In preparation for the upcoming 2013-2014 Clippers season, we’re looking at the roster individually to demystify some popular myths. We’ll also be exploring and predicting potential team myths that may arise throughout this season and analyzing their accuracy.
Jamal Crawford, “the chucker”
For all of Jamal Crawford’s individual offensive talents, and there are many — graceful handles, the shake-and-bake, his ability to break down a defender in order to make ridiculous shots (see 4-point play leaders). Crawford’s highlight reel would make any NBA savant giggle, and his misses, not so much. Because of this, Crawford’s reputation implies that he is not one for passing and may even be regarded as a ball-stopper. This could even be supported by the fact that he only averaged 2.5 assists per game last season. So maybe Jamal was a chucker last year on the Clippers, but that may be a product of his role, as opposed to his actual skill set. Here’s what Jamal Crawford has to say about this (undeserved) reputation:
— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) September 29, 2013
Okay, so he’s rounding up, but Crawford’s career assist numbers stand at 3.8 per game and he’s even had seasons where he’s averaged 5+ assists. We should make a distinction between “can’t pass” with “doesn’t pass” or “doesn’t need to pass.” After all, there is definitely a difference between a player who has tunnel vision with no idea where his teammates are on a given play and a player who is aware of their court surroundings but whose primary role is not to facilitate. I’ll let you decide if this distinction is worth making or what this means for Jamal Crawford this season. On a team with a much more loaded bench, more offensive threats and an offensive emphasis towards motion? I expect Crawford’s assist numbers to bump and his actual skill set be realized.
Byron Mullens, “the three-point specialist”
The idea is that Byron Mullens is a modern-day power forward, a stretch floor, brought in to space the floor for the Clippers. This is a contrast to other power forwards who only stretch the floor from the elbow (see LaMarcus Aldridge) and teams that carry two bigs that love to pound it closer to the paint (see Spurs, Grizzlies). In reality, Mullens fits in… neither schools of thought. Wait, what? If a Byron Mullens stands from the three-point line and takes a shot when open, does it make a sound?
During Mullens’ four year career, his three point percentage is below-average at 30.1 percent, but maybe you could argue that he is getting a little better; Mullens shot 31.7 percent last season and averaged 3.9 attempts per game. Which begs the question: will opponents even care about letting him shoot threes?
No player in the league took more three-point attempts and had a lower percentage than Byron Mullens (the closest was Kobe Bryant who shot 32.4 percent on 5.2 attempts per game, so there’s that). Of comparable players with similar three-point percentages and volume, Mullens is in the class of Kemba Walker (32.2 percent, 4.0 attempts per game), Monta Ellis (28.7 percent, 4.0 attempts per game) and Alan Anderson (33 percent, 4.4 attempts per game).
Blake Griffin, “all he does is dunk”
Please stop. And read this by Sebastian Pruiti.
Griffin does have a post game, and a pretty effective one at that. He has a go-to move, that spin along the baseline, but he needs to start switching things up, especially on the right block. He’s very effective going middle, but doesn’t do it nearly enough. He needs to, to keep the defense guessing. Once he does that, he’ll start commanding double teams a little bit more, and that’s when he can start using his passing ability to hurt the defense. Finally, he really needs to improve his face-up game. If he can do that, his post game will take another step in the right direction.
And this by Brett Koremenos.
No matter what side of the fence people sit on, they likely still don’t give Griffin the proper credit for his ability as a passer. Last night, in the Clippers’ superb win against the Miami Heat, that skill was on full display.
Chris Paul, “[insert some other player] is the best scoring point guard in the league”
With his blend of scoring and passing, Chris Paul has been touted as the best, most traditional point guard in the league for the past two years. Nobody is a better passer than Chris Paul. But in a variation of point guard ranks, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving have been debated as the better “scoring point guard.” They may be more ostentatious in their scoring ability, but better?
YouTube the highlights of any of these players and you’ll find a barrage of ankle breakers, crossovers, dunks and three-point shooting. Nobody doubts the talents of Westbrook, Curry or Kyrie; they’re top-tier guards in the league. Still, if I need a guard to score, give me Chris Paul, not be as flashy as the others but gets the job done just as well, if not better. And in crunch time.
So, yes, give me the step-back jumper at the top of the key. The slow fade and high-arcing shot. The inside-out ball-fake pull-up. The swing-through jumper from the elbow. Give me the ability to create a great shot off against Andre Iguodala, Tony Allen and LeBron James in crunch time. In isolation. Give me Chris Paul, Point God.
DeAndre Jordan, “overpaid”
With all of DeAndre Jordan’s athletic prowess comes great responsibility. Teams salivate at the idea of having an athletically gifted center that can block shots, protect the rim and have a soft touch. Everyone wants DeAndre to be a peak Tyson Chandler. Why? Tyson was the type of center that thrived next to Chris Paul, someone that could organically enhance a defense this season. This is DeAndre Jordan’s sixth season. And to most of his dissenters, there’s a feeling that he has vastly underperformed for how much he is paid. Is he just a bust who was overpaid because he was tall and athletically gifted?
