Right now, through three games, the Clippers are the worst defensive team (per possession) in the NBA. 27th in transition, 27th in overall halfcourt, 30th overall when you put those together.
Where are the weaknesses (of which there are many)? Spot-up defense has been mediocre, pick-and-roll defense against the ball-handler is slightly below average, the team is almost dead-last in isolation defense, bottom-5 in post-up D, mediocre in defending off-ball screen plays, and finally the team is rebounding poorly while also giving up a bad rate of conversions on offensive putbacks.
Before going into some analysis regarding the cause of these rankings, let me first say that the Clippers have played against a couple of teams that we know are very good in the Spurs and Bulls (and perhaps the Warriors). But there are some issues in regards to personnel (specifically back-up center, and maybe at the wings) that defensively are not going away unless a free agent signing or two is made. There are also some problems in terms of defensive effort and execution that need to be eliminated.
First, we’ll look at some of the defensive rebounding issues.
In this clip, you’ll see Blake and Brian Cook initially boxing out. When Blake sees that the ball is coming off the rim, he leaves Omer Asik to pursue the rebound. That’s perfectly alright. But if you look at the top of the key area, you’ll see Caron Butler watch the ball go up, then just stand there. This allows Luol Deng to sprint in for the rebound and dish to the now-open (from Blake’s rebounding pursuit) Asik for an easy basket.
Another reason the Clippers have struggled on the defensive glass so far this season has been the amount of defensive pressure put on DeAndre Jordan in terms of having to challenge drives. It leaves him out of box out position and if Blake is involved in the initial defending action, there’s really no one left to box rebound or box out in some situations. In the following clip, we’ll see Blake leave Carlos Boozer more or less wide-open in the middle of the floor to begin to help out Chris Paul with Derrick Rose. DeAndre is forced to step up to stop Boozer from getting an easy layup, and Joakim Noah is able to slip in behind him for the easy tip. There’s no chance for Mo Williams to slip in and help on the boards with Noah already so close to the rim.
The following clip is another example of DeAndre being forced to help on a drive, leaving DeJuan Blair open for an offensive rebound. Here, Caron Butler needs to be more aware of what’s happening and pinch down to help on the glass. The more I’ve watched in regards to the rebounding struggles, the more issues I see with bad wing/guard rebounding.
Here’s another offensive rebound surrendered, this time with Butler being out-muscled on a cut by Richard Jefferson. He is then unable to re-establish box out position and Jefferson gets a tough tip-in to go. At least we see Chris Paul trying to sneak in to help out after realizing that Butler had no chance.
And here’s yet another example of bad guard/wing rebounding, where we’ll see Randy Foye just drift out of the paint area rather than boxing out his man on the baseline (furthest from the camera).
And here’s another where Mo Williams does essentially the same thing, but with a man running in from the top of the key area.
You can’t blame Randy Foye or Mo Williams too much, but Caron Butler is bigger and more physical than those two. He has to do better.
As well, even when the defense does a decent job challenging a drive while still being in position, if DeAndre Jordan is out of the game, Brian Cook has to step up and pull down some boards. Here we’ll see how much trouble he has doing that, as he simply can’t keep Omer Asik off the glass, despite having his body on him. This was also a bit of an unlucky roll, but trust me, Cook has given up his fair share of boards without bad luck.
When Reggie Evans is healthy, he’ll obviously be a help on the glass. But he can’t box out two and three guys at once. As DJ Foster said on the postgame podcast, everyone has to help on the glass. Rebounding is a team effort.
I chose to focus on the offensive rebounding issues first because I feel like it’s one of the more correctable issues. I feel the same way about the transition defense issues.
I didn’t pull much video to illustrate the transition defensive problems, mostly because when you give up points in transition, it’s always for the same reason — not enough people running back on defense and stopping early penetration. In the first clip, you’ll see Chris Paul take a quick, long 2-pointer, and then he and everyone else just start jogging back. Rip Hamilton beats everyone down the floor for a layup.
In this next clip (and sorry, but it gets a bit choppy), you’ll see the Clippers give up early penetration off of a made basket, which leaves them scrambling and eventually taking a foul. Although I will add that the call was iffy, and most everyone hurried back in this case. So you can see the difference getting back can make, at least in terms of not just giving up an easy layup.
One of the key culprits in not hurrying back in transition is, unfortunately, Blake Griffin. Korver gets open here not only because Butler fell down trying to draw a foul on the shot attempt, but also because other Clippers who might be able to get out on Korver sooner are forced to stay in the lane because Blake gets beaten down the floor by Joakim Noah.
Here’s another one where Caron Butler trips over himself fading on a mid-range shot, along with Mo Williams initially taking his time to get back. Blake could have run back, but going in for the offensive rebound there wasn’t a bad play. It seems that Caron Butler is a key culprit in a lot of plays, however I’ll add that I could have pulled about a dozen different examples of nearly every player on the team being beaten down the court a couple of different times, outside of maybe Chris Paul.
There will be a future post (and likely multiple posts) covering the Clippers’ struggles in those other defensive areas I listed earlier. But huge strides could be made simply through better fundamentals and hustle (and less Brian Cook) in terms of defense if the Clippers just do a better job boxing out and get back on defense in transition.