The Los Angeles' Clippers first 10 games of the season have been filled with ups and downs, from upsetting losses to the Lakers and Magic to big wins against the Timberwolves, Warriors, Rockets, and Thunder. The team has some obvious strengths and weaknesses, but overall everyone should be pretty happy with a 7-3 start that puts the Clippers tied for first in the division and third in the conference.
The Clippers have managed this level of success despite having the second toughest schedule in the league. Hollinger ranks their SOS at .580, which is one of only five marks above .550. The Clippers are the only of those 5 teams to have a record at or above .500.
To evaluate the Clippers start, I've invited Clips Nation editor John Raffo and writer Erik Olsgaard to discuss the first ten games of the season with me.
Who is the MVP of the first ten games?
LH: It's hard to say. Do you go with Chris Paul, who has had a points-assists double-double in every game? J.J. Redick, who has averaged 18 points a game and been outstanding? Ultimately, I have to go with Blake Griffin, who has been outstanding in the young season, averaging almost 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 and a half assists a game. His jumpshot has been falling, and his post footwork, while inconsistent, has been excellent at times. He's also guarded Dwight Howard and LeBron James late in close games for the Clippers.
EO: Chris Paul, without a doubt. His scoring efficiency is down from his unreasonably high standards, as he's shooting an uncharacteristic 25.0% from deep and 43.1% overall. He's offsetting that at the line, where he's shooting 96.9%, but we should see all of that drift to career norms. His career-high 6.5 FT attempts per 36, though? That may not necessarily drift back to his career average (5.2 FTA per 36) if he's getting to the line because of the more complex offensive system. Oh and he's also dishing a career-high 12.7 assists per 36 and nabbing a career-high 2.9 steals per 36. But whatever, no big deal.
JR: Do I have to choose? I think I'd pick Paul, with Griffin a close second. But what about DeAndre Jordan and his 13.5/11.2? If DJ gets anywhere near that average for the season he really is one of the big three. If he averages 10/10 we're doing cartwheels. Honorable mention to JJ Redick.
What has been the most pleasant surprise of the first 10 games?
LH: Again, I'll have to slight my favorite Clipper and take DeAndre Jordan over Redick. Jordan's production is at an all-time high this year, and he's averaging a double-double with over two blocks per game. There's no doubt that he's a new man this season and if it can last, it will be a major advantage for the Clippers.
EO: It's a tie between DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick. But the edge goes to DJ, if only because I've always felt Redick was starter-quality since his emergence in Orlando a few years back. DJ has been absolutely brilliant on the glass this season. He's pulling in 13.1 boards per 36, which is exactly what the Clippers need from him. Rebounding, and defense. Defensively, he's been pretty great too. He seems to be more actively rotating, without jumping at every little thing. But for me, the real leap is the rebounding and him actually boxing out.
JR: DJ no question.
What has been the biggest disappointment of the first 10 games?
LH: The bench. Collison, Crawford, and Barnes have all started to turn it around, but the bigs (despite Mullens' performance last night against Brooklyn) have been abysmal on both ends. The Clippers need to pursue other options.
EO: The Doc Rivers effect on defense. I really thought we'd see immediate improvement because I'm firmly rooted in Club O, but it turns out, it takes time for players to learn complex defensive schemes. Crazy right?? Whatever, I'm still disappointed.
JR: Darren Collison. He was insane in the preseason and we thought he'd be something more than a backup to CP3. But he hasn't shot well, hasn't defended well, and has shown much as a distributor.
True/False: The Clippers Should be 9-1
LJ: False. They have the record that they've earned. They could easily be 9-1 if they hadn't dropped games against the Lakers and Magic, but I don't really think they deserved to win those games with the way that they played.
EO: True-ish. Not because they are playing like a 9-1 team, but because two of the games they lost were just brain farts. They could just as easily have lost a couple of the games to OKC, MIN, and GSW.
JR: Who made up this question? They shouldn't have lost to the Lakers, that's true, and they shouldn't have lost to the Magic. But by that logic, they SHOULD have lost to the Heat which doesn't make any sense either. The Clippers have a ridiculously tough week coming up. There's no rest for the weary and no logic in looking back with any regret.
Grade the Clippers' first 10 games with an explanation.
LJ: I give them a B+/A-, right around a 90%. They've had some excellent wins and showed how good they can be (Especially the first 6 players), but there have been a couple of disappointments and weaknesses that clearly need to be addressed.
EO: Can I give them two grades? The starters get an A-, the bench gets a D. Even without the benefits of perfecting the offensive sets they are running, they are pretty much the best in the league offensively. Defensively, they aren't perfect, but it's not a big problem. That bench, though. Holy cow. Jamal Crawford's carrying the load offensively, but on the defensive end, it's just a huge mess. Collison and Barnes are capable of more, so I'm not worried about them in the long run. But Ryan Hollins and Byron Mullens? There is absolutely no consistency. Sometimes they look halfway decent, and sometimes they look like they aren't even sure which basket to defend.
JR: I'll give them an 80%. Yeah they're 7-3 and that's good but their defense is still fairly terrible (though showing signs) and the bench needs uh something.
What are your expectations for the next 10 games?
LJ: The Clippers will win at least 6 of their next 10, with some tough matchups having to travel to Minnesota and then Oklahoma City on a back-to-back, then at home against the league-leading Pacers 10 days later. This stretch is also bookended with home and away games against the Grizzlies, and in between they also get to play the confusing Knicks and Derrick Rose-led Bulls. I don't think 10-0 is attainable with that schedule but 8-2 or 9-1 would certainly be impressive. Oh, and fingers crossed that Lamar Odom is a Clipper sometime in that 20 days.
EO: Let's see... MEM, @MIN, @OKC, SAC, CHI, NYK, @SAC, IND, @ATL, @MEM
Well first, I'm assuming no more brain farts, so let's call the SAC games and the ATL game W's. And normally, I would have assumed the MEM games would be split 50:50, but they don't look the same this year, so let's call those W's too. NYK's defense has got to be a joke without Tyson Chandler, so that's a W too. CHI isn't quite elite yet, but shouldn't be underestimated. Still, let's be optimistic and call that a W. MIN and OKC will be out for revenge, so let's conservatively call those L's. And lastly, Indiana is a brick wall defensively right now, so that'll be an L too. 7-3 over the next 10 puts the team at 14-6, with 14/20 games against playoff teams. Not too shabby, Clippers.
JR: This coming week is a hell ride. I don't mean to be a pessimist but the defense and the bench need work. I think 5-5 would not be surprising. Expectations are high but we've seen that Doc Rivers is still finding his way across the river. The Clips gambled on their backup big men and failed to bring in a solid wing defender other than Matt Barnes this offseason. I don't know if Rivers can work enough magic using the pieces he's got. It's interesting... Doc Rivers has spent the last decade in the east where there are patsies around every corner. The Clips live in the West and there are only a couple of teams that might give the Clippers a breath. Would Doc Rivers Hollins/Mullings/Jamison gamble have been a better bet in the East? Did Doc outsmart himself?