Do you feel that? It’s the fresh, 47-degree weather hitting you in the face. It’s the breath of 88-degree summer days faintly whispering from behind.
I can’t hear you anymore, hot weather.
And you know what it means when the heat goes away and all that you’re left with is a winter jacket and a pair of galoshes? It means it’s opening night.
That’s right, people in Los Angeles have a slightly different concept of what Oct. 29 is supposed to be like. I imagine Angelenos waking up at 6 a.m., going for a run in the perfect, sunny weather only to come home just in time to take their wheatgrass shots and get ready for the stressless days that await them. So what if I’m stereotyping L.A.? You would too if you had to walk around the streets of New York in a sweater and a coat right now.
For now though, that’s all fine. We can deal with the cold. Because it’s opening night.
Clippers fans are starting to get used to a winning team, a winning culture. This year is supposed to be the next step. For so many years, the Clippers produced more duds than Max Bialystock. But not anymore. This is a new time.
The offseason is too long – even though it feels shorter than the first round of the playoffs – but we’re finally here: the first day of the season. So let’s get the year started right with one comprehensive ClipperBag, because as Mr. Bialystock once said: it’s opening night.
Will Jared Dudley last as the starting 3 in light of his subpar preseason, prompting Barnes to finally start? – @hip2clipp25
I wrote about this briefly last week in our preseason hybrid Last Call when I piggybacked on a D.J. Foster point about Jared Dudley’s shot distribution. And because of that shot distribution, Dudley might actually be best for the starting lineup regardless of what you think of him or Matt Barnes as players.
Ultimately, Dudley is the better complement for the starters. Take a look at this shot chart:
That’s a graph of Dudley’s shooting from last season. See how right-side dominant he is? And it’s not just about volume. It’s also about accuracy. Dudley is more comfortable from the right corner than the left corner, which is exactly what the Clippers want in a shooter.
Blake Griffin is a right-handed post player, which means that – like most other right-handed post players – he likes to line up on the left block. If you have Barnes, a left-side dominant player, out there with Griffin, you end up with both of them clogging up the same side of the floor. It hurts your floor spacing when you have Barnes, who shot 39.3 percent from the left corner and 30.9 percent from the right corner last year, out there with Blake.
With Dudley on the floor, it allows for that sneaky, cross-court pass. It allows for Griffin to throw it back out to the top of the key only so his teammates can swing the ball around the perimeter to find Dudley somewhere on the right side of the floor.
If you have Barnes hanging out on the left side, wings can double team Blake and recover to Barnes in time to contest a potential jumper. That won’t be as true with Dudley on the opposite side of the floor. So unless Dudley really slumps, it’d be hard to justify playing him with the bench instead of playing him with Blake Griffin.
How many minutes should Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan, Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins, and Antawn Jameson play per game on average this season? – @avonhun26
Here’s where things get tricky. Minute distribution is going to be strange on this team. That’s partly because there are so many names. It’s partly because talent on the roster skews toward the guards and wings. It’s partly because there are only 240 minutes to give out in an NBA game. If only Feb. 1 came, David Stern retired, and Adam Silver added an extra four minutes to every quarter, the Clippers would be fine. But for now, the Clips have to play in a 240-minute world.
The Clips had a similar too-many-players, not-enough-minutes problem going into last year, but there were some injuries and there were some disappointments (see: Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups), which made everything easier. It all sort of fell into place by the end.
Those circumstances allowed Vinny Del Negro to play with a more comfortable rotation. At the start of the season last year, we wondered how the heck Matt Barnes was ever going to get into a game. But by the 10th game of the year, we assumed Barnes to be arguably the best player off the bench, someone who deserved an automatic 25 minutes a night.
So that’s the disclaimer. Rotations change quickly and often. The “these things tend to work themselves out” mentality somehow almost always ends up prevailing. It shouldn’t, but it usually does.
All that said, how exactly is this rotation going to work its way out? We assume Blake Griffin’s and Chris Paul’s minutes will go up from the career-low per-game totals they each posted last year. When you take a look at the projected rotation and throw in minutes based on skill level or talent or past results, you start compiling a chart that looks something like this:
Then you get to Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens and you realize you’re already at 228 minutes. Obviously those bigs have to play more than the remaining 12 minutes in that rotation – and obviously they will play more. If Griffin and Jordan combine for 67 minutes a game, that’s 29 bench minutes a game the backup bigs have to fill. Hollins can take some of those since he’ll be the defensive preference at center and small ball with Barnes or Dudley at the 4 is an option against certain defenses, but that still leaves us short of those 29 filler, big-man minutes. So we have to take minutes away from someone.
Does that mean Matt Barnes takes a cut in his playing time? Does Jared Dudley? Does Redick play fewer than 30 minutes a night? Or is there a more obvious answer to this whole issue?
Maybe we’re missing something. Maybe @WammyGiveaway knows something we don’t…
Is Crawford a weapon or a luxury? Is he more useful for a title run or as a trade chip to get better? – @WammyGiveaway
I really love Jamal Crawford’s game. People who don’t aren’t appreciating the beauty of basketball as much as they should. But there is a chance we see Crawford leave town at some point this season.
The Clippers have this weird dichotomy on their roster: they are both deep and shallow, deep at the guard spot and shallow in the frontcourt. They need help protecting the rim. They need another quality, defensive-minded big man off the bench.
