Barring any unforseen roster moves, the Clippers' depth chart for the 2008-09 season has settled into focus: 

PG

Baron Davis

Jason Williams

Jason Hart

Mike Taylor*

SG

Cuttino Mobley

Eric Gordon

 

 

SF

Al Thornton

Ricky Davis

Steve Novak

 

PF

Marcus Camby

Tim Thomas

 

C

Chris Kaman

Brian Skinner

DeAndre Jordan

 

*Make-good deal.
**Steve Novak slotted as a 3/4 because, well...his skill set is essentially that of a small forward.


Imagine you asked an informed Clipper fan in June 2006 to tell you what kind of offensive scheme the Clips would be running in the fall of 2008.  Following the playoff run that season, the thought was that, going forward, the Clips would be a post-oriented offense with two capable big men [Elton Brand, Chris Kaman] propelled by a dynamic point guard [Shaun Livingston].  They'd need to add a proficient shooter on the wing -- preferably one who could play some defense -- to replace the departing Corey Maggette.  But the bulk of the offense would originate on the block, precipitated by Shaun Livingston's ability to penetrate.

Fast forward two years, and the landscape couldn't be less familiar.  The Clippers are an entirely new collection of players.  Of the anticipated offensive lynchpins, only Kaman remains.  He's flanked by a power forward who couldn't be more different than Elton Brand.  Marcus Camby's center of gravity on the floor is at the elbow, and he generates most of his points as an ancillary offensive option.  He's a nice complementary player for Chris, but his presence leaves all the heavy lifting on the low block for Chris.

Baron Davis is undoubtedly the focal point of the Clips' new offense.  Davis' usage rate last season with Golden State was good for 17th in the league, and we can expect that number to climb this season.  With Davis, Mike Dunleavy gets something he loves -- a big, physical guard that can post and defend -- and something he's never had in Los Angeles: An expert passer. 

There are a ton of reasons to be excited about Davis' arrival, but none more decisive than that one.  The Clippers haven't had a starter who can pass the ball with ease since Lamar Odom signed with Miami.  Brand, Cassell, Maggette, Mobley, Kaman, Ross, Thomas, Thornton, etc, etc...all below-average passers at their positions.  Livingston has a preternatural ability to find teammates, but, alas, if we're fortunate enough to see him do it, it will be in another uniform. 

Davis' ability to pass the ball will benefit Al Thornton most profoundly -- both in transition and in the halfcourt.  The bulk of Thornton's offense last season came in isolation and on late-in-the-clock perimeter attempts.  The Clips never learned how to run an effective set for him.  Now, Thornton has a lot to learn about working off the ball in an NBA offense.  But a good passing PG can do a lot for an athletic wing.  Chances are in a given set, the window of separation between Thornton and a defender is a nanosecond.  Unless there's someone on the court who can find him, Thornton will instead get the ball with :04 seconds on the shot clock and a weak-side rotator coming at him.  And that's the difference between an inefficient scorer who averages 15 PPG shooting below 42% on stuff that's manufactured instead of created -- and a potent SF who is getting most of his shot attempts against mismatches or finishing on the break.

This isn't to bury the lede: Davis will help the Clippers because he's a strong, lethal scoring guard with limitless range, and is certain to be their top PPG man.  But for this new offense to operate proficiently -- for Marcus Camby to get that open 15-footer off the S/R, for Al Thornton to be mature as a wing scorer who can torment opponents not only in isolation, but in the context of a unified offense, for Chris Kaman to get the ball precisely where he likes it -- Baron Davis will have to orchestrate it.