How the Los Angeles Clippers can win an NBA championship
Staying: Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ray Felton, Brandon Bass
Leaving / Retiring: Mareese Speights, JJ Redick, Paul Pierce, Alan Anderson
Today, the Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs, and failed to make the conference finals for the fifth time in five years. While you could use Blake’s injury as yet-another excuse, the team’s history does not earn them the benefit of the doubt. Even if they beat the Jazz, they almost certainly would have gotten crushed like a grape (it’s been years since the Clippers have won a game against them) in the next round against Steph, Klay and KD.
The Clippers roster, as constructed, has three main problems.
- Poor Three Point Shooting: the Clippers were outshot by the Jazz from the three point line in 5 of 7 games. In the past five years, the Clippers have failed to shoot better than 36% in the playoffs in all five years.
- Predictability: I am convinced that the reason why the Clippers struggle in clutch situations and turn the ball over so much is because everyone knows exactly what they’re going to do (a Chris Paul pick and roll).
- Depth Issues: Jamal Crawford, who is supposed to be the leader of the Clipper’s bench, shot 24% on 3.5 three point attempts per game in the Clippers series loss to the Jazz.
Unfortunately, the Clipper’s have basically no cap flexibility, so for the most part problems #1 and #2 have to come from internal improvement and changes. Does that sound crazy? Maybe, but no one predicted the Rockets would have such success after a down year by revamping their offense. Sure, they had more cap flexibility, but they also have arguably inferior talent (only one true star) than the Clippers. Just a better-fitting system. Also, if a guy like Otto Porter can go from being a below, to average to elite shooter, then why not expect incremental improvement from the Clippers roster?
So for the starters (including Austin), here’s what has to happen:
CP3: play more off ball and vastly increase 3 point volume shooting.
I know, I know — this sounds blasphemous (taking the ball out of the Point God’s hands), but bear with me. CP3 averaged an excellent 2 makes on 5 attempts per games this season. Great right? Except that Harden and Curry are averaging 9 and 10 attempts per game.
It feels like everytime the Rockets or Warriors play the Clippers, the Clippers hang around for a quarter or two until they get barraged from distance. It’s like the Clippers are fighting with bows and arrows and the opponents have crossbows.
CP3 is the Clipper’s most reliable three point shooter. But he also has the ball in his hands a lot, which limits his volume. I propose that he plays more off-ball, which allows him to increase his 3 point volume by finding open spots (assuming teammates improve as distributors), and gives other playmakers more of a chance to develop as primary distributors (see Austin Rivers).
In the short run, this will be bad for the Clippers, as taking the ball out of the CP3's hands will decrease overall efficiency. But in the long-run, if it works, it will add a sorely needed additional dimension to the Clipper’s one-dimensional offense.
LRMAM: become the Clipper’s version of Bruce Bowen or Shane Battier.
Those guys played excellent defense and consistently found the right spot (usually the corner) to hit dagger 3s. LRMAM shot well in the regular season, but his efficiency dipped on higher volume in the playoffs, because defenses sagged off of him, and rightly so. LRMAM averaged only 22 mpg in the season. He needs to be the Clipper’s “full time” stretch 3/4 and aggressively shoot better on higher volume to provide the proper spacing for the Clipper’s stars. Yes, I used the word “stretch” and LRMAM in the same sentence. He needs to be that guy. He’s shown improvement this year, and hopefully one more year would turn him from a liability to a strength for the Clipper’s spacing.
Note: LRMAM vastly improved his ability to make cuts for easy layups. More please.
Blake: become a modern version of Karl Malone (or Marc Gasol).
As Karl aged, he could no longer dunk or overpower his competition. So he developed an unstoppable mid-range turnaround post game (which back then, was an efficient shot).
Blake’s problem is that he has “decent” range from 20, but he’s hesitant to take that shot, and the 20 footer has become the most inefficient shot in basketball (Demar Derozan notwithstanding) in a league dominated by wings that can shoot the 3 and also slash and get to the line (Kawhi, Harden, Durant), every 20 foot jump shot taken is a victory for the opposing defense.
By improving his range to the three point line (and being able to shoot them at a high clip), he would stretch the defense and become more of a matchup problem.
