The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.
Last season: 51-31, but fell to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs (continuing a disappointing string of playoff performances)
I know what you did last summer: Maybe only the Celtics have seen the kind of roster turnover the Clippers have this past summer. Chris Paul forced his way out of town — and the Clipper front office recovered from that better than anyone expected. (That front office was one of the significant changes — Doc Rivers is no longer the GM, it is Lawrence Frank who now has the hammer, and Jerry West is consulting with him). Paul forced a trade to Houston, but the Clippers got back a good haul with Patrick Beverley, Sam Decker, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell. Los Angeles also quickly re-signed Blake Griffin to be the face of the franchise. The Clippers also lost J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, and Luc Mbah a Moute from the rotation. They did well to add Danilo Gallinari, Willie Reed, and Milos Teodosic.
THREE QUESTIONS THE CLIPPERS MUST ANSWER:
1) Can the Clippers pull off a motion offense with Blake Griffin at the center of it? For years, the Clippers’ offense has been fully in the hands of Chris Paul — as it should have been. When you have one of the best point guards, one of the best floor generals the game has seen, you give him the rock. For the past six years, the Clippers’ pick-and-roll heavy offense was never worse than eighth in the league (usually top five).
With CP3 gone, Doc Rivers says the Clippers want to run, move the ball move utilizing Griffin’s passing — which is very good — and get guys moving off the ball. That sounds good on paper. Patrick Beverley is a good spot-up shooter, DeAndre Jordan can roll to the rim or make cuts down the baseline to get open for lobs, and Gallinari can both catch-and-shoot or create shots depending on the matchup. But things that look good on paper don’t always translate the same way on the court. There are questions. It’s going to be interesting to see how teams defend Griffin — will they use a long wing, a power forward, or maybe a center on him? Will they play passing lanes and dare him to drive and shoot? Griffin needs to both hit some threes (or at least mid-range jumpers) and drive to dunk/get to the line to keep teams honest.
Los Angeles will seek more balanced scoring — while Griffin and others can do it for a night, we’re not going to see a lot of 25-30 point games out of the Clippers. It’s going to be more like six guys in double digits with the leading scorer at 18. Balance can work against most teams, so long as the players buy in.
So far in the preseason, the Clippers’ offense has been up-and-down and landed in the middle of the pack (the rebounding and defense have been atrocious). It’s preseason, so we shouldn’t read too much into that. When Teodosic started for Austin Rivers against the Raptors the offense looked better, and we could see that for stretches, but Rivers is the better defender and will get most starts.
2) Can Griffin, Gallinari, and the rest of the Clippers just stay healthy? Blake Griffin missed 21 games last season, 47 the season before that, 15 the season before that. Gallinari’s 19 games missed last season was the fewest he has missed in four years. Patrick Beverley missed 15 games last season and has had his own injury issues throughout his career.
How many games is Doc Rivers going to have his preferred starting five out there? The Clippers have the best bench they have had in years this season, but that only works if those guys don’t have to slide up into the starting lineup to replace injured guys.
In the West, there are seven teams — the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, and Jazz — fighting for four playoff spots. The Timberwolves should be in, which would leave six relatively evenly matched teams for three spots — staying healthy will be a deciding factor. Can Rivers have his preferred starting five for 65 games? If so, the Clippers will make the postseason. If not, it gets risky.
3) The Clippers will entertain with Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic, but can they get enough stops (especially with the bench)? You need to tune into Clippers games just to see Teodosic play — he is already one of the best passers in the NBA. He has that gift. He sees things before they happen then puts the ball in the perfect spot. He is going to rack up a lot of Sports Center highlights this season. Thrown in the fearless gunner off the bench in Lou Williams and you have a Clippers second unit that should be able to score.
The question is the defense. When DeAndre Jordan and Patrick Beverley are on the floor, the Clipper defense should be passable. However, the Clippers don’t have great wing defenders in a conference loaded with elite wings. Then there is the issue that neither Teodosic or Williams are good defenders. We will see how Rivers spaces out his rotations, but the Clippers have some weak defenders who need to get heavy minutes, and that creates challenges.