Every couple weeks, we will run ClipperBlog Observations, a condensed version of the ghost of Last Call, a former postgame staple on the site. With the Clippers’ record standing at 8-5, here is where our staff thinks the team stands.
Board to Death
While the Clippers were getting manhandled by the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, Kevin Arnovitz tweeted that only one other team in the last decade had posted an offensive rebounding rate under 20 percent: Doc Rivers’ 2011-12 Celtics. Meanwhile, 2014-15 Clippers are hovering around 17. That sounds awful, but it’s not so simple. Look among the lowest offensive rebounding teams of the last decade, and you’ll also find Spurs and Heat teams that made Finals appearances. Lots of well-coached teams prioritize transition defense over offensive rebounding, and to good effect.
That said, it’s hard to sell low offensive rebounding as a virtue when your team posts a defensive efficiency rating of 104.5. There’s also an aesthetic problem: when it looks like you’re getting killed on the boards and you’re dying on defense, you make it tough for fans to cheer you on. This is especially true for Blake Griffin, an elite power forward whose game has been devoid of “power” this year (7.6 rebounds per 36 minutes). Against Charlotte, Griffin had his best rebounding night since last winter (16 total, five offensive), and the team controlled the boards against a bad transition opponent. It probably doesn’t signal a sea change, but it was a lot easier to look at.
– Patrick James, (@patrickmjames)
Sometimes Less is More
Before the season, it was seen as a sign of Blake Griffin’s continuing growth as a player that he was adding three-point range to his arsenal. At the time, I was concerned that adding threes to his game would be problematic within the Clipper offense. So far, it seems I’ve been proven half-right. Blake is still only shooting about one three every other game, but he is attempting far more jump shots than a year ago.
In 2013-14, 40 percent of Griffin’s shots came at the rim, while only 30 percent came from 16 feet or further away. Those numbers have basically reversed this season, with Griffin’s average shot distance resulting two feet further from the rim (10.8 feet this season after 8.8 feet last season.) Even though he is shooting the ball better from longer ranges than he was last year, these are still worse shots than his rim attacks.
Whether this is a result of lingering back issues or other health problems, it has caused a drop in scoring efficiency for Blake, currently sitting on career lows in field-goal percentage, true shooting and free-throw rate. Further, this drop in proficiency has been compounded throughout the rest of the offense. Already one of the least proficient teams in terms of driving the ball to the basket, with Griffin stationed further from the hoop, defenses have been able to push up even further on the rest of the Clips offense, perhaps contributing to slow starts from Redick, Barnes and Hawes among others. Last but not least, as KA noted during the Memphis game, the Clippers are on pace for an historically low offensive rebound rate.
So while it’s never a bad thing for a player to add skills to his repertoire, Griffin is, in a way, demonstrating that just because you’ve added a new club to the bag doesn’t mean you are ready to hit it very often.
– Seth Partnow, (@SethPartnow)
DeAndre Jordan is trying to prove everything we know about physics wrong, because with the way the Clippers are defending, he’s going to have to be in two places at once for this team to find true success.
The Clippers’ help defense has been a massive issue, even in their wins. Their lack of communication has been apparent, even from the outside. Two defenders will follow the same player off a screen-and-roll. Or no one will come over to help the helper when Jordan steps in the lane. Or D.J. will drift too high and leave the baseline open to backdoor cuts.
Now, some of this is on D.J., too. He hasn’t necessarily been as dominant as he was down the stretch of last season, often taking circuitous routs to distinct spots. If he’s going to be the defense’s everything, maybe he just needs to simplify, hang around the rim more, and prioritize helping even more than he currently does. So, in a way, the Clippers’ best chance is also to prove what we know about physics right.
The shortest path between two points is a straight line. From now on, D.J. might be best off noting that.
– Fred Katz, (@FredKatz)
Home is Where the Hatred is
One of the ClipperBlog writers noticed how Los Angeles got off to a 2-0 start to the road trip and said something to the effect of, “The Clippers hate playing at home.”
