We’re slightly more than halfway through the NBA season and that means it’s a perfect time to offer some midseason evaluations. ClipperBlog will be running “Clipper Midterms” throughout the week, one piece a day from Monday through Friday. Here is part three from Fred Katz.
It’s essentially the midway point of the season. That means it’s time for some of the Clipper guards to receive their midterm grades and the class should be pretty happy about its results.
CHAUNCEY BILLUPS: INCOMPLETE
Chauncey missed the first 14 games this season, came back to play three, and hasn’t stepped on the court since. It’s been a plague of foot injuries that’s taken down the former All-Star, but even if Billups can’t be what he once was, he can still be a major contributor to this team.
Upon his return, the defense immediately improves. Even if Chauncey can’t move the way he used to, we saw how his intelligence can affect offenses in the few games he’s played this season. He’s a gritty defender, someone who will affect a ball-handler, which is something the Clippers might be missing at their starting shooting guard spot.
But all that being said, Billups has played only 59 total minutes this year and the Clippers don’t love to give timetables for their injured players. We don’t know how long Billups will be out. Maybe another few days. Maybe another few weeks. Maybe another few months. Maybe the season. At this point, we honestly don’t know. That’s a fine organizational strategy, but a student who hasn’t been able to complete his work won’t find himself with anything other than an incomplete.
ERIC BLEDSOE: B
Bledsoe’s numbers have slightly dipped since the start of the season, but let’s not pretend that he still isn’t one of the best backup point guards in the entire league.
Bledsoe’s numbers on a per 36 minutes basis are still notably good. He’s averaging 16.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.0 assists to go along with his ridiculous 2.8 steals. And with Bledsoe, it’s all about those steals and that defense.
Bledsoe plays some of the most air-tight, on-ball defense of any point guard in the league. He is tied for the NBA league-lead in steal percentage (with guess who…Chris Paul). Nothing better exemplifies Bledsoe’s defense than his ability to block shots. He has become arguably the best shot-blocking guard in the NBA, averaging 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes. He also did this to Dwyane Wade.
JAMAL CRAWFORD: B+
When Crawford signed a four-year contract in the offseason with the Clippers, there were questions if the Clips overextended on that deal. The inquiries were legitimate. Crawford was a 32-year-old, shoot-first guard coming off the worst statistical season of his career.
Oh, how perception can change so quickly.
Crawford has immediately returned to J. Crossover form after leaving Portland, where he often played out of position at the point. In L.A., he says he feels more comfortable playing for Vinny Del Negro and it makes sense with the way the Clippers use him: plenty of isolation, plenty of jumpers, plenty of threes, and plenty of open looks.
Crawford has helped carry what has been the best bench unit in the NBA. His 17 games scoring 20-or-more points off the bench are tops in the league. Meanwhile his 20.4 points per 36 minutes is best on the Clippers.
WILLIE GREEN: B-
Green has essentially done exactly what he’s supposed to do: hit open threes in the corner and don’t mess with anything else.
At times, Green is so quiet, you’d think he attended the Milford School.
You can always tell a Milford man.
But mainly, he’s doing his job. He is shooting 49 percent on corner threes this season, one of the best rates in the NBA on the second-most efficient shot in basketball. Meanwhile, from the right corner, he’s tops in the league, hitting 57 percent of those.
The defense has left little to be desired, which is unfortunate considering his website is entitled “Willie Green, NBA Superstar Defender” when you do a Google search to find it. The Clippers do a pretty good job of hiding him and when you have a shooter averaging only 18 minutes a game, but hitting 44.4 percent of his threes on almost three attempts per game since Christmas, that’s someone who is successfully filling a role.
CHRIS PAUL: A
If this university gave out A-pluses, Paul would be in the running for one. Is there anything he hasn’t done right this year?
Paul can realistically be credited with any part of the Clippers’ success this season. Great team chemistry: Paul is the leader. Unselfish play: Paul is the floor director. Winning close games: Paul takes over in crunch time.
He’s arguably the best defensive and offensive point guard in the game and is leading the league in steals for what would be the fifth time in six seasons, a part of CP3’s game which doesn’t go unrecognized but surely goes underappreciated.
The three-point shooting is down, but that’s all right. So are the shot attempts. When Paul needs to score, he does. It’s just that when he sees open shots for Willie Green or Blake Griffin or Matt Barnes, he lets them take the shots. The way he controls a game is second to none. And that’s why an A for Paul was relatively inevitable.