Above is a chart of all of the tentative starting centers for the 2013-2014 season per ESPN (mostly accurate, but not fully updated on injuries) along with their approximate salaries per Hoopsworld. The top 10 centers more or less makes sense in terms of price range, with the exception of Emeka Okafor and Al Jefferson. Joakim Noah and Al Horford could both stand to make more money, as well as players who are currently on their rookie contracts. But take a look where DeAndre Jordan sits, the $8-12 million range. Are any of those players noticeably better than DeAndre or do they have their own flaws too? Kendrick Perkins is overpaid, Marcin Gortat might be underpaid, Varejao is an injury-risk and Tiago Splitter and Nikola Pekovic have probably both peaked as decent bigs. And Javale McGee? A young, athletic center who can block shots, but has a developing skill set and will also earn approximately $11 million this year. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
The market for players who fit this profile is a pricey one and stands at approximately $11 million. So no, DeAndre Jordan isn’t overpaid. He’s paid effectively market value because other players of similar risk/reward earn that much.
Team Myths Going Forward
Doc Rivers, “the doctor ordered “veteran leadership” for the Clippers’ ailments”
The single most notable acquisition the Clippers made this past offseason was Doc Rivers. His coaching resume speaks for itself; taking the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Finals twice and grabbing a championship in 2008. He is well-respected around the league and known for his ability to be a great motivator, inspiring teamwork over individual play; seen in his ability to manage the egos of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen for the greater part of their Celtic tenure.
Any great success that the Clippers have this year will be dominantly attributed to Doc Rivers, his championship pedigree and his “veteran leadership.” It will be an easy, albeit hackneyed, go-to for writers and fans across the nation because Doc has “been there.”
Not that it’d be undeserved or even inaccurate, just incomplete. A coach is only as good as his players and a player is only as good as his coach. (I won’t get into a discussion of how precisely valuable a coach is in relation to his team, but Doc knows what a bad roster can do to any coach, just ask his 2003-2004 Orlando Magic.)
By attributing all the credit to Doc Rivers, we’d be dismissing the individual effort and care that Jordan and Griffin will have had in progressively honing their offensive and defensive skills. We will be dismissing the valuable contributions that the other Clippers acquisitions will have made for the season. “Veteran leadership” won’t paint the entire picture of why the Clippers’ offense will be vastly improved this year. Doc can take the credit if the Clippers are able to consistently execute a great play out of a timeout or how organized the Clippers’ rotation and schemes will look this season. But, we can thank J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley for any increase in three-point shooting and floor spacing. Because if “veteran leadership” and “championship” pedigree were all the Clippers needed on offense and defense, then Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom would have been enough the past two seasons. And in case you weren’t paying attention, it wasn’t.
In reality, any improvements to the Clippers’ offense or defense will be a synergistic relationship between team and coach. Let’s not forget to credit the entire cast of characters this season. The Clippers got better collectively as a team because they added a bunch of new pieces and returning players improved, not because of one man. It will be a team-wide effort, and we can thank the organization, as a whole, for being competent enough to put fitting pieces around the right players and coach.
“The End of Lob City”
According to a recent interview, Blake Griffin stated that, “Lob City doesn’t exist anymore. Lob City is done.” If the insinuation that the Clippers will no longer feature lobs as its dominant way to garner points, I would argue that the Chris Paul pick-and-roll was a more accurate description anyway. However, if the end of Lob City implies that the frequency of points off of lobs will decline this season, well… I still don’t buy it and don’t interpret it that way. If anything, Blake’s comment isn’t the end of featuring amazing dunks and lobs, it sounds like an announcement to the beginning of the next stage of his career.
For the last two years, the Clippers were a top team in number of alley oops. And for Chris Paul, it was a convenient mode of assists. This year? The pieces are still there, DeAndre, Blake and Paul, so I don’t really see lobs going away. Most of their lob buckets came in transition, not in the half court sets. So if their defense is better, the way Doc Rivers and Blake claim it will? Then I suspect more transition points off of turnovers and misses, and that definitely means more lobs.
So then why say it? One, it’s a classic PR move by players and teams in an effort to reframe and refocus fan and media attention away from old identities. Think of all the jersey changes teams undergo to signify the changing of the guard, from a franchise player perspective or a team perspective (see New Orleans Pelicans). Think of when Kobe Bryant switched his number from 8 to 24 after Shaq’s departure and offcourt troubles. It’s an easy way to institute change — a nice and tidy turning point in one’s narrative.
A second round exit from the playoffs is not the end goal this season, nor should it be. Last season’s exit should not be an accomplishment or a success; it should be viewed as a failure. Maybe Griffin’s saying it for himself, to reframe his focus in order to help himself and the Clippers reach new heights. Maybe this isn’t a PR move at all, but rather a chance for a team leader to change himself and the identity of his team. Maybe he’s telling us and planting the first seed, that the Clippers are more than just “Lob City” — they’re a championship team.