The Clippers continue to discover their new identity this season and currently find themselves seeded 4th in the West, a mere game and a half behind their Los Angeles brethren. When we last visited with Steve Perrin at Clips Nation, he was wondering how exactly he and the long-time fan base were supposed to process the sudden success and notoriety of the Chris Paul-led Clippers. With LA coming into OKC tonight, we again visit with Steve to get his take on how the team has developed since when the Thunder and Clippers last met.
Clippers Q&A Part I: A New Game in Town
If you would like to see my answers to Steve's questions, follow this link:
Thunder vs Clippers: The Questionable Blogger | Clips Nation
1) Nick Young, eh? You've seen this video clip, right?
I had seen that at one point in time ... but I'd kind of forgotten about it. Gee, I wonder why the Wizards decided to get rid of those guys? They seem like loads of fun.
You know, Nick Young has had some chucklehead moments in his time in Washington, and he's obviously never met a shot he didn't like, but the Clippers were pretty desperate for a shooting guard with decent size, and he is that. They basically gave up nothing for him (arguably less than nothing, as getting rid of Brian Cook more than makes up for the loss of a 2015 second round pick) so it's a no risk acquisition of a talented player that fills a gaping hole in the roster. Maybe L.A. will agree with him, maybe Chris Paul will bring out the best in him, maybe he'll stay away from tablespoons filled with cinnamon. It's really anyone's guess at this point.
2) The Clippers rolled the Thunder in their first meeting behind a barrage of 3-point shooting, offensive rebounding, and superior point play. Since then, the Clips have gone 14-12 and have really struggled against some sub-.500 teams. Teams like the Suns, never known for defense, are holding the Clips under 90. What do we have on our hands exactly with this Clips team?
I have no clue. The dirty little secret of this Clippers team is that, despite the Lob City stuff, despite a pair of spectacularly athletic big men, the fact is that this is a jump shooting team. Chris Paul driving and kicking to shooters, Blake Griffin passing out of double teams to shooters -- it's all dependent on those shooters to be successful. Guys like Caron Butler and Mo Williams and Chauncey Billups were making shots early -- and now they're not. Butler especially has seemingly lost all his ability suddenly. It's like in Space Jam when those aliens stole the talent from the NBA players -- he's like one of those guys. Except why in the world did they have Shaun Bradley as one of the NBA players who had his talent stolen? Were the producers of the movie being ironic? I mean, Shaun Bradley is very, very tall. That was his one NBA level skill -- and the aliens didn't shrink him. So what exactly did they do to him? I'm confused. What was I talking about?
Oh yeah, Clippers and shooting. The current issues with the team don't all boil down to shooting, but it's a major factor.
3) Are you already looking toward potential playoff seedings? Right now you're looking at facing the Grizzlies in the first round, which, I can say from personal experience, is no picnic for any team. How does this team avoid a "just happy to be here" attitude, but really try to jump the Lakers to get a more favorable match-up?
Well, the team is 7-10 in the last month or so, and currently on a killer road back-to-back-to-back in the midst of a brutal slate of 20 games in March. They're now just 2.5 games ahead of a red-hot Utah team in ninth pace. So avoiding "just happy to be here" isn't the biggest issue -- avoiding "how did we piss this season away?" is the more immediate priority. The funny thing is that the Lakers aren't playing particularly well either, and have been terrible on the road, so the Pacific Division certainly remains there for the taking if the Clippers can just get their act together.
As for matchups, the Lakers present huge issues to the Clippers -- though Nick Young should help there, as he can physically match up with Kobe, and has actually done OK guarding him in the past. For whatever reason, the Clippers have tended to play the Thunder tough, so while no one wants to see the best team in the West, the Clippers at least have some reason to feel relatively confident in that scenario. Likewise, I don't think the Clippers are overly fearful of the Grizz -- Memphis is quite dependent on forcing turnovers to be successful, and with the ball in Chris Paul's hands so much, the Clippers don't turn the ball over a lot. Maybe it's an antiquated mindset, but I really think it's a factor -- the Clippers have struggled for years against San Antonio and Dallas and the Lakers, the teams that have dominated the Western Conference for the last decade. I really think the Clippers would psychologically have a big hurdle against any of those teams. Their confidence would be higher against the young guns like OKC and Memphis. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that's my gut level. But like I said, let's get there first.
4) How scared are you of teams fouling Blake Griffin in the 4th quarter of a playoff game?
Not in the least. I mean, I don't want to see it as a basketball fan, but I certainly don't fear it from a competitive standpoint. I firmly believe that the Hack-a-dude strategy is a statistical loser. The Clippers have the league's fifth most efficient offense, scoring just under 108 points per 100 possessions. If a coach intentionally sends Griffin to the free throw line for two shots, his expected value on those two free throws as a 55% foul shooter is 1.1 points -- which is better than the Clippers offense. And that's without doing any work. Now, obviously 55% is abysmal, and Blake should shoot far better than that, and there will be times when he misses a pair ... but in the long run, that coach is giving the Clippers more points by fouling than he would by having his team do that other thing ... what's it called? Oh yeah, play defense.
Now obviously there are times when it makes sense -- specifically, when a team is behind and needs to generate more possessions in an attempt to prolong the game and mount a comeback. But am I scared that Blake is going to be fouled while the Clippers are leading in the fourth quarter of a playoff game? Heck no ... I'm happy the Clippers are leading in the fourth quarter of a playoff game! Woo hoo!
The simple fact is that the Clipper bigs -- not just Griffin, but all of them DeAndre Jordan, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans as well -- are to a man terrible foul shooters. Poor foul shooting has cost the team in the regular season, and it will likely cost them in the playoffs as well. But opponents fouling intentionally this season hasn't hurt one bit. Heck, if Alvin Gentry hadn't had the Suns fouling intentionally last week the Clippers wouldn't have scored in the final four minutes at all.
Thanks again to Steve for his thought-provoking answers, and be sure to stop by Clips Nation and get a look at the Clippers' perspective on tonight's game.