1. Who has stood out amongst the starters?
Jovan Buha, (@jovanbuha): J.J. Redick. The Clippers’ net rating when he’s on the floor (+10.0) is the highest among the starters and almost double the next closest player (Blake Griffin, +5.7). He hasn’t shot as well as I anticipated, but his off-ball movement and reputation as a sharpshooter shift defenses considerably. Also, it sounds crazy, but he’s arguably the Clippers’ best perimeter defender.
Aaron Fischman, (@aaronhartf): Chris Paul. His 12.3 assists per 36 minutes are unrivaled around the league (Ricky Rubio, the second-place man in the category, trails by three whole assists). Due in large part to Paul, the Clips’ fast-paced offense ranks fourth in efficiency. Even though CP3 has the third-most frontcourt touches in the league (84.8 per game), his turnover rate is fairly low.
Jacob Frankel, (@jacob_frankel): J.J. Redick. He’s been a ball of fun on the fastbreak with Paul and Doc Rivers does a lot of interesting stuff with him off the ball. Prior to the season I was skeptical about how much of an impact Redick would have on the already great Clippers offense, but he really has added a new dimension.
Andrew Han, (@andrewthehan): Andrew’s *snipsnipsnip* cutting in! I’m going off topic and saying Doc Rivers has stood out. From carefully crafted inbounds set plays, to Rivers’ shared accountability in slippage, to his constant encouragements for players, Rivers has skillfully navigated this ship through early, muddy waters. And if he can weather the injury storm, the Clippers may be better off for all the obstacles.
Fred Katz, (@FredKatz): DeAndre Jordan. DeAndre’s defense has gotten better, he’s making better decisions, his motor and intensity are more consistent, and on top of all that, he’s second in the NBA in rebounding. That’s not all too bad of an improvement.
Luke Laubhan, (@lukelaubhan): J.J. Redick stands out the most, not just because he’s having a great season (career highs in points, field goal percentage, PER), but also because he plays differently than any other starting two-guard in the Clippers’ Chris Paul era. According to SportVU, Redick runs 3.7 miles per 48 minutes. Chauncey Billups, Willie Green, and Randy Foye haven’t run that much in years.
Dylan Rice-Leary, (@dylearium): Paul, Griffin, and DeAndre are all having terrific starts to the season and they are each putting up some of the best numbers of their careers. Redick has already added welcomed new dimensions on both sides of the court. So in a way, it’s really Dudley who stands out as his season has been fairly unremarkable thus far.
Seerat Sohi, (@DamianTrillard): J.J. Redick. He’s yet to embark on a patented shooting binge this season, but even in the absence of gaudy numerical figures, he’s boosted the Clippers on both ends — until he got hurt, that is. He’s been methodical and consistent on defense, making him L.A.’s best wing defender in the early going. On offense, an array of sneaky manoeuvres have paid dividends for the Clippers’ ball movement, especially DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, who’ve become regular beneficiaries of the Clippers’ floppy action.
Davis Vo, (@davisvo): Blake Griffin. Statistically, he looks the same, but he’s playing a different game. Griffin is spending a lot more time around the perimeter this year compared to last year. Transition points and dunks come a lot harder during the playoffs, so it’s reassuring and impressive that Griffin is honing his mid-range game while maintaining statistical production.
2. Who has stood out amongst the bench?
Buha: Jamal Crawford. His shooting has cooled off since his near-50 percent start (just 45.0 percent now), but his efficiency and shot selection has been impressive. He worked on his spot-up 3-point shooting over the summer, and it’s shown thus far. Defensively, he’s been less sieve-like than usual, and has grasped Rivers’ scheme surprisingly well.
Fischman: Is it pronounced Bull-ick or Bull-awk? Either way, the rookie has been a pleasant surprise, playing solid defense off the bench, especially hitting his stride as his minutes have increased. Over the last nine games, he’s even shooting 45.7 percent (35 attempts). Also, we’ve come to expect Jamal Crawford’s instant offense, but he’s shooting well above his career averages for the second straight season.
Frankel: Just how bad Byron Mullens is. It’s not just the below average true-shooting percentage coupled with an above average usage rate. And not just the abysmal total rebounding percentage for a seven footer. He’s really bad on defense too, and every one of his eight minutes per game on the floor is a pain to watch.
Han: Antawn Jamison. The wrapping’s only just come off the vet, but Jamison’s ability to produce on offense has eased the burden Crawford had been carrying in solitude. Prior to Jamison being activated, the question wasn’t whether the bench unit would sink, but how by much and how quickly. Since then, treading water isn’t an unreasonable expectation. And treading water never felt so good.
Katz: Reggie Bullock. Bullock hasn’t been the best Clipper player off the bench, but he’s slowly improving as the season chucks along. Though he has his lapses, he’s defensively an aware player who might be able to guard wings in important moments as we get closer to May. That could be a nice internal addition for the Clips in the final three quarters of the season.
