defend and move the ball. Crawford did what he does: shoot a ton, rebound very little (less than one per game in 26.6 minutes) and pass more than you’d expect.
Did you forget about Willie Green?
If only… Green started at the 2 in all seven games in which he played, and did just about as poorly as an NBA player trying to win a job could do. He shot 36 percent from the floor and 26 percent from 3, despite a good portion of those shots being wide open. His performance was truly Gomesian, although in Ryan Gomes’ first season with the Clippers he was 41 percent from the floor and 34 percent from 3. As I wrote before the preseason started, it’s easy for us to imagine these things working — as was the case with Gomes — but sometimes it doesn’t work out as planned. We’ll see how his performance, coupled with those of Bledsoe and Barnes, affects playing time. It probably should.
But what about the frontcourt?
Good question. Still not sold on this one. If Blake Griffin plays around 37 minutes a game and DeAndre Jordan gets up to 30, that leaves 29 minutes to be filled by some combination of Ryan Hollins, Ronny Turiaf and (gulp) Odom. Odom is out of shape and hurt and not to be counted on. Turiaf brings energy and fodder for Jeremy Evans highlight reels.
Hollins’ athleticism stuck out, but as we know, the Clippers don’t figure to run as much once the regular season gets underway. That’s just not how Paul likes to play. Will he, with his underwhelming career rebound rate of 10 percent, be so helpful once the pace slows? We’ll give this a big, fat TBD, with the hope that the starters can handle big minutes and Del Negro can make chicken salad out of the rest.
What about the main issue: fixing a defense that ranked 18th last season?
Well, opponents shot 42 percent against them, good for 22nd in the league. That’s not a good sign. But, as noted, they ran more during the preseason, so playing at their preferred pace should give them an opportunity to show off any improvements developed over an offseason of playing together — the first for this core group. And playing Bledsoe more should help. That, like the defense in general, will be up to Del Negro.
I spoke to someone after the Lakers game who has been a head coach in college, the D-League and overseas, and he had this to say: “Saw the game last night vs Lakers. Was at Lakers practice last Saturday too. My views on the Clippers are that they seem a lot more balanced and I really like their defensive schemes…DeAndre Jordan and Blake make for some serious rebounders and post defenders.” Blake, a “serious” defender? At the risk of speaking for him, I think what he means is that he sees the tools and the potential for these guys to make a difference on the defensive end. This will be the key to their hopes of advancing past the second round this season.
Let’s be honest — the Clippers’ best chance at taking the next step will come from returning guys improving. How does that look after the preseason?
It’s tough to pick who was better between Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan, but you couldn’t imagine a more promising preseason from the two principals in this conversation. DeAndre, as we’ve covered, showed improvement in his offensive game and was noticeably more engaged on a consistent basis. Bledsoe led the team in minutes with 30, and based on what he did in that time, one can only hope that it’s a sign of things to come.