I exchanged some emails with KnickerBlogger writer and my childhood friend, Jonathan Topaz, over at KnickerBlogger to preview Friday’s Knicks-Clippers matchup. To read the entire article, click here. For your reference, here is an excerpt of the piece:
KATZ: I think the No. 1 thing I’ve learned from Doc Rivers this season is how important it is to send one consistent message to each individual player throughout a season. Look at what’s happened with DeAndre Jordan.
As soon as Rivers came to L.A., he started touting D.J. as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He didn’t say he was a potential one. He didn’t use any qualifiers. He didn’t say “if he does this” or “if he improves on that”. He flatly said Jordan was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, something Jordan definitely had never heard from Vinny Del Negro in his years of sitting on the bench during fourth quarters.
Maybe a proclamation that bold seemed like an egregious reach at the time. But anyone who watched the Clippers last year knew Jordan deserved more playing time, knew he had earned more than 1.8 fourth-quarter minutes per game. It was nice to see Doc come in and immediately give DeAndre some deserved confidence and then some.
Now, D.J. is one of the best rebounders in the NBA. He understands help defense so much better than he ever has. From day one, Doc made it clear he had a Big 3. It wasn’t just about Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Jordan was just as important. The message has been consistent, which is hardly what we could say about the messages Mike Woodson has sent to guys like Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith…
TOPAZ: The Knicks certainly aren’t a good coach away from being a title contender, but boy, has Mike Woodson had a rough season. And rotational issues aside, he’s done an awful job with Iman Shumpert, an extremely talented player whose down season has come as his coach and front office have sent him (at best) mixed messages. Woodson isn’t to blame for the bulk of Shumpert’s struggles, but he hasn’t helped. And we’ve seen nothing of the sort of public support like Rivers gave a young, once-struggling player in Jordan.
As far as the Clips go, it seems they’ve had all the necessary elements to build a strong team: good drafting (particularly Griffin and Jordan, a 2nd rounder), luck (the incredible way the Clips got Chris Paul and landing a great prospect with the #1 pick in Griffin), and strong depth moves (trading for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, signing Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison.)
Thanks to all that, the Clips are 4th in offensive rating and 8th in defensive rating and a title contender. Do they even need the extra big everyone says they do?