The debacle in Oakland Wednesday brought into focus the fallacies of the Clippers’ new strategy. Hughes and Davis have been diplomatic with regard to Dunleavy, but both men seem to subscribe to a syllogism that goes something like this: (A) The Clippers’ offense under Dunleavy was a failure. (B) Dunleavy’s offense was very structured. (C) Therefore, a structured offense is a recipe for failure.
It’s bad logic. The best course of action for the Clippers would be to accept their strengths and seek to exploit them. Whatever tonal issues they had with Dunleavy, the Clippers were generally most successful utilizing their superior size and Davis’ ability to feed fellow scorers in the half-court game. The staleness that grabbed hold of the offense under Dunleavy can be remedied without throwing out those basic principles.
A two-man game with Kaman and a perimeter shooter like Eric Gordon or Rasual Butler presents a difficult choice for defenses. During the team’s strongest stretch of games around New Year’s Day, Davis and Kaman were tormenting opponents with a well-tuned pick-and-roll action, while Gordon shot a blistering 61 percent by taking advantage of the space afforded him by those schemes. Among power forwards, Marcus Camby leads the league in assist rate, and has been a master of the high-low game. Burly reserve Craig Smith can brutalize defenders one-on-one from 15 feet in, but he’s not much help in the open court.
Davis fashions himself a master of improvisation, a point guard who works best in a transition offense. He stated last Friday that the Clippers hadn’t had much fun in the previous system. In the three games since the changing of the guard, Davis has amassed 14 turnovers against 25 assists and only 10 field goals. There are a variety of causes for this: carelessness, an inability to flatten defenses on the break (and nothing resembling a secondary break), teammates who don’t fill up the lanes in transition as quickly as they need to, and Davis’ failure to finish at the rim.
Davis is a talented point guard, but he’s also stubborn in not recognizing the full range of his game. However much fun he has running the break, Davis would be smart to maximize his most valuable assets. Davis is bigger and stronger than most of his counterparts at the point and has the opportunity to post up opposing point guards at will. He also has an uncanny ability to find angles and make the late pass. These are two gifts that can be realized most effectively in the half court.
There was a lot that didn’t work under Dunleavy — the Clippers ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency. But the proper remedy isn’t to toss out the playbook. The Clippers should come up with an abridged version — and give Davis a strong voice in that process. And they must commit themselves to the prosaic tasks that create opportunities. Just because the messenger was overbearing doesn’t mean the message lacked value.
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