Obviously, the win over the Bucks Saturday night was not exactly a thing of beauty. But it was a win, which is in and of itself something. The 50 loss Clippers of last season had plenty of wins over top teams. What they also had were far too many terrible losses to bad and injury-depleted teams. It's a long season, and there will be good wins, bad losses, ugly wins and good losses along the way. Playoff teams keep the bad losses to a minimum. And let's face facts - the Clippers took the lead 90 seconds into the second half against the Bucks and never trailed again. It wasn't pretty - but it wasn't much in doubt either. Bear in mind that this would have been a double digit lead the entire second half had the Clippers simply made their free throws.
With the season debut of Reggie Evans, I think there are some interesting observations to be made on the team at this point.
- Big man rotation - Evans is clearly going to be a major improvement over Brian Cook and/Trey Thompkins as the first big off the bench. Over the long haul, coach Vinny Del Negro will want a fourth big in the mix, but in a tight game, he could get by with a three man rotation of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Evans. It remains to be seen who among the other three bigs on the roster - Cook, Thompkins or new-comer Solomon Jones - can provide adequate spot minutes, but Cook has gotten the opportunities early in the season, and one can only hope someone else will get their shot. For now though, having Evans and pushing Cook a little further down the depth chart is going to be a major boost for the bench.
- Free throw shooting - The Clippers were particularly bad at two things last season: committing turnovers and free throw shooting. In both disciplines they ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams. The additions of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups have allowed a complete reversal on the turnover problem, where the Clippers are now second (just behind Philadelphia) in turnovers per game. But free throw shooting is as bad as ever, with the team in dead last. Griffin was supposed to improve, but has actually regressed, shooting just over 61% over the first six games. Meanwhile, Jordan is as bad as ever, but the Clippers are now more dependent on him, while Evans doesn't help things a bit with his 52% career average (and 1 for 6 debut). With either Evans or Jordan needed on the floor at the end of most games, it will be interesting to see if teams begin to intentionally foul the Clippers when trailing late. Scott Skiles appeared to try it once last night, fouling Jordan with over 6 minutes left. For whatever reason, he chose not to return to the strategy when Jordan made one of two, but it's likely that the Clippers will see more intentional fouls as the season progresses.
- The three guard lineup - Vinny Del Negro went with Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams for 4 plus minutes of the fourth quarter last night. As Kevin Arnovitz tweeted, all three were starting point guards last season and for most of their careers, but one of them was ostensibly a small forward against the Bucks. It's fairly clear that three of the Clippers top six players are in fact point guards, so wanting to get them minutes is understandable, and the three guard lineup may be inevitable. But I strongly question it's use last night. The Bucks were a severely depleted team with few viable options on offense. Stephen Jackson is one of only two Bucks from last night with a semblance of an offensive game, and by playing the three guards, forcing Billups to defend Jackson, VDN was handing Milwaukee an offensive strategy where they previously had none. They got away with it last night (Jackson drew a couple of fouls and blew a layup, but didn't do much damage), but that wasn't the team against which to use the three guard lineup, in my opinion.
- Ryan Gomes - Part of the reason for the three guard lineup is an apparent aversion to playing Gomes, who did not make a second half appearance last night. However, can we all agree that Gomes is preferable in most circumstances to Cook? In fact, if there's a viable five on the floor, why would the Clippers not play Gomes over Cook at the four? Gomes and Cook both get plenty of criticism among the citizen of Clips Nation, but it seems clear to me that one of them is a reasonable NBA rotation player, and it ain't Cook.
- Big guards - The two issues above will be particularly important in the coming week, when the Clippers play Portland (Wes Matthews, Jamal Crawford), Miami (Dwyane Wade) and the Lakers (I forget the name of their shooting guard, but he's pretty big I think). Chauncey Billups will have his hands full defending those guys, and VDN may have to get creative using the likes of Caron Butler, Gomes, Randy Foye or even Travis Leslie to try to combat the size of those wings.
- Jordan's D - Maybe we should start calling him D-Andre. Citizen SilverClip pointed it out in his recap, but as much as anyone Saturday night, DeAndre Jordan won that game, and he did it with his defense. Off the top of my head, he blocked two shots, forced and won two jump balls, and forced Drew Gooden into an airball in the fourth quarter alone. He needs to avoid picking up silly fouls, but he may yet turn into the defensive force he's being paid to be.