Next up, an exciting, and refurbished, Clippers team.
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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.