1) Ok, so, what's the current synopsis of the Clippers right now, Steve? It looks like they've been a little up and down with wins against the Spurs and a loss to the Nets and some other stuff.
Good timing, Ben. Until Monday night's debacle in which the Suns ran roughshod over the Clippers on their own court, it had been a while since the team had really laid an egg. It happens to every team from time-to-time, and it was happening to the Clippers far too frequently early in the season -- but it seemed like maybe they'd gotten that figured out. I guess not. I mean, Phoenix looked great and you have to credit them with taking it to the Clippers -- but L.A. really didn't have any fight in them Monday.
The "bad Clippers" have shown up on several occasions: opening night against the Lakers, both Nets games, at Cleveland, at Orlando all come to mind. I wish I knew what it was -- a lack of focus? Playing down to the competition? And on the other side of the coin, they've got wins over the Spurs and the Thunder and the Rockets, among others. There's certainly a argument to be made that the Clippers have yet to hit their stride this season -- the defense has improved significantly since the first month of the season, but J.J. Redick has been out since then as well. But they've got to find some consistency if they hope to be a contender.
2) What have the Clippers had the most trouble with against opponents or themselves this season?
These Clippers were supposed to be a juggernaut on offense. They were fourth in offensive efficiency last season, and added Redick and Jared Dudley to stretch the floor, and Doc Rivers came in for Vinny Del Negro to add more movement and creativity on offense. Unfortunately, it turns out the new shooters can't actually shoot -- at least not so far. The leading three point percentage on the team right now belongs to Blake Griffin, and most of the key perimeter guys are below their career averages from beyond the arc, with a few shooting career lows. It goes beyond that though. The averages are bad enough, but the team has had some nights when they've shot fine... which tells you they've had a bunch where they couldn't buy a jumper. Through 33 games, the Clippers have shot under 40% from the field five times -- they did that six times all last season. If you move the endpoint a bit to isolate really dreadful shooting nights, the Clippers have four games out of 33 where they've shot worse than 38% -- already more than the three times they did that last season.
(I know, I shouldn't be complaining to a Charlotte blogger about not being able to make shots, but still.)
I have to assume that this is going to correct itself with time. Redick's return (which could come in a couple of weeks) will help, especially if he's the 40% three point shooter we were expecting instead of the 36% guy we've had so far. Dudley will hit some shots at some point (or so we keep telling ourselves). The irony is that since taking over Doc made every acquisition about adding shooting -- yet the team is not simply worse but MUCH worse. Currently, the Clippers are 26th in the league in three point percentage.
3) What have been the Clips' biggest and most dangerous weapons this year? Like, what kind of things do you see that make you go "Oh, well this could be a quick game"
There were a few games early in the season where Redick came out on fire and you knew that the Clippers would be unbeatable that night. Obviously, that hasn't been an option for a while, and we're counting the days until he's back. Jamal Crawford, who eventually stepped into the starting lineup for Redick, is who he is. He is capable of big nights, but we're almost accustomed to those. He's been the Clippers third scorer for two seasons now, so it was really the extra boost from Redick that made a difference. No one else has shown any inclination to be a consistent fourth option this season.
Beyond Redick, there are times when the usual suspects of Paul and Griffin, with a cameo from DeAndre Jordan, can be pretty unstoppable. Specifically, when the middle pick and roll is working, and Paul is creating havoc in the lane, the Clippers can put the defense in a tough spot. Either Paul's going to get an open 15 footer, or Griffin is going to get the ball below the foul line with space. Obviously if he's got an opening, no one in the league is quicker to the rim from there. But Griffin's added a deft passing touch this season, and if the big-to-big rotation comes, he can throw a touch lob to Jordan on the back side for the dunk. When that play is working, it's going to be a long night for the opponent.
4) What changes has Doc Rivers brought to this team?
The hope was that Rivers would improve the team's defense, both with better schemes and a better mentality, and there are signs that that is indeed happening. Through the first 13 games of the season, the Clippers were the third worst defense in the league; for the last 20 games, they've had the third best defense. There's clearly some noise in those numbers, with the Clippers playing a number of the poorer offenses in the league in the past six weeks, but still it's a pretty remarkable turnaround, and is consistent with what Rivers said from the start: it would take some time for the team to embrace the new schemes and to trust their teammates, and there would be some growing pains along the way, but that eventually it would pay off. It seems to be paying off at this point.
But Doc's greatest value appears to be as a communicator and motivator. From his introductory press conference he was touting Jordan's potential as a defensive force. In year's past, Jordan's confidence has flagged as the season has progressed, as Del Negro tore him down little by little, sitting him late in games, playing him fewer and fewer minutes. Rivers has said from the beginning that Jordan would be the defensive anchor, that he'd play him in the fourth quarter free throws be damned, and that he had the potential to be a defensive player of the year. He has Jordan believing all of those things, and playing at a career high level (second in the league in rebounding, fourth in blocked shots and first in field goal percentage).
5) How much are you enjoying Byron Mullens?
Wow. It really puts in perspective just how bad the Bobcats were the last couple of years when you realize that Mullens played 20 plus minutes a night and started more often than not. My condolences.
I actually liked the signing as a low cost gamble with a decent potential upside. The guy is very big, he's 24, and he has skills. When you can get that guy for the minimum, you do it. I mean, it's obvious why he's tempting to coaches and front office guys. He's actually a decent rebounder, and as the old adage goes, you can't teach size. The coaching staff probably thought "We just need to coach him up some, not like those pikers in Charlotte who just let him do whatever he wanted." I myself wondered if perhaps he could make a solid contribution on a good team. I mean, sure, his shot selection was terrible in Charlotte -- but there weren't good shots to be had on the Bobcats. On a good team, maybe he could learn the difference between a good shot and a bad shot.
But I underestimated what a terrible defender he was, and just how low his basketball IQ was. He got his chance as the first big off the bench early in the season (and back up big man is a glaring weakness on this team) and he was beyond useless. Forget about the 8-29 three point shooting (which ranks him ahead of Antawn Jamison and Stephen Jackson among those auditioning for "stretch four" on the Clippers); he can't be on the floor because of his defense. I mentioned that the Clippers were 28th in defensive efficiency through 13 games and third since? Well, Jamison replaced Mullens in the rotation right about then. How bad do you have to be on defense in order for 37 year old Antawn Jamison to be a major upgrade?