Steve Perrin from the excellent Clips Nation answers the questions we asked him yesterday.
SlowBreak: What differences are you seeing this year with Doc Rivers taking over as coach.
mr. eggplant: How much has the team missed J.J. Redick?
Eric in Madison: It looks like the defense has gotten a lot better in recent weeks. Is that true, and if so, what do you attribute it to?
Steve: I'm going to answer these three questions together; they may not seem related, but they are. Vinny Del Negro did not run the most sophisticated schemes (understatement) and early in the season, the movement on offense, both of players and of the ball, was a huge difference.
But when Redick got hurt, that movement suddenly ground to a halt, and it became clear that, yes, Doc had put in some better schemes, but it was also a personnel issue. Redick is an absolutely tireless worker off the ball, which is why he's such a perfect complement to Chris Paul. Paul is going to have the ball in his hands, but he'll get it to the open guy, and Redick will work his ass off to get open. (Think of Redick running around last year in Milwaukee, while Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis completely ignored him.) The team went through two weeks of stagnation when Redick went out -- they're starting to find their way again since Rivers inserted Crawford into the starting lineup instead of Willie Green, but it's remarkable how important Redick has been.
The other difference with Doc is on defense, where, yes Eric, the team has been better -- much better. At least that's what the stat's say, as they were ranked 28th in defensive efficiency in their first 13 games, and first in their next 13 games.
Now, it's pretty clear that a lot of that is schedule-related -- the Clippers played the Heat, the Warriors and two games each against the Rockets, Thunder and your Wolves in those first 13, and then turned around and played a whole bunch of bad Eastern Conference teams. But it's also a question of learning, embracing and trusting the defensive schemes Rivers has installed. The keys are Griffin and Jordan, who have always had the athleticism to be great defenders, but who are miles ahead of where they were a season ago. I'm not sure I believe that they've reached the 'elite' level that the raw numbers from the last month would indicate, but the Clippers are becoming a very good defensive team.
googoleeoottooooleeoottooooleeeatta: I say this as someone who believes Chris Paul is the second best player in the known galaxy, but you realize he's a really unlikeable player, right? The whining, the flopping, the ref-gaming...I don't like him.
Steve: I realize you don't like him, because you just told me so. If you're suggesting that he's empirically unlikeable, I'd point out that there's plenty of evidence to the contrary, like All Star votes and national TV ad campaigns and stuff like that.
Look, I get it. I've been writing a Clippers blog for all or part of nine seasons -- encompassing all of CP3's NBA career, and he was not a Clipper for the vast majority of that time. I wrote about Paul's "gamemanship" for lack of a better word when he was with the Hornets and wondered at the time why he seemed to escape criticism as much as he had. That criticism has found him now that he's in the spotlight more. The thing I would say is that I always appreciate how smart he is -- how off the charts, constantly thinking, knows the game better than anyone on the planet, brilliant. He "embellishes" contact (OK, flops) because it works. He works referees because it works. If it didn't work, if it didn't give his team an advantage, he wouldn't do it.
It seems as if every superstar engenders some sort of backlash -- Durant gets the benefit of too many calls, Love doesn't play defense, LeBron -- well for awhile LeBron was evil personified, but now he's evil with rings, which makes him good I guess. I myself hate Tim Duncan. Can't stand the guy. That innocent, "Who me?" look on EVERY EFFING WHISTLE! I just want to slap that look off his face (some sort of remote control slap where he could never find out it was me of course).
It's fine that you hate Chris Paul. Embrace your hate. Own it. But don't tell me I have to share it.
TheH: What do Clippers fans see as the most likely ceiling for this roster as currently composed?
Steve: "Most likely" and "ceiling" are really too different concepts, right? The ceiling is the maximum -- the most likely is the average. The ceiling is an NBA title -- which by the way, I don't find "likely" but any other "ceiling" is less likely (and really, not a ceiling at all) so long as a title is possible. And sure, a title is possible. This team has the best point guard in the NBA, some great shooters on the wings, a great young power forward who is still getting better (speaking of ceilings) and an emerging defensive force in the middle. Things would have to go really well for them, but I can certainly see them beating anyone out there if everything falls into place.
