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Sunday, December 21, 2014

SDH's 2014/2015 NBA Worst to First Previews and Predictions: 3. Los Angeles Clippers


Overall Win/Loss Record :  57-25,  first place Pacific Division

2014/2015 Projection:  52-30, first place Pacific Division,  second place Western Conference

Preseason Ranking

3




Last season’s Team Statistics and League Rank

  • Points Scored: 107.9 (1st )
  • Points Allowed: 101.7 (14th)
  • Team FG%: .474 (3rd)
  • Opponent’s FG%: .441 (5th)
  • Team FT%: .730 (26th)
  • Team Three Point FG%: .352 (22nd)
  • Rebounds per game: 43.0 (14th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 43.7 (25th)
  • Turnovers per game: 13.3 (6th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 14.7 (8th)

Returning Individual Statistical Leaders

  • Scoring (ppg): Blake Griffin (24.1)
  • Rebounds per game: DeAndre Jordan (13.6)    
  • Minutes per game:  Blake Griffin (35.8)
  • Assists per game:  Chris Paul (10.7)
  • Field Goal Percentage: DeAndre Jordan (.676)
  • Free Throw Percentage:   JJ Redick (.920)
  • Three Point FG Percentage: Hedo Turkoglu (.440)
  • Steals per game: Chris Paul (2.5)
  • Blocked Shots per game: DeAndre Jordan (2.5)

Projected Opening Day Starters Based on Past Performances and Potential Impacts:

  • Chris Paul (PG)
  • JJ Redick  (SG)
  • Matt Barnes (SF)
  • Blake Griffin (PF)
  • DeAndre Jordan (C)

Key Reserves Rank Based on Past Performances and Potential Impacts:

After year of being ignored in favor of their prettier and more popular sibling, the Los Angeles Clippers have finally taken the spotlight from their long time nemesis, the +Los Angeles Lakers, and look to create a new legacy with new ownership and a new purpose.  It all started last summer when former team owner and lifelong scumbag Donald Sterling was recorded saying his usual racist slurs and unlike previous episodes before, the NBA finally took action banning this league pariah for life and forcing him to sell the team.  It was subsequently bought over by former +Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, who brought not only energy and excitement of being a new NBA franchise owner, but also gave both the organization and the few who have stuck with the team though the good and mostly bad, a new lease on life. For its entire history until very recently, the Clippers were not only a laughing stock and an embarrassment, but a black eye to both the NBA and professional sports; however, now it is as if all of the team's sordid history has been sponged thanks to the ousting of Sterling making it seem as if it is starting anew as an expansion team.  And what can be better place to start fresh on a clean slate than coming off a Pacific Division Title last season and being projecting to not only win the Western Conference, ball also contending for an NBA Title?

Many journalists, pundits and analysts have even gone so far as calling the Clippers the new "Kings of LA," not only because of the team's sudden surge into the media spotlight, but also due to the subsequent downfall of the ruling Lakers; however, that can be considered quite a hasty judgement at best.  For starters, unlike the Lakers, the Clippers have yet to show that they can not just win in the regular season, but also prove that they have what it takes to take the next step to become an NBA Champion; and thus far, they have still a ways to go until they are able to wipe away the Purple and Gold from the minds and hearts of residents of the City of Angels.  Three straight record breaking winning seasons have led to three straight early playoff exits with the Clippers going as far as the second round last season and being ousted from the first round the season prior; however, thanks to an impressive haul over the off season, the Clippers look to finally get over the hump and get to that elusive NBA Title.  Despite being well over the league's salary cap and having nothing to offer to prospective free agents other than the league's mid-level exemption, the Clippers still managed to snag an elite caliber big man along with a well traveled veteran point guard who brings championship experience.  Together, they have turned a bench that was once the team's Achilles Heel into its greatest strength as the team enters the 2015 season with one of the deepest and most balanced rosters in the league.

Their biggest coup for the Clips in the off season had to be the acquisition of center Spencer Hawes, a player who many expected to be completely out of their price range after posting a career season and was looking to secure a very lucrative deal; fortunately for them, however, it was a mix of not only good luck, but also bad judgement that helped Los Angeles to bag one of the top big man free agent prospects of the summer.  Instead of waiting out the frenzy that was associated with the speculation of where the two biggest free agents, +LeBron James and +Carmelo Anthony, both Hawes and his agent both took the desperate route and accepted the first deal that came their way which not only benefited the Clippers, but may have ruined his future value for years to come. Had he been more patient, Hawes could have been eligible and certainly worthy enough to court as much as 35$ to 40$ million over a four year period, especially after posting a career high in scoring (13.2ppg), and rebounds  (8.0 per game), while shooting an outstanding .423 from three point range.  Looking at the players such as the +Orlando Magic's +Channing Frye, +Boston Celtics' Avery Bradley and the +Charlotte Hornets' Marvin Williams, who received contracts far beyond their actual value, Hawes could have been entitled for even more than the 10$ million per year had he and his agent just waited until the dust cleared from the whole Lebron/Carmelo saga. Unfortunately, Hawes now has to settle with the four year 24$ million the Clippers signed him to while watching others who probably will not contribute nearly as much as he will, but get paid far more.

