Here’s a curious fact: The Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets have each played 38 games so far this season, but have yet to face each other. Which is why there are no images of the current Clippers lineup playing the current Rockets team (if you notice, number 5 on the Rockets is partially cut off, that’s Courtney Lee, now on the Celtics).
So here are 3 questions for two teams that have changed so much there are no photos of them in the wild together. And even though it’s a 3-on-3 format, symmetry be damned, we went to 4! 4-on-3!
1. Which big man would you rather have right now and going forward: Omer Asik or DeAndre Jordan?
Andrew Han: This is mostly a math question: Omer Asik. He’s been developed in a defensive system (Thibodeau), he’s fifth in rebounding rate and he’s cheaper at $8m/year. As nascent as DeAndre’s offensive skills are, they’re far superior to Asik’s. In a vacuum I’d prefer DeAndre, but the salary is what swings it. And that’s no knock on Jordan, I’m just very bullish on Asik.
Jovan Buha: DeAndre Jordan. Asik is the better rebounder and defender, but I trust Jordan’s developing offensive touch around the rim a bit more. The threat of his dunking ability opens up lanes for Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe, as well as passing angles for spot-up shooters. It’s close, but I’d take DJ.
Michael Shagrin: Two questions deserve two answers. From the perspective of the Clippers, Asik would be a better fit today. The one area in which the Clippers need to improve come the playoffs, when the game slows down and each possession becomes that much more valuable, is defensive rebounding (the Clippers currently sit 22nd in defensive rebounding rate). Asik is the fourth in the league in defensive rebounding rate, while Jordan doesn’t even crack the top 50. However, going forward, DeAndre is the better option given the steep trajectory of his skills development.
Jordan Heimer: Each team has the center it needs. DeAndre is one of the Twin Towers that anchor downtown Lob City, and his ability to run with Chris Paul and jump with Blake Griffin is essential to the team’s explosiveness. Asik is more fundamentally sound on the boards and in his coverage decisions. His consistency helps off-set the sometimes erratic defensive play of Lin and Harden in front of him.
2. If the Spurs and Thunder remain in the top 3 with the Clippers, does Houston represent the scariest potential first round matchup? If not, who does?
Han: If the Warriors don’t get a healthy Bogut back, the Rockets are tied with Golden State as “scariest lower seed.” The things that scare you as a favorite is a team being able to unsustainably get hot for a short stretch (say a week or two) and run over you. Well, Golden State and Houston both feature high powered offenses that can become supernova hot for a brief period. Recipe for anxiety.
Shagrin: Not worried about the Rockets. Though James Harden has turned Houston into an offensive juggernaut, they’re playing at the NBA’s fastest pace and giving up more points than any playoff team other than Portland. I’m personally terrified of the Lakers. Maybe it’s big brother’s shadow or maybe it’s the four future Hall of Famers. Nevertheless, I’m terrified.
Buha: Not to cop out, but it depends on the lower seeds. I’m sure the Clippers would rather face the Jazz or Blazers over the Rockets, but the same can’t be said if the Lakers, Nuggets or Warriors drop to the bottom three seeds (or rise, in the Lakers’ case). I’d say the Rockets are about in the middle — but there’s no “easy” first round foe in the West this year.
Heimer: No. Recent beat-down or no, the Warriors are still the scariest first match-up. Is it likely that Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry both shoot out-of-their-collective minds for 4 games in 7? No. Is it possible? Definitely.
3. If the Clippers keep winning without Chris Paul (who is questionable again), does it damper Paul’s case for MVP?
Han: No, and here’s why: valuable is the key word here. It’s also the most nebulous word. Chris Paul adds immense value to the team on the court. As much as LeBron or Durant? Possibly not. But Paul also rebuilt a downtrodden franchise, changed its culture and image with his presence. Griffin has been established as the face of the Clippers. But Chris Paul is literally the most valuable person, not just on the team, but to the entire organization.
Shagrin: Certainly. The only bop on Paul’s MVP candidacy is how little the Clippers need out of him on a nightly basis. Obviously, Paul’s come up huge when absolutely necessary (the top of the key dagger over Kobe comes to mind), but his minutes are at a career-low and he’s often been stuck on the sideline as #ATribeCalledBench seals the deal in the final frame.
Buha: Unfortunately, yes. I’m actually all for Paul as MVP — I think he has the narrative, statistics and team success to support his campaign. With that said, if the Clippers beat two playoff teams without him, it doesn’t help his cause. Still, he’s the league’s unanimous POINT GOD and a top-3 player.
Heimer: Absolutely, fairly or unfairly. Paul can’t win the MVP on numbers alone – LeBron and KD are having flat out more impressive seasons – so he has to win it on narrative. If the perception is that he is anything less than “absolutely essential” to the Clippers ability to beat good teams, he has no shot at the award.