The Clippers can ball, but they’re just not good enough. There is always the consolation prize.
The Clippers are rolling. They’ve pulled out of their early struggles and won nine straight games, mostly without Blake Griffin, who’s on the sidelines with a quad injury. Chris Paul is doing Chris Paul things, averaging 21.1 points, 10.8 assists, and 4.8 rebounds over his last 10 games, and J.J. Redick is going bananas. Let’s talk about what they’re doing right.
Before anyone brings it up, no, the Clippers aren’t better without Griffin. Not even a little. Yes, they’ve won eight straight without him, but that has a whole lot to do with Chris Paul finally being healthy and the weakness of their opponents. It has basically nothing to do with Griffin being out.
With that out of the way, we are free to admire Redick for a moment. Right now, he is averaging 15.9 points per game on just 11.1 shots, shooting 48.1% from three. Watching him this year has been a lot like watching Kyle Korver last year. Everybody in the league knows that he’s deadly, and as soon as he touches the ball, it’s as if a firecracker goes off in the nearest defender’s jersey. The dead sprints by defenders trying to close out on Redick result in some hilarious fly-bys, as he excels at pump-faking.
Redick is one of those players who realized early on that he could make a killing in the NBA by rising and knocking down shots at any angle. It seems like he gets a little better and gains confidence every year. At this point, everything he’s throwing up is gold, and his release is pure enough that it isn’t really a fluke. He’ll regress at some point, but Korver showed us last year that it’s not unreasonable to expect a shooter that good to be on fire for an entire season.
Redick is able to get his shots up in spite of swarming defenses because he is so versatile with his shot type. He can catch and shoot, shoot off the dribble, and pull-up out of a sprint (deadly in transition). One of the reasons why he can shrug defenders off is that he is prolific coming off of hand-offs. 24.3% of all plays that Redick is involved in are hand-offs. This leads the league by a considerable margin; the next highest frequency is 17.9% (Doug McDermott and Avery Bradley).
Redick’s marksmanship is a distraction for opposing defenses. Opponents of the Clippers will sometimes spend many possessions trying to hug Redick as he sprints off screens before they realize that Paul has nailed four straight midrange jumpers and tossed a couple of alley-oops to Griffin and Jordan.
This combination makes the Clippers a top-five offense, but L.A. isn’t a one trick pony. They also have a respectable 10th ranked defense, headed by angry-faced pest Chris Paul. Not only does Paul swarm opposing point guards, rarely allowing them to even attempt a shot, but he’s 8th in the league with 1.9 steals per game. Steals are one of the most valuable counting stats because they always result in the defense obtaining possession of the ball, unlike a block. Additionally, they often create fast break opportunities. Advanced statistics like Hollinger’s game score and Nylon Calculus’s DRE give them a ton of weight.
How the Clippers are being Michael Jordan-ed
In the 1990s, a bunch of all-time great teams with hall-of-fame players, such as Barkley’s Suns, Stockton’s and Malone’s Jazz, and Ewing’s Knicks, dominated the game but never won a championship. Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls were just too darn good.
The same thing is happening to the Clippers. No, this generation doesn’t have a true Michael Jordan, but an abundance of incredible teams is preventing L.A. from taking the next step and becoming a championship team.
The Clippers are really good. Sure, one can criticize some of Doc River’s offseason moves that lead to their chronic lack of depth or feed the narrative that Paul and Griffin crack in the clutch, but those arguments don’t hold up. The Clippers aren’t actually riding their starters too hard. Paul and Griffin average 32.3 and 34.9 minutes respectively, which are high marks, but not unreasonable for stars in their primes. Also, there is no evidence that “clutchness” is a repeatable skill over the course of a career or even a season.
Just look at last year’s playoffs. Yes, Chris Paul “choked” against the Rockets, but he put the team on his back with a monster Game 7 against the Spurs, devastating them with a winner over Danny Green and Tim Duncan, despite hobbling on one leg.
The real story there is that the Clippers had to go seven games with the San Antonio Spurs — a team with a 55-27 record and whopping .735 expected winning percentage — in the first round!
The Clippers are getting Michael Jordan-ed by the quality at the top of the Western Conference (yes, I know that it isn’t as studly this year but the conference is still very top-heavy). They have multiple generational talents on their roster, but they probably aren’t even a top three team in their conference: San Antonio is perhaps the most smoothly run organization in professional sports, Oklahoma City has two studs in Durant and Westbrook that are even better than Paul and Griffin, and Golden State is starting a dynasty with Curry, Green, Thompson, and their run-and-gun-but-defend-like-maniacs style.
Unless he joins a great team late in his career as a veteran presence, Chris Paul will likely join the group of all-time greats never to win a championship. Griffin has more time, but it’s hard to imagine him winning one in this generation. The Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder are just too good.
All stats courtesy of nba.com
Edited by Joe Sparacio.
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