Enemy: Los Angeles Clippers
3SOB Forecast*: 56-26
What’s the story in Lob City?
This series is called “Assessing the Enemy,” for some very obvious reasons, but with no opponent does the title ring a tune more true than it does for today’s subject, the Los Angeles Clippers.
To be honest, It’s taking mighty powers within me to resist changing the headline to “What’s going on in Flop City?”
I don’t hate the Clippers the way that many Grizzlies fans do, though. Rather, I enjoy their existence. In fact, I give credence to their worthiness as an adversary as the driving factor that propels the potential of this budding rivalry to the levels of excellence at which it may be positioned.
The nasty and growing distaste between the two organizations has provided us some of the greatest Grizzlies entertainment that has ever registered among the fan base, and if both franchises play their cards right, the fun is just getting started. Some of my favorite Grizzlies moments to date came from the first round of last season’s playoffs, including the “Whoop that Trick” chants, Zbo’s simultaneously awkward and terrifying bear hug of Matt Barnes, and of course, some captivating battles between the lines.
In addition, who could forget the above Stephen A. Smith gem that the series provoked?
As far as this off-season is concerned, the Clips were aggressive in the early-going of this summer, as they look to set out on the road to redemption after getting bounced in that fateful first-round series last year. Their first course of action was simple: lock Chris Paul into a new contract. Due to league restrictions, they could not consummate an agreement right away, but news that the team had completed a trade for longtime Celtics coach, Doc Rivers all but sealed off speculation of Paul as a flight risk. Surely, a near immediate announcement at the onset of the free agent period followed, verifying that the all-world point guard would be staying pat.
Shortly thereafter, it was onto the next mission — an emerging theme around the league — surround Paul and Blake Griffin with an army of three-point bombers. One would have to admit that they fared pretty well in this endeavor, but one must then reflect, “at what cost?” Namely, the additions of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley came at the expense of spark plug point guard and resident Grizzly killer Eric Bledsoe, who is poised to make a name for himself with the Suns this season. Additional efforts to fortify the perimeter presence centered around draftee Reggie Bullock out of North Carolina, aging stretch four Antawn Jamison, Bledsoe’s replacement Darren Collison, and seven-footer Byron Mullens, who has been known to migrate beyond the arc quite a bit, himself.
Who are they cooking with?
The Clippers were one of the four teams in the NBA last season to reside in the top ten rankings in offensive and defensive efficiency (4th and 9th, respectively). As much as we hate to admit it, the Clips as a whole are a well-rounded, well-built, and well-oiled unit.
Equipped with a duo of high flying big men and a general like CP3 at the helm, they make the headlines with their explosive dunks and alley-oops, but more impressive is how they find themselves near the top in all sorts of offensive measurables, including assist ratio (3rd), assist-to-turnover ratio (4th), and true shooting percentage (5th). On the flip side, for all of his offensive follies, the high-flying DeAndre Jordan’s swatting prowess provides them a defensive backbone, ranking them near the top of the league in terms of the deterrence of points in the paint (2nd), while the ball-hawking guards topped the league in steals per game.
Dropping the new additions into the wing rotation alongside Barnes and Jamaal Crawford only makes a strength stronger, as the Clips’ clear goal is to open up the floor to give Paul even more room to operate the Clippers’ already sound pick and roll game with Blake. As a good passer out of the block, if Blake comes into training camp with some semblance of a post game, the benefit of the revamped shooting could pay back two-fold.
Potential slips on the defensive end appear to provide the only real pause for the team going forward. The loss of Bledsoe should come as the biggest sting to this Clippers team, as his defensive tenacity taking the lead opposing ball-handler out of his comfort zone is unlikely to be duplicated by any of the newcomers. Similarly, the lack of depth to bolster the post rotation is worrisome, as while Mullens, Jamison, and Bullock are all respectable offensive options, they leave Ryan Hollins exposed as the only defensively oriented big man to speak of off the bench.
How do the good guys stack up?
You hate the Clippers? What a coincidence… So does everyone in the We Don’t Bluff City. The media can play up the Knicks-Nets rivalry all they want to — this matchup is the one with the best chance of seeing both high level basketball and high levels of animosity in it.
Flop City’s antics aside, this is a team that appeared to get better in the offseason by most accounts. I’m a big fan of both Redick and Dudley, so you know I think they did well to get not one, but both players. However, this team had shooting last year. What they didn’t have was championship-level defense, either on the perimeter or in the paint. None of their moves this summer addressed that issue in any significant way. While Memphis made fewer (and certainly less splashy) acquisitions, at least they improved on their biggest weakness.
The loss of Eric Bledsoe via trade makes sense for LAC on a number of levels…but it will hurt them against the Grizzlies where the Kentucky product was a one-man wrecking crew that gave Conley and others fits the past two playoff meetings. I expect L.A. to finish ahead of the Grizzlies in the regular season standings, where their weaknesses won’t be exploited as much. However, the addition of Miller, Calathes, and especially Koufos means that the Clippers will likely find themselves at a disadvantage in the postseason should they meet for a third straight year.
When and Where do they square off?
November 18th: 9:30PM at the Staples Center
December 5th: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
February 21st: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
For more Clippers content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at ClipperBlog.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.