I made the trip down to Camp Pendleton today to get a real look at this edition of the Clippers; in Playa Vista I haven't gotten to see them do more than shoot some jumpers and stretch.
I'm not going to do a traditional game recap here. D.J. Foster was sitting next to me at the scrimmage, we chatted most of the time, his recap is already up and says most of what I would have said. So I'll try to cover some new territory.
In case you didn't bother to click over there, I will say that the White starters were Chris Kaman, Brian Cook, Ryan Gomes, Rasual Butler and Eric Bledsoe; Jarron Collins and Stephen Dennis came off the White bench, and Craig Smith (back) and Willie Warren (groin) were in the White layup line, but did not play while they nursed injuries. Dean Demopolous coached White.
Starting for Blue the Clippers had DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon and Randy Foye; Jon Scheyer, Jake Voskuhl and Marqus Blakely were the reserves, and Baron Davis was wearing Blue, but sat with an ice pack on his left knee when the game started. Marc Iavaroni coached Blue.
Looking at the layup lines, D.J.Foster quipped "Well, we know who's going to win," and indeed Blue did look pretty loaded, with three of the marquee Clippers, plus Jordan and Aminu. Of course, the fact that Davis didn't play changed the equation a bit, and in fact White took control early and never trailed after they took a 7-6 lead (they played two 20 minute halves with a running clock - so it was easily less than a half of NBA basketball in the end).
Individually, there was good news and bad news:
Chris Kaman looked terrific and was unstoppable early. He scored 10 of White's first 15 points and Blue more or less never recovered. Unfortunately, it's difficult to disentangle Kaman's good from Jordan's bad (see below), but White won the game mainly by winning the center position. I had Kaman making 4 of his first 5 field goals, while also recording a sweet block of an Eric Gordon layup. He looks to be in mid-season form.
The difference between Eric Bledsoe in summer league and today is night and day. Watching him today, we saw some of the tantalizing athleticism (he got to the rim easily on more than one occasion, and absolutely froze Jon Scheyer in his tracks on one crossover), and none (well, almost none) of the silly mistakes. When he got in the lane, he had a plan, and there's little question that he led all players in assists, though I was not tracking those specifically. I've been assuming that Bledsoe was not going to help this season - after today, I'm not so sure.
Ryan Gomes was one of the few players who really played within himself, which is exactly what Neil Olshey has been saying is his greatest strength. He missed his first two shots, but they were both good looks, and by my count he made his last three, finishing with 7 points. He played defense, he rebounded - he's clearly got the inside track to be the starter at the three when the season starts.
Before the final 10 minutes of play, I would have had Eric Gordon in the bad category, but he really turned it on late. With Randy Foye running the point at the start of the game, Gordon was coming off screens and looking to shoot, but was more or less a non-factor. Late in the game, Blue put the ball in Gordon's hands and the game turned around. A squad that was having trouble finding good shots, suddenly was getting dunks and layups (or Gordon jumpers, which is a good thing too). On the final five Blue possessions of the game, Gordon assisted DJ for a monster slam and a layup, got the ball to Griffin for a dunk attempt which resulted in a foul and two free throws, and made a three and a mid range jumper. On a sixth, he came off a screen, split the double team, and lobbed to DJ - whether the lob was too quick or DJ's jump was too slow, they didn't connect, but it was nonetheless another impressive play made by Gordon. It was easily the best I've seen of EJ as creator/facilitator, and even if it was just in a scrimmage, it was great to see.
Blake Griffin, I'm sorry to say, did not have a great game. He finished with 6 points, on 1 for 6 shooting (all shooting numbers are just my notes - in general, the makes are probably right, and the attempts are low if they're wrong - I may have failed to record a miss, but I doubt I made one up). The White defense decided to play off him and force him to prove he could make a 17 footer before they would give him the chance to drive. He didn't prove anything. He was ohfer on jump shots, most of the time missing pretty badly. Just so we're clear, I'm not concerned about Blake Griffin - he's going to be a very effective pro, rebounding and running and hustling if nothing else. But he's going to struggle on offense until he can keep defenses honest with a passable jump shot. I will say this on the plus side - watching Griffin dunk in warmups, he appears to be as explosive as he ever was. He remains an absolutely breathtaking athlete.