I actually got to go to a Clippers home game last Monday, their last game before the trip, against the Chicago Bulls. It was my first time at Staples Center since December 2013, and I was covering the game for Comcast SportsNet Chicago, so my perspective was different compared to being in the stands. The eventual 105-89 loss to a Bulls team missing two starters was the third of the season at home. It took the Clippers until the day before New Year’s Eve to lose three home games last season.
In general, I’m not getting too caught up in the Clippers’ start to the season. But being in the arena that night against the Bulls meant hearing the Chicago Bulls fans take over the building, especially in the second half when the Bulls completed a 29-point turnaround. For all the talk of the Clippers competing with the Lakers for the silly “Team of L.A.” status, it was disheartening to hear an exhausted Chris Paul lament the fact that it wasn’t the first time the Clippers had opposing fans drown the home fans out.
Now, I’m not a fan of any one team. But this is my fifth year in Los Angeles. When I came here in 2010, the Clippers were pretty bad, but they were clearly the fun team to watch and get behind. Blake Griffin was on the court for the first time, and DeAndre Jordan was emerging as the center of the future.
Now? It’s almost like the Clippers are too cool to kick it and have fun playing. Their play (though I’m not as worried about their outlook as some are) has been relatively uninspiring. Are the fans a reflection of that?
– Law Murray, (@LawMurrayTheNU)
A Faster Bench
Before the season started, there were rumblings that the Clippers had even more depth than in the previous two years. That obviously wasn’t true, and as you think about the causes of the Clippers’ problems through the first sixth of the season, consider how LAC has churned through its reserves.
Jamal Crawford abides, of course. But two years ago, the second-best player off the bench was Eric Bledsoe. Last year, it was Darren Collison. This year, it’s probably Spencer Hawes. Everyone remembers Bledsoe as a future star, and Collison, for some reason, as a chump, but they both brought tremendous speed to the second unit. There’s none of that this year. Hawes is much better player than the guys he replaced, but he’s not going to outrun anyone, nor will Glen Davis or Hedo Turkoglu.
Remember how terrifying the bench was two years ago? Remember that last year it was still pretty athletic? This year, I could probably outrun everyone who’s getting consistent minutes. Could Bullock help? Even Cunningham? It’s hard to tell, since they mostly play in garbage time. But this holiday season, I’m dreaming of a faster bench.
– J.D. Evans
Short Changed by the System
Chris Paul is short. He doesn’t stand six feet tall as it says in your program. But even if he did, it wouldn’t make much difference. Grantland’s Zach Lowe penned a nice piece excoriating the CP-naysayers, but he gives only the slightest mention of the characteristic that likely limits him the most.
“[Paul] has no weaknesses, save perhaps his height, which can make it hard for him at times to see over the defenses and throw the cross-court passes that LeBron tosses with such ease,” writes Lowe.
With the Clippers lacking a true system, putting a Quincy Pondexter or Klay Thompson on Chris Paul severely limits his off-the-cuff creativity, the engine of the Clippers offense. When it comes to scoring, it doesn’t really matter who’s guarding Paul. But a big body and long arms obscures his vision and he can’t count on his teammates to be in the “right place” because there is no “right place.” There’s only where Chris Paul expects you to be.
– Michael Shagrin, (@mshaggy)
Still a Great
It’s easy to get down on these Clippers because, well, things have been anything but smooth sailing so far this season. However, a shout out to the Point God, Chris Paul, who despite the team’s struggles has been pretty incredible, particularly when it comes to looking after the ball. His assist to turnover ratio is 6.3 and although Travis Diener, once, came close (never thought I’d put these two in the same sentence), Paul was the only player ever to have more than 100 assists and fewer than 20 turnovers after 12 games.
CP3’s past four games have included a dominant 16 points and 9 assists in just three quarters against the Magic, teaching Shabazz Napier a thing or two the following night in Miami and then pouring in 13 points during the third quarter against Memphis in a game with few other positives. Add in 22 points and 15 assists against the Hornets on Monday. Sure, it’s maddening when he refuses to take a shot in the first quarter, and Paul constantly finds himself under attack for a perceived lack of aggression, but just for a moment, let’s be thankful for his greatness.
– Roscoe Whalan, (@RoscoeWhalan7)