The Los Angeles Clippers had an extremely disappointing season, finishing 19-63, which had the fortunate consolation prize of winning the draft lottery and nabbing them franchise cornerstone Blake Griffin. Things are finally looking up a bit in Los Angeles for the Clippers, even with Griffin sidelined for a month or two with a broken knee cap. After finishing last season ranked 30th in Offensive Efficiency and 26th in Defensive Efficiency, there’s nowhere for the Clippers to go but up, and with a few talented young players on the roster, things are starting to look good for the long-term.
Looking at the chart below, the Clippers had a few bright spots, but mostly struggled with inefficiency, as many of their highest usage players struggled to post an IOE over 1.
The Clippers’ most efficient offensive player last season was Marcus Camby, unsurprising given his low usage, high efficiency, and good offensive rebounding. Camby is also a pretty good passer for a big man, and plays well as a complementary fifth option on offense while bringing most of his value on the defensive end with his shot-blocking and rebounding. Camby isn’t the greatest offensive complement to Blake Griffin, however, who should be in the starting lineup at some point this season, as neither really excels with perimeter shooting.
Chris Kaman is another option at the center position, and he’s been known to score a decent number of points from there, but he’s not an especially efficient player, being below league average in TS%, being way too turnover prone, and being a good but not great offensive rebounder. The one thing in Kaman’s favor is that his mid-range game will better complement Griffin in the starting lineup, but he’s a less efficient offensive player than Camby and nowhere near the defender.
DeAndre Jordan could also see minutes at center, but he too is a poor complement to Griffin, having no outside game to speak of, operating solely around the basket, where he scores with excellent efficiency and is the team’s best offensive rebounder. Jordan has outstanding physical tools and he and Griffin could be the future frontcourt of the Clippers, but Griffin will need to become a better perimeter player to make it work.
The Clippers got rid of Zach Randolph to clear room for Griffin in the frontcourt, which is a good move for his development, but could slightly set back the offense if no one can immediately pick up his scoring slack. Randolph scores with around league average efficiency, but creates good deal of his own shots, is a good offensive rebounder, and managed to cut down on his turnovers last season, which made him one of the team’s most productive and efficient players, doing so on high usage to boot.
Until Griffin returns, Craig Smith should fill in nicely, as he’s an explosive player who scores with good efficiency and is strong on the offensive glass, while he’s a capable scorer inside and out, having a little bit of post-up, face-up, and mid-range shooting abilities in his game. When Griffin returns, he should provide an instant boost to the Clippers offense, as he scores with high efficiency, is a phenomenal offensive rebounder, and has developing skills with his post-up and face-up game. In the long term, he should be an excellent two-way player for the Clippers, but his defense isn’t up to par yet, despite his excellent motor, and he’ll probably struggle creating shots consistently in his first year.
At the small forward position, Al Thornton is the incumbent, and the Clippers have been developing him for the future for a few seasons now, but the problem is he’s an inefficient scorer who contributes little elsewhere, making a net detriment to the offense while using far too many possessions given his poor efficiency. Thornton is not a great defender either, giving little justification to play him the kind of minutes he gets, though the team isn’t especially deep at small forward, and the other options aren’t much more appealing.
The Clippers also have Rasual Butler at small forward, and while he’s just as inefficient as Thornton offensively, he has a much higher basketball IQ, understands his limitations, and doesn’t force as many possession-killing bad shots. Butler is also a capable defender, and is a much better option for the Clippers at the 3 spot.
Combo-forward Steve Novak is also an option here, but he is a one-dimensional player in that he’s a tremendous spot-up shooter from three, though that alone makes him a very efficient offensive player. He’s a worse defender than Thornton, having much worse physical tools, but should probably take all the backup minutes at the 3 regardless, as at least he doesn’t hurt the team on both ends of the court, while he also provides a very valuable skill with his outside shooting. Butler and Novak probably wouldn’t crack the rotations of most playoff teams, but they’re both clearly better options than Thornton, which says something about the Clippers’ rotation, and it’ll be interesting to see if they remedy it this year, or if Thornton suddenly develops into a completely different player, who is in some way worthy of the minutes he is played.
In the backcourt, there is some great news in that Blake Griffin’s sidekick is already in place in sweet shooting Eric Gordon, who had a great rookie season for the Clippers. Scoring on remarkable efficiency by finishing well at the basket and behind the arc, while generally avoiding shooting anywhere between, Gordon is a dynamic offensive player who should see his role expand this season. He could contribute a bit more in the passing game, but otherwise he appears to be a long-term fixture for this team, and is already a very good player.
Behind Eric Gordon is Ricky Davis, who continues to amaze everyone by still being in the league. Davis has an awful basketball IQ, shoots with poor efficiency, doesn’t contribute much on defense or the glass, and is a bad player overall who is not conducive to team basketball. Davis should be cut immediately, or at the very least never removed from the bench.
The shooting guard depth is also pretty thin for the Clippers, with Kareem Rush and Mardy Collins being the only other options, neither of whom is very attractive, though they’re still both better than Davis.
At point guard, the Clippers have no idea what to expect, as Baron Davis wasn’t good last season, shooting an abysmal 46% TS%, playing lackluster basketball overall, though still posting a solid assist-to-turnover ratio, which kept him from being completely awful. Davis has had some very productive years in the league, never being the most efficient scorer, but being remarkably better than he was last season. He’s probably never going to be what he once was given his age, but if he can adjust his mentality into more of a floor general as opposed to a shoot-first player, it’d greatly help the development of the young players on the team, and likely improve the overall offensive efficiency. He’s reportedly in better shape and more committed this season, so it’ll be interesting to see how much better he does scoring the ball.
Behind Davis the Clippers picked up Sebastian Telfair, who has bounced around the league a bit and not had much success. He scores with poor efficiency, but posts respectable assist-to-turnover ratios, however he’s not a great defender and isn’t someone the Clipper should be too excited about for the long-term, as he has failed to develop much in his five seasons in the league.
Defensively, the core is mostly the same, and as long as players like Kaman, Thornton, and Baron Davis continue to get significant minutes, don’t expect great improvement here. The offense could improve a bit more by purging some problem players from the rotation, namely Thornton and Ricky Davis, but they should also receive a boost from Baron Davis improving his performance, Eric Gordon entering his second season, and Blake Griffin’s arrival.
All things considered, the Clippers are still likely to be on the outside looking in for the playoffs, but they will be much more competitive this season, and have a chance at surprising some people if Griffin and Gordon develop quickly, Baron returns to form, and coach Mike Dunleavy uses a rotation that involves fewer inefficient players.