ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

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Last season: After adding Doc Rivers as head coach and Alvin Gentry as the lead assistant to coordinate the offense, the Clippers finished the season number one in offensive efficiency and seventh on the defensive side, thanks to a marked improvement from DeAndre Jordan on that end of the floor. L.A. finished third in the West, and overcame the distractions that the team’s former owner provided at the worst possible time to take out the Warriors in a seven-game series in the first round of the playoffs. Oklahoma City proved to be more talented in the second round, however, and eliminated the Clippers in six.

Signature highlight from last season: On a team that features the game’s best point guard and two of its more electrifying dunkers, there really is no shortage of highlight plays to choose from. And frankly, too many are worthy that could accurately describe just how devastating L.A. was offensively last season. So enjoy this mix of the team’s Top 10 plays, and if we were to single one of them out, let’s go with number five — Chris Paul uses his wizardry to navigate through multiple defenders, before lobbing a perfect pass up to DeAndre Jordan for the thunderous slam.

Key offseason moves:

Keys to the Clippers season:

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul: The Clippers two best players last year were arguably the best tandem on any team in the league. Griffin finished third in MVP voting behind only Kevin Durant and LeBron James, while Paul led the league in assists by averaging almost two more per game than his closest competition. As long as Griffin continues his evolution and Paul remains as rock solid as ever in running what was the league’s most efficient offense last season, L.A. will remain one of the elite teams in the Western Conference.

Improved front line depth: The addition of Spencer Hawes should be a big one for the Clippers this season, considering just how steep the drop-off was a year ago when looking at the team’s frontcourt positions. Griffin and Jordan played at an elite level, but once they came out of the game, the team’s identity completely changed due to a lack of reserve options. Rivers has used Hawes in a reserve role to this point in the preseason — a wise decision to have him firmly in place as a legitimate back up big that the team has been so desperately lacking, especially in the playoffs. Udoh, meanwhile, could provide defensive help in limited stretches, which would allow the team to be more consistent in its approach when the starters are getting their rest. Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu are options too, of course, but both played a bit last season, and the results were hit and miss.

The fifth starter: L.A. has four members of its starting lineup essentially locked in with Paul, Griffin, Jordan, and J.J. Redick. But the fifth spot is seemingly up for grabs. Jared Dudley played below expectations last season (likely due to trying to play through injury), and was subsequently traded out of town. It’s now guys like Chris Douglas-Roberts and Reggie Bullock who will attempt to fill that void, though Matt Barnes could see plenty of time there as well, just as he did last season. The team will want more consistency here than it saw a year ago, and not having to constantly scramble for starting-five production could make the unit a more cohesive one, especially defensively where the improvement is needed the most.

Why you should watch: This Clippers team features two of the league’s best players in Paul and Griffin, and a third in Jordan who can jump out of the gym. It’ll be interesting to see if the offensive principles remain now that lead assistant Alvin Gentry has moved on to a position with Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors, but the talent is there to entertain wildly on a nightly basis.

Prediction: Here’s where things get interesting. If the roster upgrades (especially the addition of Hawes) pay the expected dividends, and if L.A. can commit to improving on the defensive end of the floor, then there’s no reason that the team shouldn’t be right there with the rest of the elite in the Western Conference. The Spurs and the Thunder are the most pressing threats to the Clippers’ ability to reach that lofty status, but the injury to Kevin Durant may help L.A. get a bit of a head start in the standings, which could affect home court advantage in a postseason series.

That’s a long way from here, obviously, but the Clippers seemed poised to make their long-awaited leap this season. A top-two finish in the West and a trip to the Conference Finals is how things should ultimately play out in Los Angeles.