In securing Hawes, the Clippers--thanks to both Hawes' shortsightedness and the incompetence of his agent--not only acquired what can possibly be considered as one of the biggest steals in free agency, but also the perfect complement to the team's dominant front court duo of DeAndre Jordan of Blake Griffin.  On the offensive end, Hawes has the ability and skill to bang and score in the paint with his plethora of low post skills as well as stretch the floor and spread open the offence with his three point shooting shooting ability: in addition to that, he also brings a solid presence on the defensive end, especially in rebounding and protecting the rim, thanks to his size, strength, and athleticism.  He would be good enough to start on most NBA teams, but thanks to the gross misjudgment of his overall value by both himself and his agent, Spencer Hawes has now become a cornerstone of an already intimidating front court that not only includes Griffin and Jordan, but also a treasure trove of size and talent in the paint.  Joining Hawes on the bench is seven year veteran and returning player Glenn "Big Baby" Davis, who is known for not only the toughness he brings, but also the NBA Championship ring in which he won with his coach +Doc Rivers during their time with the +Boston Celtics.   And to add extra insurance to an already stacked front court, the Clippers acquired Ekpe Udoh, a player known less for what he supposedly brings to the court that do not necessarily show up on a stat sheet, but whose impact is shown more in terms of mathematical geometrics.

This vastly improved front court will work extremely well with an already devastating back court that scored nearly .430 of the team's points and is led by a future Hall of Fame legend in Chris Paul, flanked by the sharpshooting wings Jamal Crawford and JJ Redick.  The Clippers suffered a significant loss in the off season as Paul's backup, +Darren Collison, chose to take his talents to the +Sacramento Kings; nevertheless, the Clippers still manged to offset that loss by signing an equally solid replacement but at a much lesser cost than it would have taken to keep Collison.  Jordan Farmer was best known for his stint with the two time championship Lakers team from 2009 and 2010, but had fallen off the basketball map first by getting traded to the now +Brooklyn Nets in 2011, then being subsequently released by the team the following season.  After one one season stint in the +EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL League, Farmar resurfaced in the NBA returning to his former team, the Lakers, and had quite possibly the best season in his career averaging 10 points, 5 assists, and shooting .438 from beyond the arc.  Inserting a veteran Farmar into the lineup as the primary backup point guard not only offsets the loss of Collison, who was arguably the league's best backup point guard last season, but also give the Clippers added depth to an already stacked bench while giving the team another veteran with championship experiences.

Altogether the Clippers have the makings of a team that can not only go far into the playoffs, but quite possibly make a run for their first ever  NBA Finals appearance in their close to half a century history; unfortunately, they lack one important ingredient, however.  Despite having an intimidating front court, an imposing presence in the paint with all its size and talent, plus a guard rotation that can be considered as the envy of the of the NBA, the Clipper's Achilles Heel is exposed at the small forward position where this is little if nothing to speak of.  The best the team has at that position is 34 year old Matt Barnes, who at this point in his career is better suited for a lesser role coming off the bench, but sad to say, there is no one else on the team really qualified to step up and take the starting small forward spot away from him.  The only other option, 35 year old +Hedo Turkoglu, is well past his prime and will not start with the team as he is serving a league mandated suspension for being caught using performing enhancement drugs.  After Barnes and Turkoglu, what remains is a hodgepodge of players who are either untested or unknown talents such as second year swing man Reggie Bullock, who played in 43 games his rookie year at less than ten minutes per game, and journeyman Chris Douglas-Roberts, who  is more known for his curious coif than his actual game.

Although it does not seem that not having a strong small forward is much of a weakness, consider the fact that the two best players in the league happen to play that exact position and with no one to really pose any resistance whatsoever can spell disaster for the Clippers.  Right now the Clippers have no one who has the size, the skill, nor the defensive acumen to pose any opposition to nether Lebron James or +Kevin Durant which can really pose a problem considering that Durant may be facing the Clips come playoff time.  What makes it worse is that the Clippers are in really no position to go hunting for talent as they are completely capped out using what little flexibility it had in its mid-level exemption to sign Hawes and had nothing left to offer after that. Unless they are willing to part with one of the team's core group of players to acquire that much needed depth at the small forward position, there will no help for the Clippers as they will have a glaring hole in that position which can be exploited mercilessly. Fortunately for the Clippers, there will be plenty from now until the regular season trade deadline to get a deal done and acquire that missing piece come playoff time.

 For the first time in the team's entire existence, no one is disregarding or dissing the Clippers as they find themselves at a place that neither they or their fan would have ever expected possible.  Instead of remaining as a perennial bottom feeder for so long, they now see themselves at the top of the NBA food chain and instead of looking up at their former master, the Lakers, the are the ones looking down on them and it looks like it will be that way for quite some time.  Unfortunately, even though the Clippers may have taken the mantle of the top team of LA, they have in no way replaced the Lakers of the city's official team by any sense of the imagination.  Even if they manage to shock the world and win its first NBA Title at seasons end, that is not nearly enough to wrestle away the hold that the Purple and Gold has on the City of Angels making them always play second fiddle even now.  Yet unlike previous years, this time the Clipper will no longer be considered a pushover on the court and a laughing stock off of it as it has cut the chains of the past and look to soar to a new and prosperous future.