This offseason was universally proclaimed a success for the Clippers. With the acquisitions of Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, they made massive upgrades on the wings and also added some interesting versatility with tweener forward Antawn Jamison. The undercover star of last season’s team, Matt Barnes, was re-signed to a very reasonable deal and Darren Collison, signed on the cheap, helped mitigate the loss of Eric Bledsoe.
The Clippers gained net talent and none of the new players look to be a problematic fit. On the contrary, Redick, Dudley and Collison fit perfectly in the Clippers’ offense. That offense should be an explosive combination of shooting and dunks driven by the prowess of Chris Paul.
The thing is, offense wasn’t an issue last season, and an offense featuring Paul and Blake Griffin never will be an issue. Los Angeles scored at a rate of just 1.8 points per 100 possessions below the league leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Dudley and Redick should bridge that gap, but that additional 1.8 points per 100 possessions offensively is only equivalent to about four wins over the course of a season. And when you consider the losses of Bledsoe and Odom, who anchored the best qualified defensive lineup in the league, it’s hard to see this offseason making that large of an impact on the Clippers, at least in the regular season. Los Angeles will be largely counting on internal player development.
Last season’s obstacle was the lack of defense, especially on the interior. The Clippers’ defense got progressively worse throughout the year, and the losses of Bledsoe and Odom don’t help the case that L.A. will have a top flight defense this year.
NBA offenses have become more based on dribble penetrators who can compromise a defense’s shape and open up opportunities for teammates. In turn, centers who can protect the rim at a high level are a precious commodity because they help defenses maintain shape against these slashers.
The Clippers have a glaring hole where that rim protector should be. Theoretically, it’s DeAndre Jordan, but lack of understanding on how to move defensively negates his elite athleticism. Will Doc Rivers be able to turn Jordan into a high level defender? It’s possible, but not something to bank on. Rivers doesn’t have a noted track record as a talent developer, and the ability to coach a killer defensive system may not be the same as the ability to turn an average defender into a great one. Jordan won’t suddenly “get it” after hearing some mystical secret of big man defense from Rivers. Learning takes time.
Let’s go back to my initial assertion that the Clippers offseason acquisitions would only improve the offense around two points per 100 possessions and discuss the idea of diminishing returns. Diminishing returns says that as more things are added together, the value of each of these things diminishes. Let’s say LeBron James is worth 17 wins above average (if a team of average players wins 41 games; replace one of those with James and the team wins 55 games), Dwyane Wade is worth 14 games, and Chris Bosh is worth 13. Does a completely average team that replaces three of its players with these three win 76 games? Well, no, not quite. These three players have overlapping roles so together they make less of an individual impact. That’s the general idea. Diminishing returns has been shown to have an effect on a number of basketball statistics, most famously rebounding.
Why does this matter? Adding more really good offensive players to an already top level offense isn’t going to improve said offense as much as these players’ talent would indicate. There are only so many possessions to go around, and Redick and Dudley aren’t going to space the floor that much more than last year’s wings.
L.A. didn’t address its biggest issue of frontcourt defense this offseason, instead opting to pay a lot of money and assets for a slight offensive improvement. This approach could be validated if Rivers’ defensive system is good enough to cover up for the lack of rim protector, or if Jordan and/or Griffin makes a miraculous jump. Right now though, the offseason is looking less and less like a major success.