Brian Cook made two layups that were created for him by other players and was otherwise terrible shooting the ball. I had him missing all seven jumpers he took, and remember that if anything I'm underreporting misses. He was not good. Nor was he shy. He led all players in field goal attempts in my score book. Yikes.
Rasual Butler was ohfer Camp Pendleton and was pretty much a non-factor.
Jon Scheyer was overmatched out there. I hate to play into what seems like a cliche, but it happens to be true in this case - he just doesn't have the athleticism to play at this level. When he tried to guard Bledsoe, he didn't have the lateral quickness to stay in front of him. When he tried to guard bigger players, he didn't have the strength. When defenders closed out on his jumper, he didn't have the athleticism to drive past and create in the lane. When I first saw his name on the training camp list, I thought he had an outside chance of making the team. After today, I see no way. Not now.
DeAndre Jordan was probably the biggest disappointment for me. Yes, he was among the leading scorers with 8 points, including two monster slams (and he even went 2 for 2 at the line). But his points all came on finishing plays at the rim that others created for him. Meanwhile, he had a slew of turnovers and was overmatched by Kaman in the post. He still looks about as raw as he did as a rookie - where is the progress?
I'm going to give the rest of the players a mixed review.
AFA, like Bledsoe, looked significantly better than he did in Las Vegas. He had a couple of plays that demonstrated what he might be able to do - a steal where he led the break (he failed to finish, but drew a foul), and a drive from the wing where he surprised everyone with a last second jam. He also missed every shot he took that wasn't a dunk, mostly pretty badly.
I thought Randy Foye looked pretty good - but I can't get over how much Blue struggled with him at the point, and how much better they were when Gordon took over the playmaking duties. Foye did make some nice plays for his teammates, and it looks like he's going to be a solid if unspectacular option at both guard spots this year.
When the Clippers signed Stephen Dennis to the camp roster, I said the scorers are scorers, no matter what level they play at, and sure enough, the kid put the ball in the basket today. He was a lights out shooter - he just made the shots that came his way, mostly an array of floaters and mid range jumpers. He also had one transition dunk that showed some sneaky athleticism. He's long and has a loping gait, but he's quicker than I thought. He's not going to make the team, but he's got a chance to stick in the NBA at some point.
Speaking of who's going to make the team, you'd have to give the edge to Jarron Collins over Jake Voskuhl in the third center race based on today. Really, there are two ways to look at this scrimmage as concerns that third big. One is to say that neither of these 10 year vets are worth the bother - they're both extremely limited. Then again, watching Jordan struggle, you have to wonder if you don't need a vet to back up Kaman, or in case of injury. Collins was active on the offensive glass, keeping several balls alive for White when Blue was trying to mount a comeback behind Gordon. Collins also made Blake Griffin work hard. Neither guy did a lot, but Collins did more so he takes the lead for now.
As we've mentioned before, if the Clippers do keep one of the vet centers, then it probably means they'll cut either Willie Warren or Marqus Blakely. Warren rested his strained groin, so I couldn't watch him today. As for Blakely, he probably played fewer minutes than any other healthy Clipper. I don't know exactly what that means, but it doesn't seem like a good thing. He got very little opportunity, and didn't do much when he was out there.
In sum, it's a mixed message for the state of the team, but it's not too hard to make an optimistic case that things are in good shape. In the starting lineup, Kaman, Gordon and Gomes looked good; Griffin struggled, but I just don't think that anyone's too worried about him - he'll be fine. Baron is of course a concern, having missed essentially all of training camp, and we didn't get any answers there today. But if Baron is OK, then the starting lineup is looking pretty good. The bench needs work, but there's talent there.
We'll find out more Tuesday night in Portland.