Laubhan: Is it a cop-out to say the backup frontcourt players have stood out as a unit (though not in a good way)? Barnes keeps scrapping and cutting, Collison has been a fine backup point guard, Crawford is busy making four-point plays, and Reggie B. is starting to do things. But then there’s The Depth Charge, toiling for 33 minutes per game.
Rice-Leary: We all know Crawford can score, but the extra efforts he’s been making on the defensive end deserve some recognition. However, the bench player who has stood out to me the most has been Bullock. I just didn’t think Reggie was going to be this ready to contribute, but he’s already displayed impressive poise and plays like he belongs out there.
Sohi: The bench isn’t the narcotic it was last season, but it is slowly — and unsteadily, I might add — rounding into shape. Reggie Bullock provides an interesting element. Admittedly, he’s young, but he’s shown encouraging flashes. In allowing the Clippers’ bench to go small, Bullock relieves Rivers of teh anxiety involved in trotting out a Ryan Hollins-Byron Mullens frontcourt. In time, Bullock could develop into a defensive stalwart, something the Clippers desperately need.
Vo: Darren Collision, unfortunately. I was hoping that being around Paul would allow Collison to recreate some of his rookie production, but I’ve been cringing every time he pulls up for a jumper. He’s been playing a lot better as of late, and has always been a capable back-up, so I’m still optimistic for better days.
3. Buy or sell: The Clippers will be in the top-10 in defensive rating by the midway point.
Buha: Sell. There are still too many breakdowns, either in the big-to-big rotations, or the wings hesitating to pinch down and help on a semi-open big man down low. Rivers’ system takes time to implement, and all of the injuries are prolonging that process. I could see them in the top-10 by the end of the season, but not much sooner.
Fischman: As of now, the Clippers rank 15th, but only two points per 100 possessions separate the eighth and 20th-ranked teams. I’ll sell, but they’ll come close if they don’t get there. Plus, this is an arbitrary metric. If the Clippers continue scoring like they are, they should be happy with a finish in the top half for this stat.
Frankel: Sell. Last year’s team weaseled into the top-10 on the strength of the second unit and that won’t happen again with this bench. Rivers is not a magician as many hoped and change may take more than just half a season to occur.
Han: Did you know the Clippers are third in defensive efficiency over the last six games? I’m guessing most everyone chose to sell because Los Angeles is currently 15th. But I’ll buck the trend and buy. They’re presently 1.1 points away from 10th position and, as the schedule eases up, should be able to pad that stat a bit. Then again, the injuries are a huge concern. Bugger. Buy!
Katz: Sell. The Clippers won’t be able to be in the top-10 as long as Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick are hurt and as long as Antawn Jamison, Ryan Hollins, Darren Collison, Willie Green, and Jamal Crawford are logging significant minutes. If the Clips pick up a good defensive big man, though, then maybe they can make the jump.
Laubhan: I’m selling. I do suspect L.A. will continue to claw its way up the defensive rankings, and it’s reasonable to believe the Clippers will finish the season in the top 10. But that kind of progress is marked by fits and starts, Doc’s still tinkering, and any possible trade would at least temporarily disrupt the team’s defensive rhythm. It’ll take time.
Rice-Leary: Either way it will be close, but I’ll buy that. We know the defense is a work in progress, and the Clippers have had one of the toughest schedules in the league, so far. Both of those factors lead me to believe that being in the top-10 in defensive rating is more likely than not.
Sohi: This is a question predicated on health. Is a healthy Clippers team a top-10 defensive unit? I think so. L.A. is fifth in the league in defensive efficiency through the past 10 games. But the bench, outside of Matt Barnes (who’s still hurt) and Bullock, is crowded with defensive sieves. If anyone — especially Griffin or DeAndre — misses extended time, the Clippers’ defense will surely suffer.
Vo: Sell, but it may not matter. The team will get a lot better with sheer repetition and familiarity of the Doc’s defensive schemes, but the loss J.J. Redick will skew their defensive rating. The Clippers may not have a top-10 defensive rating by the midway point, but I’m optimistic that they will be a lot more cohesive defensively.
4. Confirm or Deny: The Clippers are what you expected before the season started.
Buha: Deny. I expected them to be 15-5 or 16-4 at this point. The bench is a lot worse than I expected, even with their drastic improvement over the last couple weeks. The defense is also slightly behind where I thought it would be, but it’s difficult to compare my preseason expectations to my current ones given the injuries.
Fischman: Their .650 winning percentage seems about right, although I’m surprised by how many Western teams are hanging tight (12 of 15 are at least .500). Boasting more floor spacers and Alvin Gentry on staff, it makes sense that the Clippers would run as much as they do. That said, I expected their defense to be further along by this point.
Frankel: Confirm. They have the fifth strongest schedule and pace adjusted point differential in the league and an explosive offense. Redick and Dudley have done exactly what Clippers’ fans hoped, shooting lights out and finding ways to marginally improve an already great offense. The defense has ranged from mediocre to awful and the big man depth is about as bad as expected.
