Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of Clipper Nation

Staff writer Alexander Dardick, on the night of Obama's State of the Union Address, delivers the State of Clipper Nation. Profoundly informative and fantastically articulate, Alexander breaks down the positives and negatives of the state of the Clippers thus far. 

It’s been fourteen games, and we’re at the all-important 21.2121% mark of the season. Let’s take a look at some of the encouraging and discouraging signs from this Clipper 2011-12 season thus far.
  • The Clippers are sitting impressively at 9-5, given the circumstances. They’ve had all of two preseason games and less than two weeks for the current roster to prepare for the season. While it’s basketball, and professionals shouldn’t use the excuse of needing 100+ games to learn how to play with one another (a la the Miami Heat), the Clippers made major changes and had practically no time together prior to the start of the season.  This reason alone would’ve given the Clippers an excuse to get out to a sluggish start to the season, regardless of the competition.
  • Even with the rushed start of the season, the Clippers have posted solid wins over the Trailblazers, Heat, Lakers, and Mavericks.
  • They don’t have any terrible losses. Losing in San Antonio, Portland, and at home to the Bulls is certainly defensible. Even if Chris Paul had played, losing in Utah (off a back-to-back no less) is understandable. The T-Wolves loss is probably their worst, and a game they should have won. But again, Minnesota isn’t awful, and Chris Paul was watching the games solely from the sidelines.
  • Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler have showed there may yet be some tread left in their tires. They’ve both exhibited solid strokes from distance, hit big shots, been aggressive on offense, made some stands on defense, and appear to be focused and dedicated to the team.
  • If he keeps it up, Mo Williams should be the prohibitive favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
  • They have a winning record without CP.
  • Finally, to harp on the initial theme of the section, the Clippers’ best basketball should be far ahead of them. Ideally, this portion of the season should just be about weathering the first few months of growing pains—the long process of acclimating to one another—until each and every member of the ream is truly able to hit the stride that is in line with their respective, individual potentials. Right now, the halfcourt offense does not run very efficiently, and the defense is not extremely suffocating; these are issues that hopefully will be remedied as the team gets more and more games under their belt together. This is the biggest reason for optimism—the season is young, and there is plenty of time for expected improvement.
  • This isn’t news, but the Clippers’ defense is nowhere near championship-caliber.  While statistics aren’t everything, seeing the Clippers rank 19th, 18th, and 24th in points per game allowed, FG% allowed, and opponents’ points per shot, respectively, tells you something serious is lacking defensively. Rotations aren’t swift, too many opposing players are allowed too much space, and too often not everyone is on the same page about where to be. While we all love Reggie Evans’ rebounding, he doesn’t show a significant aptitude for fantastic positioning on defense or the ability to protect the rim. It is hard to envision him and Brian Cook as the key bigs coming off the bench for a championship team. Also, Blake should be putting as much focus and effort into his defense as he does on offense. For those who say he needs to save energy on D, I’d say that Blake Griffin needs to become a complete player for the Clippers to advance to the NBA Finals.
  • One stat that doesn’t lie (a la Shakira’s hips) is rebounding. The Clipps rank 26th in the league in total rebounding, and 20th in the league in rebounding differential. There’s absolutely no reason or excuse for this. Needless to say, the playoff run will be short-lived if this doesn’t get turned around.
  • While Chauncey and Caron look good now, how will they look in two months and thirty games?
  • The schedule has been relatively kind so far. They’ve played only four road games, and have enjoyed seeing Golden State, Milwaukee, New Jersey, and Toronto without yet playing OKC. While it helps having the extra time to gel before these tougher games, it’ll still be a real challenge playing all these more difficult games in a compressed schedule.
  • Vinny’s not looking like the guy, plain and simple. He’s positive, and the players listen to him, but there are just too many causes for concern. The aforementioned deficiencies in defense and rebounding are very disconcerting in regards to Vinny’s performance.  Good defense and rebounding are directly correlated to effective coaching.  Furthermore, why does Blake Griffin run pick-n-pop after pick-n-pop?  Surely we can all agree that’s not the best way to utilize Blake’s talents at this point, and also his substitution patterns can be curious (something HiptoClipp’s own Coach Adam Levine could really expand on). The Clippers don’t believe in firing people if it means still having to pay them, so Vinny will be coach for the remainder of the season (barring some sort of catastrophe). Thus, we’ll hope for the best, keep supporting Vinny, even though right now it’s hard to ignore the warning signs.
Not trying to be overly critical, it’s just clear that a lot of improvement is needed in order for the Clipps to truly contend for a championship this year. Obviously, they are off to a pretty good start, but it’s important to address the negative issues that Clipper Nation faces in order to form a more perfect union.

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