Right now, teams are very comfortable with him receiving the ball 20 feet out because they want him to shoot that long jumper. If he doesn’t take the shot, he’s often just doing a dribble hand off, which is sort of the offensive equivalent of celery — seems ok, I guess, but has little nutritional value. Blake with three point range would open things up for slashers and also just generally be a more efficient shot vs. his current long jumpers. Ideally he’d also blow by his defender in space for layups + open looks on kickouts.
DJ: improve jump hook / drop step / deep post moves so that we can occasionally run more offense through the post in the first half (not so much the second half due to DJ’s foul shooting)
Supposedly, a few years ago Doc told DJ to forget about offense, and to concentrate on defense. Now that he’s a premier defender, his internal improvement has to come more from offense as there’s less room for improvement defensively.
DJ is obviously a tremendous dunker. But he’s athletic and talented enough that we should be trying to see if we can get him the ball close enough to the basket that he can shoot a highly efficient baby hook or power move/ drop step for a dunk to increase his volume of high percentage shots (there’s only so many lobs available every game). I often saw him doing this during the season and would think, huh, if he could do that more often then it would really improve the Clipper’s overall efficiency.
Better yet, if he could command a double team (when he’s able to get deep position), that would create more open looks for everyone else. Obviously, if DJ can improve his foul shooting that would be tremendous too.
Austin Rivers: increase assists per game to 6+. Take better shots (stop taking step-back threes unless in shot clock situations). Become a primary distributor and lock-down defender.
Austin is the Clipper’s only young (sub 25) talent, its quickest player, and the player with the most untapped talent. He has to make the leap, in order for the Clippers to have a chance to beat the Warriors (or Spurs, Rockets, etc). He can get to the basket anytime he wants, for the most part, but his 2.8 apg means that this elite slashing ability isn’t resulting in a ton of points for everyone else.
This is really the lynchpin of the whole article. If Austin can consistently break down the defense, and then make good decisions after the defense collapses, then it would add another dimension to the Clipper’s offense.
It’s also the most realistic chance for team improvement, given Austin’s age and talent. Lastly, Austin can be a streaky shooter. It goes without saying that if he can be a more reliable spot up shooter, then that would immeasurably improve the Clipper’s playoff hopes.
Jamal Crawford: become a distributor. Vastly improve shot selection.
In the past, JC could shoot his way out of slumps. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked for many years, and it’s hurting the team.
However, JC still possesses sufficient quickness and handles that he might be able to do a lot more damage as a ball handler than as a shooter. If he cut down on his high-degree-of-difficulty shots, then this would vastly improve his and the team’s efficiency levels.
Felton, Bass: both played well enough (when they play), and can/should provide solid play if retained.
Rookies: we have to get something from our draft picks. In today’s environment of ever-inflating salaries, rookie-controlled contracts are almost the only way (see next bullet) to get below-contract value. Whether it’s Dewayne Dedmon, Patrick McCaw or Jaylen Brown, the Spurs, Warriors and Celtics have found a way to get production, even if inconsistently, out of their rookies. We have to at least try to do the same (see Brice Johnson), if nothing more, to establish trade value for them during the regular season.
Every contending team gets something from unexpected places. The Warriors selection of Draymond in the second round was, in my opinion, the pick that turned them from good to great. It’s not easy, but the Clipper’s need to find their gem in the rough because they have few other options.
Rehab Players: these are players that are either obscure, or no longer considered valuable. The Clipper’s tried this tactic with Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson and infamously (at least for diehard Clippers fans) cut Joe Ingles. The Clipper’s already have one prospect in Wesley Johnson, who still hasn’t put it together, but has a chance to become productive.
Miami has found a ton of these “rehab” guys (James Johnson, Dion Waiters). It’s not easy, but really good organizations / coaches (see McGee, Javale) find a way to turn someone else’s trash into treasure.
TLDR: every Clipper starter / key bench player needs to improve in something they’re not traditionally known for. Because the rest of the league has evolved, and the Clipper’s haven’t, so it’s time to try something different.
CP3 / Blake: off-ball, 3 point volume
DJ: increase volume of high percentage shots by developing deep low post moves
Mbah: reliable corner 3. keep doing what you’re doing with regards to cuts / layups
JC: shot selection
Doc: revamp offense to increase overall assist rate (overly dependent on CP3 pick and roll right now). develop young talent (including Austin as a primary distributor). Find and rehab some obscure castoff, 2nd rounder or international player into an actual contributor. If we can get Melo without giving up much, great, but right now that sounds a little unrealistic.