If you haven’t noticed, It’s November 28th and the top team in the West isn’t the Warriors. It isn’t the Rockets either, nor the Thunder. NOPE! Not even LeBron and the Lakers hold that spot. The team who holds that spot, as of now, is the Lakers roommate at the Staples Center, The Los Angeles Clippers (13-6). After trading Chris Paul before last season, moving on from Blake Griffin at the deadline, and then letting DeAndre Jordan walk in free agency, the question was: What is the plan? Their roster was comprised of some veterans (Lou Williams, Pat Beverley, Danilo Gallinari, Marcin Gortat), young players who haven’t hit their ceiling yet (Tobias Harris, Montrezl Harrell), and then rookies/second year players (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Sindarius Thornwell, and Tyrone Wallace). They were in a weird position as it didn’t seem as though they had the talent to compete, but weren’t in the mix to be a contender. About a quarter through the season, things are different and they sit perched atop the West. Will this continue for the whole season? Probably not. Although I see them eventually fizzling out (as underperforming teams start to play better) and either just sneak into the playoffs, or fall out altogether, I think they’re in a great spot. Even though this season isn’t the end game for this Clipper rebuild, it’s a start.
Flashback two seasons ago to when the Clippers (comprised of their big three of Paul, Griffin, and Jordan) lost in 7 games (at home) to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs. They realized, after failing to make it to the WCF in 6 seasons with CP3, that maybe this core wasn’t the answer. They tore it down and that’s where our whole story begins. For Paul, in one of Doc’s last moves as GM, he acquired: Beverley, Harrell, Sam Dekker, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, and a 2018 first rounder. He then flipped that first rounder (with Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone) to the Hawks for Danilo Gallinari in a 3-team deal. Then, after replacing Doc with Lawrence Frank as GM (I also think Jerry West has a lot of say in these decisions), made the biggest deadline deal of the year, sending Blake Griffin to Detroit along with Brice Johnson and Willie Reed. The packaged coming back to LA included Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and a 2018 first round pick. That 2018 first round pick was then used to move up a spot to select Gilgeous-Alexander. So if you are good at following along, they basically traded Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for Beverley, Harrell, Dekker, Hilliard, Liggins, Williams, Wiltjer, Gallinari, Bradley, Harris, Boban, and SGA. Of those players, 8 are on the roster today and 7 play most of the minutes.
This season, the Clippers offense has been key, posting a 4th best ppg mark in the league and 2nd in their conference (116.8 ppg) on top of a 6th best offensive rating (112). They’re in the top 8 in all 3 shooting categories in terms of percentage (46.9/37.3/81.6) and are 4th in the league in True Shooting Percentage at 57.4% (A measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws). They’re scoring at a rabid pace and teams haven’t had an answer for them early. Another thing of note is that they lead the NBA both in free throws per game (29.5) and fouls drawn per game (25.3). This ability to score efficiently while getting to the line at a high rate has been the main story for this Clipper team so far (wow, shooting well and drawing fouls is a good strategy, who knew?). They’ve also protected home-court, as they stand at 8-1 when playing in the Staples Center on their home floor.
While as a team they’ve been one of the most efficient offensive units, players on this roster have stepped up big time. Most notably, Tobias Harris, Montrezl Harrell, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Harris (now on his 4th team before turning 26), has been given up on by everybody in his still young career. This year, he’s showing everyone why they are wrong. Averaging career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, field goal percentage, and 3-point percentage. He spaces the floor effectively and leads all rotation players in offensive rating (111.8). He’s always had the ability to knock down jumpers at a high clip but he’s really starting to enter his prime as a player in LA.
Next we have Harrell, who was seen as a throw in when he came to town in the Chris Paul deal. He has been nothing short of fantastic and whenever I watch the Clippers it seems like he makes multiple big plays. He’s scoring at a career high clip (15.8 ppg) but that isn’t the story. He’s been their hustle guy who does all of the dirty work (I have a soft spot for these type of players, if you know me it isn’t a shock as to why). His motor is incredible and he leads the Clippers in Offensive Rebounds (2.3), loose balls recovered per game (1.3), and shots contested per game (12.3 which also sits at 14th in the entire league). For good measure, he’s even taken 3 charges this season which is behind only Avery Bradley on the Clippers, who I’ve been told is pretty good at this defense thing. His energy, combined with the scoring ability of Lou Williams, is one of the toughest things in the league right now to deal with off the bench. Doc’s found something here and I expect him to ride it until the wheels fall off.
Lastly, we have 2018 first round pick, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Experts weren’t sure what to expect out of SGA coming out of Kentucky as he is a very raw talent who can do a little bit of everything. Averaging, 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.7 blocks he’s shown this ability to do it all. Add that to a 6’ 6” frame and the Clippers might have their point guard of the future. While his 3-point percentage is low at 27.6% I don’t see his shooting as a weakness. He shot 40.4% from there on limited attempts with Kentucky last year so he’s shown he can knock them down. I think it’s going to be take a bit but he will improve that jump-shot. He shoots 81.8% from the free throw line (81.7% in college) which suggests he isn’t a bad shooter. Defensively, he has the frame to switch and the potential to be All-Defense someday. Then, add in that he gets to play with backcourt mates Bradley and Beverley who have made careers off of hellish defense. They will guide him along and give him the tools to become a monster on that end. He’s also only 20 years old so they sky is the limit for a young, up and coming stud like SGA.
For a team who has constantly been mocked for it’s moves over the years (Doc refusing to trade his son, that Blake contract, etc.), they’ve hit this rebuild out of the park. As you can see, things are very bright in ClipperLand. They have actual assets at a multitude of ages and positions. As they continue to play well, the assets will continue to gain more value. They’ll have the ability to trade some of these pieces if they need to and this level of play could lure free agents to the Clippers this offseason. The fact that Doc is still here means something. He always preached that he wanted no part of another rebuild but alas, he’s still the coach, and the Clippers are rebuilding. I think the Clippers want to contend sooner rather than later and that they have their eyes on this year’s free agent class (headlined by KD, Kawhi, Klay, Kemba etc.), and beyond. With a multitude of pieces in place they can convince someone to sign on and then even flip some of those pieces for another star if they develop accordingly. The future is bright for the proverbial little brother to the Lakers and maybe, they won’t be second fiddle for too long after ruling the city (in basketball terms) for 6 years during the reign of Paul, Griffin, and DeAndre.
Lastly, this pre-season pump up video is so spot on it’s ridiculous.
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