In that rotation breakdown above, I left off two wings who might end up getting a little bit of burn: Willie J. Green and Reggie Bullock. That’s not because neither of those guys can play. They both can, but it’ll be hard for either of them to crack the rotation with so many wings ahead of them.
Let’s imagine this scenario: It’s January and the Clippers sitting as the No. 2 seed in the West. They’re playing well, they’ve had some winning streaks, and the No. 1 seed is well within striking distance, but the team has flaws. In the Oklahoma City game, Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant had a layup fest against them whenever DeAndre Jordan went to the bench. So did LeBron James and Dwyane Wade when the Clips played Miami. Steph Curry turned Lob City into Floater City when he came to L.A. The rim protection has been poor and the Clips have Reggie Bullock, who has produced well in limited playing time, sitting on the bench for most games.
All of a sudden, Crawford (and his contract, which is only partially guaranteed after this year) becomes the most logical, moveable piece on the roster.
Now it’s almost the trade deadline and we’re hearing rumors about the Bucks, who are loaded with too many bigs, or the Mavericks, who may fall out of the Western Conference playoff race earlier than people think. If Dallas is 10 games under .500 at the trade deadline, wouldn’t they listen to an offer for Samuel Dalembert or Brandon Wright? If the Bucks, who might be a big man too deep after signing Zaza Pachulia this offseason, decided that O.J. Mayo and Brandon Knight need some more offensive help from a third guard, wouldn’t they be willing to listen to an offer for Edpe Udoh? If the Pacers need some more offense from the guard spot and are feeling confident with Chris Copeland’s offensive production, might they be willing to swing Luis Scola to L.A.?
There are some deals out there that could make sense come January or February. But unfortunately, those deals might mean getting rid of one of the most exciting players in the NBA.
Will Doc find a way to dissuade Mullens from downtown? – @andthefoul25
That’s like trying to dissuade Reggie Evans from getting rebounds. If the preseason is any indication, Mullens is actually going to take more threes this year. Uh oh.
Last season, 36.9 percent of Mullens’ field goal attempts were threes. This preseason, he took 66 shots and 47 of them were from beyond the arc.
That’s more than 70 percent of his field goal attempts coming from three. It’s not like Mullens is cutting, coming off screens, and moving to get open. He hangs out in three-point land and doesn’t move much. Maybe Mullens shouldn’t be taking so many threes considering that he’s never really made many, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop.
Is Clipper success still contingent on Blake Griffin’s post game or are we witnessing his evolution into a face-up player? – @DigbyHowis25
Griffin says that he spent the summer working on his face-up game, and it’s actually worked to some degree. Griffin looks more confident shooting his jumper. He might be better off the dribble. But will the face-up game really be Blake’s primary mode of isolation offense?
Contrary to the belief of those who don’t really watch him play, Griffin has a legitimate post game. According to MySynergySports, he created more offense out of the post last year than in any other way. 37 percent of Griffin’s field goal attempts last year came on post ups. Meanwhile, he shot 46 percent on post ups, a high percentage that helped him rank in the top 50 most efficient post players, according to points per play. But Blake has struggled against certain types of more physical post defenders – namely, Zach Randolph.
So what if this face-up game is Griffin’s way of combating Randolph’s physicality down low? What if he got so frustrated after getting beaten up by Randolph for two playoffs in a row that he decided the best way to beat Z-Bo is to get him away from the rim? If Blake’s biggest advantages over Z-Bo are quickness and athleticism, then why not pull Randolph away from the basket and take physicality partly out of the equation?
Griffin’s face-up game could work. Actually, with his ball-handling skills and athleticism, it could more than just “work”; it could be an integral part of his game. But everything we’ve seen from Blake Griffin shows he’s comfortable posting up against most every big in the league. It’s unlikely he’ll get away from that so soon.
Hey Fred, where do you honestly see the Clips finishing? As a lifelong Clips fan, I would love for them to make the Western Conference Finals. – @1juan_contreras25
Western Conference Finals seems realistic. The problem is that the West is so strong at the top this year. Too strong.
There’s a pretty clear top six in the Western Conference. In some order, we’ve got the Clippers, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, Warriors, and Grizzlies. Who knows exactly what that order will be, but doesn’t it seem like the Clips are primed to finish with the best record in the league for the first time ever?
Houston might take some time to integrate, while Dwight Howard and James Harden figure out exactly how to play together. The Thunder will be missing Russell Westbrook for at least the first four-to-six weeks of the season. The Spurs will always have those games when they rest Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili, which could help them stay rested for the playoffs at the expense of a few regular-season victories. Meanwhile, the Clips finished with a higher playoff seed than both the Grizzlies and the Warriors last season and have improved their roster and coaching staff over the offseason (though you could – and should – easily argue the Warriors mightily improved as well).
That means 60 wins isn’t unrealistic. A No. 1 seed in the West isn’t unrealistic. And if the Clips finish with the best record in their conference, there has to be some sort of Western Conference Finals-or-bust mentality. They don’t have to win a championship this year. They really don’t. The window isn’t closing after this season. The Clippers aren’t the Brooklyn Nets. They have time after this year.
What they need this year is something to build on. The lockout season gave them that, a second-round playoff appearance against the Spurs. The Clips could build on that. But last year, they regressed. If Chris Paul can lead the team to his first ever conference finals appearance, the Clippers will be taking a positive step for the first time in a couple years and for now, that’s all Clippers fans need to expect.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at BleacherReport.com or RotoWire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.