LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 19: Blake Griffin #32 and Caron Butler #5 of the Los Angeles Clippers box out Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 114-95 Clipper win at Staples Center on December 19, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
A couple of weeks ago LJ Hann, Steve Perrin, and I decided to take some time and compare the NBA's two Los Angeles franchises. Well, actually I decided, LJ agreed to agree, and Steve jumped in at the last minute. (Actually Steve and LJ both treated the project with some disdain and said something about letting the teams play the games but... can you imagine anything so ridiculous?)
Of course, we're Clipper fans. This is a Clipper blog. Is it even possible for us to compare the two teams? Could we possibly be fair? Well... maybe we can't but we're gonna do it anyway. We will try and forget, for the moment, that we uh... are not fond of... the Lakers.
But then we thought, oh, maybe we should wait. I mean what if the Lakers pull off a big trade or sign someone to fill out there bench? And then the Lakers did exactly that. They added Jodie Meeks to their roster and re-signed Devin Ebanks... and then they traded Andrew Bynum and wound up with Dwight Howard. Maybe it was good we waited.
We're going to look at it in two separate ways: In part 1 we'll go position by position and in part 2 we'll hand out grades and look at things that way. (Well, LJ and are are going to look at them two separate ways, Steve refused on, I don't know, moral grounds or something. More on that later.)
We'll go position by position after the break.
POSITION BY POSITION:
John Raffo - I don't think there can be much argument about this. Paul is younger and simply better. Not that Nash is any kind of slouch; I think he makes the Lakers very much better than they were last year. But he will play many less minutes than Paul, plays far less defense, and will be less effective. Winner: Chris Paul.
LJ Hann - Agree. Nash might still be a better pure shooter at this point, as well as a better passer, but CP3 is still exemplary in all categories- including defensively, where Nash is detrimental to a team lacking perimeter defense. Winner: Paul
Steve Perrin - I love love LOVE Steve Nash, but dude's 38. He was down to just over 31 minutes per game last season, fewest in over a decade. Meanwhile, last I heard there was a debate regarding whether Chris Paul or Deron Williamswas the best point guard in the NBA, and this guy Krzyzewski played Paul 33 minutes to Williams' 10 in the Olympic Gold Medal game, so I guess we know who he thinks is better. Chris Paul is one of the most effective players in the NBA period. Winner: Paul.
JR - (Personally I don't expect see Billups until 2013, so I've thrown Crawford into the starting mix. That might mean we see more of Eric Bledsoe early, which isn't necessarily bad considering his PER of 22 in the playoff's last year.) Doesn't matter it's a landslide for Bryant. The addition of Steve Nash will probably make him better (and might make him resistant to his black-hole ball-hog tendency and inefficient three-point shooting). Winner: Kobe.
LJ - Again, not a ton of debate here. I loathe Kobe's playing style, but if anyone is good enough to pull it off, it's him. Winner: Kobe.
SP - Again looking at some Olympic Hoops data points, it's worth noting that Kobe is no longer the be all end all. Clearly LeBron and Durant were the alpha dogs on that team, with Kobe reduced to the role of spot up shooter. Accepting a lesser role for eight games in London is one thing -- it will be a much bigger challenge for him to defer to Nash and Howard on 'his' team, so we'll see how things mesh. Having said that, Kobe's still Kobe. He's a punk, but he wins this battle hands down. Winner: Kobe.
JR - Close, but Butler's better than Peace... and I suspect Butler will be a year removed from surgery so he might be even better. Winner: Butler
LJ - Honestly? Not close at all. Neither are actually efficient players (both PERs under 12), but Butler has a higher PER, more points, more efficiently, and can hit a three (MWP was under 30% last season). And, amazingly enough, Butler even outrebounded Peace. Not to mention that the Clippers bring Grant Hill off the bench, who is a better player than either of these starters. Winner: Butler (and Hill)
SP - Both Metta and Caron are pretty far removed from the form of their respective All Star appearances. Having said that, the big difference here is that Butler is a continually positive factor for his team in every way, including in the locker room and off the court. The same cannot be said for MWP, the ultimate loose cannon. Winner: Butler.
JR - I'm a huge Gasol fan... and he will, I believe be better with Nash on the floor. He's a better defender than Griffin, can hit a jumper, and might be a better center than power forward. But Gasol's become mentally fragile and Griffin's physically and mentally as tough as they come (depite his reputation as a flopper). Winner: Griffin by a nose.
LJ - Wait, we're at power forward and I'm still mostly agreeing with Raffo? I like Gasol at times, and the head-to-head with Griffin is very confusing. Ultimately, I prefer Marc to Pau, and Blake to Marc, so I guess it's that easy? Either way, Griffin is one of the most dominant players in the league, and a top 5 big man. Gasol is a very good piece at PF. Winner: Blake comfortably, by about an armpit maybe?