A more likely scenario is losing in the Western Conference finals or semi-finals. Look, the West is really, really tough as you guys know all too well. I expected the Thunder to take a step back with the loss of your pal Kevin Martin, but so far they sure don't seem to have. The Spurs never seem to go away. I'm not on board with Portland by any means, but as of now the Clippers have the fourth best record in the west, and finishing above the three seed is going to take a pretty remarkable run. Third seed in the playoffs doesn't guarantee losing in the second round of course (or winning in the first for that matter) but it's a pretty good proxy for "likely" outcomes.
The good news is that with two cornerstones still in their primes locked up for four more years, the Clippers window is pretty wide. The Spurs will fade some day (I mean, Duncan will eventually die if nothing else); the Thunder obviously aren't going anywhere, but the Clippers have a market-size advantage over OKC which they'll try to exploit. The Clippers likely need to add a big man to give themselves more than a puncher's chance this season, a big man that they probably don't have the assets to get without getting very lucky. But they'll be around for awhile.
Yes, Bill Simmons is an idiot.
I have sort of a love/hate relationship with Simmons (and he has a love/hate relationship with the Clippers, a team he watches a lot). He's the patron saint of bloggers in many ways, but he's gone from "outsider" to "insider" and it's tough to have it both ways.
I get what he's saying. He's assuming that a team playing in NBA Siberia like Minneapolis can't resign a superstar and can't attract top level free agents. He sees Love's L.A. connections and that ETO in 2015 and to him it's a given that Minny won't keep him. So flip him for Griffin, right? The Clippers get the more productive player, the Wolves get a great replacement who can't leave for three more years, it's a win-win.
The thing is, both team's are deliriously happy with their guy, and so neither team is looking to make a trade. Fans and GMs alike get attached to their players -- Love's raw numbers are clearly superior to Griffin's but the Clippers front office can reasonably look at things like ceiling and defense and make an argument that Griffin is still the better option. But ignoring that, Griffin is so wildly popular in L.A. that the Clippers would have to be blown away by any offer for him. Guys like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith have floated Griffin-for-Carmelo trade ideas -- puh-lease. Griffin is the poster child of a franchise turnaround from pariah to paragon. The Clippers have sold out 106 consecutive games going back to his rookie season (when they won 32).
In a vacuum, I can see the logic in this trade. But these players aren't just abstract assets to their respective teams, they mean more than that, so this idea is a non-starter. Besides, what's the hurry? (In other words, check with me again in early February 2015.)
Xand1: How much has the abysmal FT shooting of your front line affected your team?
Steve: Griffin is shooting 74% in the month of December. His foul shooting is approaching non-issue status.
Jordan on the other hand remains as much of a disaster as ever. The strange thing is, he doesn't look bad at the line. The vast majority of really bad foul shooters -- Shaq, Howard, Biedrins, etc. -- you can watch them shoot a free throw and immediately you say "Well, of course they're bad." Jordan's not like that. His motion is good, his release is smooth, he gets good rotation on the ball -- they just don't go in the basket very often.
I like Doc Rivers' approach to it, which is pretty much "Meh". He just doesn't worry about it that much. Vinny Del Negro played Jordan about 24 minutes per game the past two seasons, partly because he was so worried about free throw shooting. VDN's distress got into Jordan's head, and his overall confidence was sapped away over the course of the season. Rivers says "Let 'em foul -- do your best DJ" and he has Jordan averaging a career high 35 minutes per game.
Rivers has to be smart, certainly. If the Clippers are protecting a lead with four minutes left in the game, then it's time to sit Jordan down for a bit -- or maybe go offense-defense if you can. But last season the Clippers were in full-blown panic mode when the other team started fouling Jordan, with DJ playing keep away and Chris Paul trying to time desperation heaves at the basket for the split second of the foul. There's none of that this season.
Jordan will probably cost the Clippers a game or two at the line (though he hasn't yet). Rivers' attitude is you take the good with the bad, and he wants his defensive anchor on the floor.