The 2013 NBA pre-season is now in the books, and after watching the Los Angeles Clippers play their way to a 5-3 exhibition record against generally weak competition there's only one conclusion to draw: they didn't really look that good. Certainly not in their most recent games. They started off strong enough, but had several issues as the pre-season wore on, and in the end the prelude to Doc Rivers first season in L.A. was definitely a disappointment.
The Clippers were one of the top shooting teams in the NBA last season, fourth in the league in both field percentage (.478) and effective field goal percentage (.526). So it's more than a little disappointing that, after several off-season acquisitions designed to make them even more deadly from the field, the team's biggest pre-season problem seemed to be that they couldn't shoot. Over the course of eight games, they made just 278 of their 635 field goals, a .438 percentage, and 35 percent shooting from deep only raised their eFG% to .472. for a little perspective, .472 would have been worse than all but two teams in the league last year.
Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, it's just pre-season, I get that. One of the functions of pre-season is to knock the rust off. We expect it to be sloppy, and part of that is missing open shots -- which the Clippers did plenty. But by the same token, one would expect the team to start looking better with each progressive pre-season game, as they get less rusty and into better condition and used to the new offense, etc. etc. And that simply wasn't the case. The Clippers looked pretty good in their first couple of games -- and haven't really looked good since.
There are plenty of good explanations why that might be. They've dealt with injuries, and have rarely had the entire roster healthy. In fact, the top seven players (the ones on those wall hangings in STAPLES causing so much trouble) have yet to play together in a game. So the loss in Sacramento when the team was without four starters for injuries and/or rest, there's certainly no reason to panic over that.
But in their final six pre-season games, beginning in Sacramento, the team has just not been impressive. They certainly haven't played a complete game in that time. In Phoenix against the Suns, they played a dominant first half, and then almost lost the game in a lethargic second half. The win over the Nuggets in Las Vegas relied almost entirely on the individual play of Chris Paul and Darren Collison. Where were the bigs? Where was the team play we've heard so much about?
In three of their final four pre-season games, the team shot under 40% from the field. They only did that six times all last season. Again, I get it that this is pre-season, but 39 percent shooting is bad in pre-season or regular season or postseason or duck season or rabbit season. This team has more weapons and supposedly a much better coach running better sets designed -- so why is it such a struggle to score?
What's particularly bizarre in all of this is that all of the Clippers' worst shooting nights occurred in STAPLES Center. In fact, the team has yet to shoot above 40 percent at home in the Doc Rivers era.
And what about defense? Wasn't the single biggest difference in the team this season supposed to be improved defense as they implemented Rivers' schemes? Last night in the final pre-season game, the Clippers allowed the Kings to score 69 points in the middle two periods and run away with the game in the process. Some of that came against the second unit -- but most of it happened against the starters.
Look, I'm not panicking. It's the pre-season, and good teams tend to coast in the pre-season and save it for the real thing. I'm still not used to thinking of the Clippers as a good team, I guess. But we've seen plenty of terrific pre-seasons around these parts that turned into lottery trips when the games counted.
At the same time, you can't dismiss the issues of pre-season completely either, as the Lakers found out last year. Obviously the Clippers 5-3 record is very different than the winless super-Lakers of October 2012, but all the talk of "We'll be fine when the games count" turned out to be just talk for that team.
Here's hoping that the Clippers can "flip the switch" and start making shots beginning Tuesday night.