Dispatches from Section 213 are coded messages sent via carrier pigeon from the critical thinkers of Staples section 213. They will materialize from time to time with keen and insightful thoughts on a wide array of issues concerning the Clippers.
“When you talk about the Clippers, they’re first in the league at 107 points a game. They are the first in won-loss record at home – 31-6 – in the Western Conference. They are two deep at every position. They back it up by playing the other end of the floor. They are second in the league in differential at close to 7 points a game. They’re the package.” – Hubie Brown, from Sunday’s ABC broadcast
If validation from the media is a stepping stone on the path of becoming a title contender, the Los Angeles Clippers are on the right track. Whether it might be Hubie Brown or previous naysayer Charles Barkley, there is a palpable shift in the general outlook towards the once beleaguered franchise. From Blake Griffin’s rise to MVP-caliber dominance to the team’s consistent excellence despite injuries, the coalescence of this roster has many factors. And the man behind just about all of them is one Glenn “Doc” Rivers.
As the man tasked to build a culture of winning in an environment that has seen little of it, the way Doc looks over the Clippers franchise is not unlike Professor Henry Higgins of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. While no person would mistake a professional sports organization with a common flower girl, the concept to bring the two of them “upper class” or “contender” credibility is shared. Hearing Doc speak on his task to transform the organization shows a man that has the understanding not only of how far this franchise has progressed since his days playing for the team, but also the long road ahead that still needs to be traveled for the club to become a champion.
“If we get it right, it will be worth it. If we get it wrong, it will be a great attempt. It gives me a lot of life and it’s a task. If you know, there’s a lot, not just the basketball part that we’re trying to change here. It’s more the mindset.”
It’s a mindset that seems uncharacteristic for a team without a whole lot to show in terms of accomplishment. There is no division championship banner after winning their first last season. There was no clamor over winning the division this season. Nary was a mention made of crossing a milestone as the team won its 50th game of the year for only the second time in franchise history.
Larger expectations are often proceeded by larger goals, and these larger expectations also breathe life into why this season the Clippers appear to be a team that can accomplish far beyond smaller achievements. In the world of psychology, this is a phenomenon known as the “Pygmalion effect.” The basic idea being that placing positive expectations on a subject can lead to performance at a higher level.
While the cachet of Doc’s tenure in Boston helps the ability to spread a message of belief and positive expectation, the returns have been promising thus far. With Rivers’ reputation as a player’s coach, the proof might best be exhibited in the resulting performance of his players.
In Doc’s system, Blake Griffin has adopted more of a face up game and is more of a playmaker. Chris Paul is playing at a top-10 pace for the first time in his NBA career. Both have elevated their play this season. While it should come as no surprise that two elite-level players are capable of reaching greater heights, the career year that DeAndre Jordan has had so far stands out as one the best examples of the transformative qualities Doc has brought to Los Angeles.
Admittedly, the amount of praise that Rivers has heaped onto Jordan since he took over as the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers is enough that it could fill up a house on TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive. There is a cheeky embellishment in calling him the defensive player of the year, and to say the comparisons to Bill Russell are only a slight exaggeration would be an exaggeration in itself.
Yet for all the explorations in rhetoric, the action to instill confidence in a young player that has had so much of it stripped away over the past couple of seasons seems only logical. Setting a higher bar for DeAndre puts him in a situation to achieve greater. Reinforcing those prospects has him playing the best basketball of his career.
“I feel like our coaching staff has instilled a lot of confidence in me and it makes me feel comfortable. You just feel better and you succeed more on the floor.” – DeAndre Jordan, via ABC broadcast
If the key to developing NBA players is David Thorpe’s idea of royal jelly, then perhaps Pygmalion leadership is a conduit for that royal jelly to be shared. That might shed light on how Darren Collison has bounced back from an up-and-down stint with the Mavericks to have his best season since his rookie year. That might explain how, when healthy, J.J. Redick has also fit seamlessly. As remarkable as it is to have over half his rotation playing at or near career bests, it also follows the self-fulfilling prophecy at play within this style of leadership that Rivers has employed. If Doc believes DJ can be the Defensive Player of the Year, then he will play like a DPOY candidate. If Rivers believes that the team can win regardless of who is healthy enough to play, then the team will play well enough to win the game.
For the majority of this season, both statements have been true. The prevailing thought and expectation for LAC to succeed may be predicated on this reality that Doc Rivers has created. But as Pygmalion effect study founder Robert Rosenthal once stated, “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur.”