On Tap: The Los Angeles Clippers

Kurt —  November 18, 2005

No, I don’t think it will last — the Clippers will not continue on pace to win 60+ games, they will come back down to earth. That doesn’t mean they can’t make the playoffs — if they stay healthy they have a good shot. They could even win the Pathetic Pacific this season.

But they are still the Clippers. Franchises with bad owners don’t win long term.

That said, Clipper management made one smart move this off-season — Sam Cassell. I’ve already written one “what Cassell brings to the Clippers” story for Courtside times. Not that Cassell isn’t on the down slope of his career, his numbers dipped last season in Minnesota and they have dropped even farther this season: scoring 18.3 points per 40 minutes played (it was 21 last season, above 22 the three seasons before that), he is shooting 42.2% (eFG%, down from 48.7%), and he has never been a defensive presence.

But he is still a huge step up from Rick Brunson and the other overmatched players the Clippers had at the point last season. (Shaun Livingston is good when healthy, which he is not right now.) The point was the Clippers weakest spot offensively with a team PER of just 11.9 from the position last season. The aged Cassell still has a PER of 19.9 so far this year. Smush Parker’s defense will again be a key to the game, contain Cassell and you have a much better chance to beat the Clippers.

But it is not just containing Cassell’s scoring, it’s his passing that is really driving the Clips. He is averaging an impressive 9.6 assists per 40 minutes (compared to just 3.1 turnovers for the same time).

The biggest beneficiary of that is the slimmed-down Elton Brand, who is having a career year so far — averaging 25 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 40 minutes, shooting 59.3% and with a PER of 30.1, third best in the league so far. MVP type numbers early for one of the most overlooked players in the game.

Also benefiting has been Corey Maggette, who is shooting 52% (eFG%) on the season, and Cuttino Mobley, who is shooting 49.1% and 37% from beyond the arc.

The Clippers are playing good defense this season, the other key to their success. Their early season numbers are very close to the Lakers.

Their weakest point so far this season has been just that — Cassell is not a good defender. Obviously he is going to have to put some of his attention into helping on Kobe, so Smush needs to have one of his better games on both ends. The backcourt may need to carry the Lakers as the Clippers have been solid defensively inside (not exactly the Lakers strong point so far this season). The Laker big guys need to both play well on defense and stay out of foul trouble. This may be a game where Bynum gets more time to play defensive minutes, something he has done fairly well.

The Clippers have been a team that has looked better on paper than on the court for years. Now they have a veteran point guard in a contract year and that has filled in a weakness and prompted a fast start. This is the kind of game the Lakers need to win, against another team from the division in the playoff hunt, if they are going to be playing more than just 82 games.

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Two things worth reading to point you toward. One is a good breakdown of the triangle offense by Mike at Show Time (also there is a good piece on Odom in the offense). The other is a chance to learn more about Eric Pincus and what he does over at Yaysports.com.

Kurt

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9 responses to On Tap: The Los Angeles Clippers

  1. the rap against donald sterling has been bull for at least the last few years, maybe forever. i don’t think you can criticize the hawks for grossly overpaying for joe johnson and also wonder why no impact free agent has wanted to go near the clippers since they’ve always been in the cellar.

    the cold hard facts are he extended brand and magette. he tried to extend odom for the max and odom said no. he hired a grade A coach, he offered bobby simmons a nice sum before the bucks overpaid. he pursued kobe and offered him the max. at the very least, everyone has got to stop saying he’s unwilling to spend any money. and isn’t that the most defining trait when judging the quality of an owner?

    everyone thought the clips were going to tank horribly last year, remember? they surprised everybody even with the below .500 mark… they were supposed to rocket farther south because sterling lost odom and wouldn’t sign and then traded olowakandi, the cheap bastard.

    instead it was another smalll step forward. not only are they poised for a major growth spurt because they attracted quality free agents this year– the fact that they lost so MANY, MANY, MANY close games in 05 will figure into their maturity as well. they may have brought in sam to seal games, but he hasn’t been the only one closing out teams this year. brand and maggette and beginning to enter their prime.

    i wonder what will happen tonight. if the clippers weren’t an l.a. team i wouldn’t expect a laker win, but since this is a cross-town rivalry i think the lakers are gonna show up all the way because of how the game has been hyped. odom has a couple reasons to be more aggressive in this one.

    q ross being hampered by injury might be key as well.

  2. I’ll grant you that “The Donald” West has been better the last few years. Eric Pincus did a nice piece on it somewhere this summer, basically Staples made th Clippers more profitable so he is not reaching into his pocket to pay for free agents, making him more willing to make the move.

    But that is a long record of losing I’m not willing to forgive just because he’s made an effort. They need to win for a few years before I get off his back.

    I think the reason they lost the close games last year was the ball had to start in the hands of bad point guards. This season their winning more because Cassell is a threat to shoot or pass in those situations.

  3. yeah, yeah, i f’d up. odom and olowakandi leaving was a couple years ago. last year they lost richardson… and there must’ve been somebody else who left too, because all i remember were articles upon articles at the start of the season about how the clippers were going to be much worse than in ’04.

  4. Teams are required to pay 75% of the salary cap. Therefore it’s impossible not to resign some of your players.

    They still have one of the lowest payrolls in the league. Well below the salary cap. Which is why their bench is still very weak and populated by rookies, players still on their rookie scale contracts and non-garaunteed players.

    So far, they’ve struck gold with Cassel. He is exactly what they needed. But do you think they will re-sign him this summer? I don’t.

  5. sorry. i corrected myself before i saw your reply.

    i’ve only been following the clippers for the last three-four years or so, so i’m not entirely sure on their past history. i swear, the only clipper free agents i could think of that would’ve been worth anything that i can remember are danny manning and ron harper.

    michael cage, maybe? terry cummings? dominique wilkins? those last two were a hundred by the time they got here, i remember that much. heh, who was that center with the big ol’ beard…james donaldson?

    i don’t know. i never see a list of the donald’s sins when columnists write about how he never resigns the talent that blossoms under his watch. i’m not defending his entire record, i’d just like to see it shown somewhere.

  6. p henry,

    is it NBA-mandated that you have to go out and get a coach with status? the salary you have to pay for someone like dunleavy doesn’t show up under the salary cap.

    the clippers bench is weak? i’d have to disagree even stronger with you there.

  7. Mike Dunleavy makes 3 million/year. The other coaches making the same amount are Bernie Bickerstaff, Eddie Jordan, George Karl and Stan van Gundy. 13 coaches make more than those four guys. The coaches making less than 3 million/year either have barely any or zero head coaching experience. The Clippers are pretty average in that regard. Hardly something to boast about.

    The bench is weak. That is indisputable. If you want to prove me wrong then feel free to post evidence backing up your claim. Or just read Kelly Dywer’s article on the Clippers (Kurt posted the link several days ago) and then agree with a common held opinion.

  8. heh. i think i’ll still respectfully disagree.

    it was also a widely held opinion that the clippers would finish last season with a win total in the 20s, i was only two wins shy from hitting their 37.

    if it was last year i’d agree with you about the bench depth i think, but going forward this team is loaded with talent. iyou got what many people think is the next magic johnson coming off the bench. q ross is an awesome defender. wilcox and rebraca are solid. danny ewing’s been a surprise. waler mccarty hasn’t been shooting well, but a power forward who can shoot the three and plays defense will hopefully be a nice addition.

    i’m in love with james singleton’s game, but there just hasn’t been enough room to let him develop.

    will the clippers sign cassell next summer? if it is beneficial to the team, his salary demands aren’t ridiculous, and he wants to come back, sure. that should be obvious by now. but you know, widely held opinions.