With the start of the 2013-14 NBA season rapidly approaching, we thought it only fair to share what makes each team so exciting. Ontologically speaking, all 30 teams deserve our eyeballs this season. Even disastrous lineups still present oodles of plays, personalities, highlights and headaches. Here are five things to keep in mind for each team before flipping the channel.
Next up, an exciting, and refurbished, Clippers team.
[5 Reasons To Watch: Kings, Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Bobcats, Cavs, Magic, Warriors, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, Clippers, Rockets, Bulls, Pistons, Bucks, Nets, Pacers, Wizards, Thunder, Heat, Mavericks, Celtics, Raptors Hawks, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Suns, Jazz]
Welcome, Doc Rivers. Bye bye, Lob City.
The Clippers’ All-Star power forward Blake Griffin stated that the high-flying act that made them a household name the past couple years is now “nonexistent.” Misconceptions aside, the Clippers were extremely productive in 2012, finishing within the top 5 in offensive efficiency, true shooting percentage and assist ratio. Surprisingly, they were also more effective on defense than you’d probably guess; they finished 9th in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com. However, for all of their successes, they were bounced out of the playoffs early because of their lack of identity and over-reliance on the fast-break.
This season, under new leadership with the arrival of head coach Doc Rivers, they’re looking to replace their uptempo offense with one that increases movement spaces the floor. The production should remain, but Rivers will have an extra eye on the rebounding, which was average, despite their frontcourt athleticism. And with the help of several key offseason acquisitions, do the Clips have the firepower to stretch defenses out to the perimeter? If so, Los Angeles should find themselves, at minimum, in the Western Conference Finals.
Here are five things to look for from the Clippers in 2013.
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DeAndre Jordan’s Offensive Maturation
For all of Jordan’s highlight plays last season, he certainly wasn’t the primary scorer on the Clippers roster. With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford as the primary targets, Jordan had to find other ways to contribute. Whether it was rebounding, setting picks or playing great defense, it had to come without any plays designed for him. With the Rivers now at the helm, the Clippers have a chance to evolve from a perennial second-round exit to a legitimate title contender. And it begins with Jordan’s maturation on the offensive end.
First, Jordan has to be better at the free throw line. He shot an appalling 38.6 percent from the charity stripe last season, resulting in opposing teams applying the hack-a-DJ tactic late in games. Eventually, his free throw shooting became a serious enough liability he was left on the bench for the majority of the fourth quarter in 52 games last season. Jordan admitted in the offseason that he didn’t agree with getting benched by Vinny Del Negro, the former Clippers head coach, and he has a point. Andre Drummond, the only center with a worse free-throw percentage than Jordan, was only kept from getting run in the fourth quarter less than 30 times last season, and most of those were for a late-season injury.
However, it’s clear that the Clippers are taking Jordan’s offensive game one step at a time and until then, they want him to focus on his strengths. He’ll never have a specific play called for him unless it comes in the form of an improvised Paul alley-oop, so he’ll have to make his living off second chance opportunities and fast break dunks. He’s as money as it gets around the rim â€“ he led the league in field goal percentage last year â€“ and he’s been outstanding in the preseason thus far. The Clippers are paying Rivers a large stack of cash to make sure he maintains this type of production and if Jordan can add some offensive dexterity to his game, the Clippers will be in great shape.
Improvement from 3-Point Range
The Clips had a number of options last season, but one of their deficiencies lay in their inability to stretch the floor. Willie Green was the only player on the roster to shoot over 40 percent from distance last season (Eric Bledsoe shot 39.7 percent from deep) and two of the three best perimeter shooters, Eric Bledsoe and Chauncey Billups, left via trade and free agency. To fill this absence, Los Angeles acquired sharpshooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley and scooped up Darren Collison on a cheap deal after his abysmal year in Dallas.
The Clippers scored a bundle of points last season and teed off on less athletic squads with their high-flying acrobatics, but when teams packed the paint and forced them to shoot from outside, their inefficiency from the perimeter was exposed. Redick and Dudley provide a much needed balance to a team with unlimited inside talent from Jordan and Griffin and the heady captain Chris Paul.
For all of its firepower, this offense can’t be on the fast break forever and Memphis gave other team’s the perfect blueprint for stopping Los Angeles in the playoffs last season: play great transition D, keep the Clippers in a half-court set and they’ll struggle. Rivers is a mastermind with sets out of timeouts, and the Clippers sets should be far more intricate in 2013, but Boston wasn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse under Doc. The improved perimeter play should keep defenders from doubling Griffin and Jordan in the post, and it’ll make their ability to score a lot easier.
The Influence of Doc Rivers
When you bring one of the most experienced and well-respected coaches into your organization, it’s feasible improvements will be made. That’s what the Clippers are expecting with the arrival of Doc Rivers, a tough, experiencing coach who commnads respect and more than fills the space left by that former coach Vinny Del Negro. As likable as Del Negro is, sources say Clippers players didn’t consider him a real leader with Paul indirectly stating that he wanted to play for a coach with an established track record.
Now that Paul has gotten his wish, he and Rivers must build an immediate rapport. With a roster full of budding stars, fans expect Rivers to create chemistry among his players and put this roster in the proper situations to succeed. He’s an elite X’s and O’s guy, and as he’s shown â€” dealing with Hall of Famers Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen during his Celtics tenure â€” that he’s capable of managing egos and getting them to play as a unit. This might be the biggest question mark for the Clippers this year.
Jamal Crawford is a perennial Six Man of the Year candidate who averaged 16 PPG off the pine last season. He was also the only player in Clippers history to score 1200 points a season without a starting a single game. Too bad he couldn’t guard the ball boy. But Crawford will no longer be only player called upon to produce off the bench in 2013.
With the loss of Bledsoe and Billups, Collison and Green should provide help in the backcourt, and both Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens are capable of scoring the basketball even with their vulnerability on the defensive end. There’s not a ton of depth in the frontcourt, so the Clips will need these two to produce in brief spurts when Griffin and Jordan are off the floor. Matt Barnes signed a three-year deal to remain with Los Angeles and aside from being a steady defender, he can spread the defense with his shooting. Look for Reggie Bullock, the Clippers first overall pick in the 2012 draft, to steal some minutes with his athleticism and 3-point shooting.
The Clippers finished in the top 5 for offensive efficiency last season, and in the top 10 on the other side of the ball. But their defense in the post was dreadful. When Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan shared the floor together last season, the team went from a top 10 defense to a bottom 10 defense. There’s no way Doc Rivers will accept that statistic, so look for the Clippers to be far more intimidating on defense in 2013, especially in the post.
Upon his arrival, Rivers immediately appointed DeAndre Jordan the anchor of the Clippers team. His supreme athletic ability allows him to use his size and lateral quickness to control the paint on defense, especially when Paul’s aggressiveness occasionally leaves him out of position, allowing guards to penetrate the lane. Jamal Crawford and Jared Dudley aren’t Tony Allen-caliber either, so it’ll be up to the frontcourt to prevent anything easy at the rim and Jordan should be up to the task. DJ has had a battery in his back all preseason, playing with an energy seldom seen in the past. But it must be a cohesive effort if the Clippers plan on contending against the Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies and others in the daunting Western Conference.
What do you think?
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