SP - It would be difficult to find two more different players at the same position. Griffin wins by virtue of his age and role. Gasol dropped off some last season -- there's every reason to expect his productivity to continue to slide at age 32. Meanwhile Griffin should be better. If Griffin was already more productive last season, and he's getting better while Gasol is getting worse, do the math. Having said that, the Lakers have for years underutilized Gasol and will surely do it again next season, which is the single biggest reason that Griffin wins this matchup. Winner: Griffin.
Center - DeAndre Jordan vs.
Andrew Bynum Dwight Howard.
JR - The Lakers just swapped the second better center in the league for the first best. Bynum's inconsistent, but better on offense. Howard's very consistent and one of the best defensive players in the game. Bynum's biggest negative is that he wants to be the centerpiece of a team. Howard shares a similar mindset and has a woefully bad habit of poor free-throw shooting, a habit that has historically limited his appearances in crunch time. What we don't know about Howard is how he'll fit in in the LA food chain. Option one: Kobe, because that's the way it is. Option Two, maybe Pau, maybe Nash. Option three, the other guy I just mentioned who wasn't option two. Option four, Howard? Uh... is this gonna work? Of course none of this matters. Even if DJ improves by 50 percent this year, he can't match up with Howard who is the easy winner.
LJ - I'll start off the same as Raffo and work a different argument. Howard is the best center in basketball. Bynum is the second best center in basketball. Therefore, Howard is an upgrade over Bynum. That's worse for the Clippers, sure. But I don't think that Howard is really something for Clippers fans to fret about all of a sudden. Jordan was already losing this battle by a mile, and now he's losing it by 6,000 feet. Not a huge difference when you're already that far back. Howard bill not be the 4th option. He will be #2, simply because Pau and Nash will both be looking for him. Pau will be 3, and we know Nash doesn't care if he doesn't get a shot off all game.
SP - Newsflash: Dwight Howard is better than DeAndre Jordan. Winner: Howard.
Bench - A Clipper homer would separate out these guys and add them to the comparison. But we'll take them in the aggregate.
JR - Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, and Willie Green are better than Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks, and Devin Ebanks. Even if Crawford starts more than 30 games for the Clips or Odom only partially regains form, the Clips win this one easy.
LJ - My prediction? When the Clippers face the Lakers, the two bench units will come in, and the Clippers will pull away. If the Lakers really come out with Jamison against Grant Hill? That's the best matchup of the night for either team. Odom against Hill? Crawford and Bledsoe against Blake? Are you kidding? If all ten starters got hurt in the first minute, the Clippers would win by 50.
SP - As it happens, Jamison, Blake, Hill, Meeks and Ebanks won't have to do a lot for the Lakers (except for Blake, since Nash won't be able to play big minutes). But they won't have to. The Clippers have the much better bench, but it may not matter.
JR - I'm not at all sure Mike Brown will ever penetrate the Laker's calcified skins... Kobe has this awful tendency to play the hero, then publicly bash his teammates. Pau withers and vanishes for days at a time. Nash will be willing and Howard will want the ball in crunch time. The Lakers first year away from the triangle offense was only moderately successful but it should be better this year with Nash... and now they've added Eddie Jordan as an assistant, who might also help.
The Clipper coaching situation is murky with Del Negro, questionable at best, now on a lame duck deal. Though the Clips had one of the best offenses in the league (as long as Chris Paul was on the floor), the defense only got better in the playoffs and only when DeAndre Jordan was off the floor. Vinny Del Negro makes Mike Brown look like Red Holzman. The winner is the Lakers.
LJ - Vinny is becoming harder and harder to gauge for me. Ultimately, I can appreciate what he doesn't do more than what he does. He doesn't restrict his players with sets. Sure, it's because he can't make a playbook, but that doesn't effect the result: Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Blake Griffin playing freely. The team suffers at the end of games, and when inbounding the ball, but that's maybe 5 possessions a game. The other 80? We're trusting CP3. Not a bad plan. Vinny doesn't make the Clippers better, but he also doesn't make them that much worse. So I'm happy for that. I don't know if Mike Brown will even keep his job through this season... I'll go with no winner here. It's a draw at 0.
SP - Meh. Most coaches don't have a ton of impact. I definitely don't put either of these guys in the high impact category. Brown is the better defensive coach, but he's also got the tougher job, trying to find enough touches for Bryant and Howard and Nash and Gasol in the same starting lineup. I agree with LJ that this is a push.
Head to head comparisons: Raffo has the Clips the victors at 4-3. LJ has the Clippers at 4-2. Steve has the Clips at 4-2 as well.
But, really, is that a fair way to look at things? I'm not sure. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard are so much better than their Clipper counterparts that it seems patently unfair and Chris Paul is really working on a plane above Steve Nash right now. So I thought we should give every player a grade and add them up. This is, of course, not scientific at all... the grades are completely subjective... Steve just flat-out refused to do it... and I had to force LJ.
So, stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow... or maybe the next day. Or, failing that, the day after that...