L.A. Clippers Scrimmage: What we learned

Photo by Steve Perrin

What did we learn from the Los Angeles Clippers intrasquad scrimmage at the Galen Center Wednesday night? Not a lot, because it was just a scrimmage after all. Still, there were maybe a few hints here and there of what to expect.

To set the stage, the teams were split up as follows:

Blue

White

Eric Bledsoe

Hank Thorns

Willie Green

Jamal Crawford

Caron Butler

Matt Barnes

Blake Griffin

Lamar Odom

DeAndre Jordan

Ronny Turiaf

Ryan Hollins

Travis Leslie

Marqus Blakely

Courtney Fortson

Chris Johnson

Trent Plaisted

Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Trey Thompkins and Grant Hill did not play.

As you can see, the Blue team was the Clippers starters (minus the starting backcourt of Paul and Billups) while the White team was the Clippers reserves (minus primarily Bledsoe who slid over to play with the starters). With both Paul and Billups limited to non-contact for the time being, the team is a tad thin at the point, with Bledsoe playing the whole way for the Blue and two camp invitees who have little chance of making the squad splitting halves for the white.

The game apparently ended up a tie -- I was off in the media area before it actually ended. It also seemed as if the scoreboard missed a Travis Leslie jumper early in the second half, so it seems to me that White actually won, not that it matters a whit.

As for observations, let's start off we something we mostly knew already that was resoundingly confirmed: Blake Griffin is fully recovered and just as explosive as ever post meniscus surgery. He had several breakaway dunks, which were spectacular enough, but he also had a tomahawk jam in traffic that really caught me off guard. That's how you know that he's back -- it's the play where you think not much is happening and suddenly he's at the rim throwing down. How did he get there? No one else explodes like that, and the good news is that Griffin still does.

We saw DeAndre Jordan try out a couple of his new offensive moves, and he looked fine doing it -- but the results were mixed. I've said it before and I'll say it again, offense should be the least of the Clippers and DeAndre's worries. If he rebounds well and plays defense, then he's doing his job. If the ball ends up in his hands with two seconds on the shot clock, it's nice if he can take a jumper with some level of confidence -- but even if he's much improved, it's still not a good shot early in the clock and there's very little reason to be running plays for DeAndre Jordan. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre. You need to emulate Tyson Chandler. Does Tyson worry about offense? No. DeAndre needs a bumper sticker: WWTCD? What would Tyson Chandler do?

Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford all looked pretty good for the second unit. They certainly have the potential to provide the team with quality depth. Grant Hill did not play, probably because he's Grant Hill and he's going to be 40 on Friday and therefore he doesn't have to play in scrimmages. Of course Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Trey Thompkins all sat out as well as we knew they would since none of them have yet been cleared for contact.

Travis Leslie was surprisingly the leading scorer for the White team, scoring all nine of his points in the 12 minute second half. He made a couple of jumpers (surprising) and finished a couple of fast breaks (not surprising). He also had a couple of turnovers and looked pretty shaky handling the ball, so I didn't exactly come away thinking that Travis was going to be a contributor despite the points.

Eric Bledsoe will be getting some early season burn until Billups gets back to the lineup, and tonight he got to run the point for the starting unit. He looked fine if not exactly scintillating -- he was mostly under control on offense, which is important, and he ran the team competently. His best moments, as you might expect, were on defense pressuring the ball. He can be a game changer on that end.

Willie Green, starting at shooting guard with the Blue team, i.e. the first unit, was pretty invisible. I think Green can be a reasonable approximation of Randy Foye this season -- but remember that Foye would not have been in the rotation last season had Billups (and to a lesser extent Bledsoe) not been hurt. Hopefully we won't be seeing a ton of Green this season, but I think he's quite capable if he has to play. The earliest hints seem to be that Vinny Del Negro might actually start Green while Billups is out, in order to keep Crawford in the second unit to provide bench scoring. It's essentially what he ended up doing last season, leaving Mo Williams in the sixth man role and elevating Foye to the starting lineup. Of course there's a long time to go between now and the start of the season, but starting Green is a decent strategy, provided he plays reasonably well.

The Clippers deepest position this season may be small forward, where last season Hill was a full time starter for the Suns and Barnes started part time for the Lakers. It's quite a turnaround, considering that depth at the three was a huge problem last season, as Ryan Gomes threw away what little confidence he had left against San Antonio and the Clippers turned to D-Leaguer Bobby Simmons to back up Butler. It would not seem that there are enough minutes for Butler and Barnes and Hill, so let's hope it does not become a problem.

Saturday in Las Vegas against the Nuggets in the first pre-season game will be slightly more important, but only slightly so.

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