Los Angeles Clippers (32-16) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (14-36)
7:30 p.m. PST
February 3, 2016
Fox Prime Ticket
1. Doc Rivers was just named Western Conference Coach of the Month. Are the Clippers sneaky better than people are giving them credit for?
William Bohl, A Wolf Among Wolves (@breakthehuddle): I think the Clippers have a way of adjusting nicely when someone is out (like they are right now, without Blake Griffin) and staying afloat when many expect them to sink. It’s a credit to Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and the totally serviceable supporting cast (that sounds like a slight, but I swear it isn’t!) Doc has built around them. They’re probably not title contenders, so people judge them harshly, but they’re still really, really good.
Ben Mesirow (@SemNeb): The Clippers at the moment are pretty good, but I think that falls right about in line with general consensus – it’s easy to say it, but they’re a full step below the stupidly good Warriors and Spurs, and a half-step below the Thunder and Cavs too, especially without Blake Griffin. The Clippers may still be widely reviled, but even so I don’t think many well-informed people would put them below that tier. The team has looked great recently and a lot of the pieces are coming together, but they’re still 0-5 combined against the group ahead of them. If Blake can get back to full strength with the team still clicking like this, then it may be time to have this discussion.
Law Murray (@LawMurrayTheNU): There shouldn’t be anything sneaky about the Clippers under Doc Rivers. He’s had Chris Paul or Blake Griffin miss significant time in each of his three seasons. Each time, the Clippers did well enough to at least tread water. Now the team is thriving, despite all of those vultures congregating in late December. Folks get so thirsty to criticize Doc Rivers, and it’s kind of ridiculous.
2. Speaking of Rivers, his son has been a Clipper for a bit over a year now. What’s Austin Rivers’ ceiling?
Bohl: This is Austin Rivers’ ceiling – he’s a role player on a very good team. If he plays fine defense and ups the three-point percentage a bit, this is about as good as it’ll get for him, which is a perfectly good career. He’ll always be looked at as Doc’s kid, which means he’ll be a target of criticism, however unfair it may be.
Mesirow: It sounds a little harsh to say it, but I think Austin Rivers’ ceiling is pretty close to where he is now. He’s great at getting to the basket and isn’t usually a calamity on defense, and he’ll go through an occasional hot streak from deep, and that sort of feels like his destiny – streaky bench scorer who’s most comfortable with the ball in his hands. He can work on his shot and it should improve over time, but unless he has a serious change of perspective it doesn’t seem like he will grow into a real point guard or even a decent passer, and I don’t think he’ll ever be a good enough defender for that to be his calling card.
Murray: Rivers was a top-10 pick based off of physical potential and pedigree. He’s still very rough for the most part, now that he’s in Year Four. But let’s focus on the positive, since we’re discussing his ceiling. At best, Rivers could be the type of combo guard off the bench that can beat you as a slasher as well as the perimeter jump shot, while also being consistently disruptive on defense. He has shown flashes, and playing off the ball is better for him; he’s not a point guard.
3. True or False: The Timberwolves have the best upside of any team in the NBA.
Bohl: Sure, sure, ask the guy from Minnesota whether the Timberwolves have the best upside of any team in the NBA. I’ll bite – of course they do! They have a 20-year-old with all the makings of an excellent sidekick (Andrew Wiggins), a gaggle of talent on rookie deals (Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng), and most importantly, a surefire future superstar (Karl-Anthony Towns), the kind of players tanking teams dream of landing. So yes, they do have the best upside in the league.
Mesirow: I’m going to go with a tentative True. Wiggins and Towns look like surefire stars at key positions, and as frustrating as LaVine is sometimes there’s no doubt he’s got a ton of talent. Ricky Rubio is still developing, too, and with another lottery pick coming this year the Wolves have a great shot to be contenders in the near future. Of course there are plenty of other teams with bright futures, especially if you include potential big trades: the Celtics have more stashed in the cabinets then a doomsday prepper, Milwaukee has a lot of funky fun pieces with room to grow, the Blazers have a shot to be really interesting if they can nail another draft pick, and if the Lakers keep their pick this year then they’ll have a nice core of young players that might make them an even bigger draw to a marquee free agent.
Murray: False. The team has a lot of fun pieces. But there is no guarantee that they will all coalesce into a functional team. Plus, that team upstate still has plenty of upside…