Three questions the Los Angeles Clippers must answer this season

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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.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.