Are the Los Angeles Clippers a legitimate NBA title contender?

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With 21 of 82 games already completed, the Clippers currently reside at 13-8 as the season hits its quarter mark. But the team is not without some flaws that will need a little bit of fixing.

I'm a diehard fan. Those who know me best know this to be true. But I'm also a realist. I felt the need to talk about this since it's something that has bothered me all season long. And the stats will show what I'm talking about but I'm also going to talk about the stats in depth just to give everyone an idea of exactly what I mean. I've gone back and looked at the shot data since 1996-1997. Everything you see and read will have to do with data since then. It's as simple as that. First, let's start by looking at the NBA champions since then.

1996-1997: Chicago Bulls
1997-1998: Chicago Bulls
1998-1999: San Antonio Spurs
1999-2000: Los Angeles Lakers
2000-2001: Los Angeles Lakers
2001-2002: Los Angeles Lakers
2002-2003: San Antonio Spurs
2003-2004: Detroit Pistons
2004-2005: San Antonio Spurs
2005-2006: Miami Heat
2006-2007: San Antonio Spurs
2007-2008: Boston Celtics
2008-2009: Los Angeles Lakers
2009-2010: Los Angeles Lakers
2010-2011: Dallas Mavericks
2011-2012: Miami Heat
2012-2013: Miami Heat

Okay, there's the list. Now, let's work backwards to see something. We're going to look at three distinct shot locations. Those being "shots inside of 8 feet", "shots from 15-19 feet", and "three pointers." The shots in the 15-19 foot range will just be referred to as "mid-range jumpers" to make things easier.The reason I'm looking at these three distinct locations is because, at least in my mind, there was a definite correlation between NBA champions and teams who got easy shots. There's a widely held notion that jump-shooting teams just can't win the title because you wear down over the course of a season, legs get tired, and jumpers start missing. It seems like a reasonable line of thinking, at least to me. Well, I crunched the data and below is what I found. For a reference, if you see anything in parenthesis, it's their rank in the NBA that season in that respective category. For instance, if you see "(7/29)" then that means that team ranked 7th out of 29 teams in the NBA that season in that category. Got it? Good. Here we go.

Nbachampionsshotdata_medium

It's not hard to see that not all NBA Champions since 1996-1997 have been created equal. Different teams can win titles different ways. The Chicago Bulls rarely shot the ball inside of 8 feet, took a ton of mid-range jumpers, and also didn't shoot from three a lot. They still won a title. But, there is something to take notice of. Of the last 17 NBA Champions, only 2 ranked in the Top 10 in mid-range jumpers attempted per game. Those were the Chicago Bulls, as I mentioned. However, it's even crazier when you notice that only 4 of those 17 champions have ranked in the Top 15 of mid-range jumpers attempted per game. But the far crazier part? It's only happened once in the last 14 years. This means that NBA teams have started to realize that mid-range jumpers are not conducive to overall success. In reality, mid-range jumpers are the lowest quality shots in the NBA. They deliver the least amount of efficiency, the highest amount of risk, and are not something that delivers long-term success.

Now look at shots inside 8 feet. Of the 17 champions here, 8 have ranked in the Top 10 in attempts per game there. Another 2 have ranked in the Top 15. That means 10 of the 17 champions have ranked in the top half of the league in that category. With three-pointers, 6 champions have ranked in the Top 10 and another 7 have ranked in the Top 15. That's 13 out of 17. But here's where things get interesting. No NBA Champion since 1996-1997 has ranked in the Top 10 in both mid-range jumpers attempted per game and three-pointers attempted per game. In fact, only 2 have ranked in the Top 15 in both categories. And, as you've probably come to realize, those two teams were the Chicago Bulls almost 20 years ago. So, what does this have to do with the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Clippers, you ask? Well, this is what it has to do with them.

Lacshotdata2_medium

The only team to win the NBA title since 1996-1997 to attempt less than 30.0 shots inside of 8 feet over an entire season were the 2010-2011 Dallas Mavericks. The Clippers are at 28.7 per game. The Dallas Mavericks were at 28.1. The Clippers, however, make a higher percentage (61.0%) than the Mavericks did (59.6%). In reality, those Dallas Mavericks are what the Los Angeles Clippers have basically turned into. But it's crazy, really, since the Clippers are attempting even more jumpers per game than the Mavericks did. They're not even shooting as well as the Mavericks did on those very same jumpers, either. It's even more maddening than that, as well.

Shotchart_1386530529450_medium

The picture above is the Clippers shot chart this season. The interior ring is the inside 8 feet spot. As you can see, the Clippers are fantastic at finishing around the rim and also at mid-range jumpers, which in this picture are 16-24 foot jumpers. They're also great at corner threes but hideous at threes taken anywhere else. It's like that for a lot of teams but it's pretty ridiculous to see the Clippers take so many threes "above the break" instead of from corners.