Han: Deny. Denydenydeny. I thought Dudley and Redick would fit in seamlessly and the defense would be further along. While they’ve been solid, both new wings are below their career averages in shooting, and both have been slowed or sidelined by injury. And Darren Collison. I thought for sure his one attribute would be that he’d be able to create easier shots for the bench unit, leading to a more efficient, more effective Crawford. But the second unit offense has been all over the place, with Collison largely eschewing off-ball movement in favor of attacking one-on-one. I don’t understand what is happening.
Katz: Confirm. Great offense, elite seasons from Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, an improved DeAndre Jordan (though maybe not this improved), struggling team defense, and a sometimes-problematic bench were all in the calling cards for this year and that’s basically what we’ve seen so far.
Laubhan: A quarter of the way through the season, the Clippers are leading the Pacific Division, and only six teams in the league have a better winning percentage. They’re the fourth-most efficient team offensively and an occasionally gnarly work in progress on defense. I’m surprised L.A. has lost seven games – I figured 14-5, maybe – but the team is pretty much as expected.
Rice-Leary: Confirm. Coming into the season, we all knew the Clippers had a ton of talent, the bench has some question marks, and there would be an adjustment period with the new tweaks to the offense and an entirely renovated defense. Fourth in the West sounds about right for the Clippers at this point in the season.
Sohi: Confirm. I envisioned a space-conscious, well-oiled powerhouse on offense which would occasionally succumb to defensive vulnerabilities. However, I thought the problems would manifest themselves on the perimeter rather than the interior, at least to an extent. On that end, Redick and Dudley have been remarkably pleasant additions.
Vo: Confirm-ish. From a macro standpoint, the Clippers are as advertised: they have the fourth best record (13-7) in a loaded Western Conference. From a micro standpoint, Redick and Dudley have fit predictably well, but I miscalculated the impact of losing Eric Bledsoe. To be fair, Matt Barnes has been injured, so I’ll reserve harsh criticism of the bench (and myself).
5. One thing to watch in the next 21 games.
Buha: The team’s focus in first halves. The Clippers often start games lackadaisically and are either tied or trailing at the half. Then they flip the proverbial switch — around 70 percent of their games have featured major third-quarter runs in which they narrow the gap or take a big lead. It’s a bad habit and they’ll have to break it against elite teams.
Fischman: Pay attention to how the team deals with the absence of J.J. Redick. As Kevin Arnovitz noted after L.A.’s loss to Indiana Sunday, Redick is “one of the league’s most effective decongestants.” His outside shooting will sorely be missed, but without him the team will have to step up its frontcourt offensive flow, too. They need to avoid becoming predictable.
Frankel: How the offense adjusts without Redick. The pace will likely slow and there’ll be more offensive responsibility for Paul, Griffin, and Dudley with Willie Green now starting on the wing. How the Clippers adjust and whether or not they falter without Redick will be massive in this stretch.
Han: With Redick and Barnes out, and Dudley and Paul nursing sore knees and hamstrings, respectively, we can essentially rule out the starting lineup’s offensive flow, the bench’s defense acumen and the being able to evaluate the team in any big picture fashion. They’ll still win games, but it will be a lot of MacGyver tactics until everyone is back and healthy. Big-to-big rotate and recovers on defense, specifically DeAndre and Blake (and watch Griffin in pick-and-pop coverages), that’s realistically the only thing that we can observe night in and night out that will translate to the postseason.
Katz: How the Clippers handle their rotations without J.J. Redick. As much as I love Willie J. Green, I’m not convinced he can hold onto the starting shooting guard spot for the whole time Redick is out. Look out for Bullock to usurp that spot at some point in the next few weeks if he continues to improve.
Laubhan: Reggie Bullock is poised to emerge as a key contributor, in the Danny Green mold. With Redick and Barnes out, the minutes will be there for him. Will he seize the day? Is there a Staples Center picture banner in his future? Was he a steal for the Clippers at pick 25? The next 21 games will provide us some answers.
Rice-Leary: The trade deadline isn’t until February 20th, but the Clippers should be looking to make some crucial decisions soon. The back-up big man situation is in dire need of help, the team is just over the cap, and how that quandary is addressed by Clippers’ brass will be all sorts of telling about the direction of this team.
Sohi: Griffin and Jordan’s team defense. Forget the surrounding factors. Paul, Griffin and floor spacers ignite a heady offense. The Western Conference is too talented for the continued missteps both big men make, however. Hot sports take this: The Clippers’ fate lies in their frontcourt rotations.
Vo: Minutes allocation. Whether correlated or not, the Clippers have struggled with injuries during their last two playoff runs, so I’m curious how Jordan, Griffin, and Paul respond to their increased playing time. I’m also interested in how Doc will allocate those Redick minutes among Collison, Crawford, Bullock, and Green, especially if Bullock emerges as a consistent option.