The main problem with the Clippers shot data this year happens to be the fact that they don't attempt nearly enough shots inside of 8 feet. It'd be one thing if they weren't adept at finishing around the rim but they are. It'd be another thing if they simply didn't have the bigs capable enough to finish around the rim but they do. It's simply a matter of being too jump-shot happy. And it's a huge problem right now. During the first three games of this current road trip, the Clippers have taken 250 shots. Of those 250 shots, only 81 were inside of 8 feet. They're averaging just 27 shots per game over these three games inside of 8 feet. That's nearly two shots per game lower than their season average. This is concerning. They're not improving. In fact, they're getting worse. They've made 47 of 81 (58%) inside of 8 feet in those three games. On all other shots, they're 58 of 169 (34%). This means that, per game on this current road trip, the Clippers are averaging 27 shots inside of 8 feet and 56.3 outside of it. That's appalling. Simply appalling. Especially when they're not even making a respectable enough clip.

To put this into further detail, I'll explain it like this. On the season, 602 of the Clippers 1729 shots have been inside of 8 feet. That's 34.8%. On this current road trip, in the three games, it's been 32.4%. They're down nearly 2.5% over their season average. This means that 1127 of their shots have been outside of 8 feet. On those 1127 shots, they're shooting 39% this season. Over the last three games, they're shooting 34% on their 169 shots outside of 8 feet. That's 5% worse. So not only are they shooting more from outside of 8 feet, but they're also making significantly less. Good teams would see this trend and realize they needed to take the ball inside more. Not the Clippers. Oh no, definitely not them. They believe that means they should keep shooting. If at first you don't succeed, chuck, chuck again.

Part of the problem, perhaps, could be that their guards are not really adept at either (a) finishing around the rim or (b) even getting into the paint with enough penetration to cause havoc. So let's look at the five primary guards the Clippers have used this season - Chris Paul, JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison, and Willie Green. Let's look at them and see just how well they stack up in terms of finishing inside of 8 feet and everywhere else that I've discussed.

Lacguardshotdata_medium

That's how the main guards have done for the Clippers in those shot data locations. The percentage in parenthesis is how they've shot from there, in terms of field goal percentage. Only 47 of Chris Paul's 276 attempts this season (17%) have come inside of 8 feet. For JJ Redick, it's 32 of 200 (16%). Jamal Crawford is at 48 of 274 (17.5%). Darren Collison is at 48 of 128 (37.5%) and Willie Green is at 10 of 46 (21.7%). How sad is that? The two guards with the lowest shot attempts this season have taken the ball inside at a higher percentage. The sadder part is that Darren Collison has attempted more shots inside of 8 feet than Chris Paul has this season despite attempting 148 shots on the year. Chris Paul, who we all know can get into the paint whenever he wants, is a big problem this year when looking at this data. I wanted to understand just how much of a problem so I went to go look at a point guard who compares very favorably to him from a body size, style of play, and shot production standpoint. Here's what I found.

Mikeconleyshotdata_medium

Mike Conley was my point guard of choice. He's having a great season in his own right and, to be perfectly fair to him, he's basically the left-handed slightly lesser version of Chris Paul right now. But there's a major difference between the two players. Mike Conley, while being a really good mid-range shooter, has competently decided to go into the paint and finish around the rim. 119 of Mike Conley's 269 shot attempts this season have come inside of 8 feet. That's 44.2%. Remember what Chris Paul was at? It was 17%. That's insane. There are other factors that drove me to compare both players, as well. They both play with two big men who like to operate around the rim and inside the paint. While Marc Gasol has been injured this year, the other bigs for Memphis can't really stretch the floor. So Conley has the same paint clogging issues that Paul has but Conley still goes into the paint aplenty. Paul does not. He seems extremely hesitant to do so.

I'm not here to say Mike Conley is better than Chris Paul. He's not. But Mike Conley is certainly more aggressive than Chris Paul is right now. And I don't know why. In fact, the five Clippers guards that I mentioned have taken 185 total shots inside of 8 feet. Mike Conley has taken 119 by himself. That's one on five and Conley is only 66 attempts shy. That's unheard of. This is clearly a Clippers issue and not even just a Chris Paul issue entirely. It has to get fixed if this team wants to go anywhere. You cannot win a championship with guards who are afraid to go into the paint.

Earlier I mentioned the Chicago Bulls as the only team to win a championship while shooting a ridiculous amount of mid-range jumpers and rarely going inside of 8 feet. However, they also featured players who could take a game over by doing so when needed. You know, guys like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. They won two titles doing that - not overall, obviously, but two titles with the shot data I had - and it worked for them. The Clippers just shoot entirely way too many jumpers overall. It'd be one thing if they shot a lot of mid-range jumpers but not a lot of threes or vice versa. But it's not that. They, overall, shoot a ton of jumpers and it takes its toll on them over the course of a game.

In fact, last night in the second half against Cleveland, the Clippers shot 11 of 44 (25.0%) in the second half. That's ridiculous as it is but when you take a further look, it becomes even more disgusting. They took 25 threes in the second half. 25! They made 5. That's 20%. That means that 25 of their 44 shots were threes. That's unheard of. Seriously. That means 56.8% of their shots in the second half were behind the arc. That doesn't even count the long two-point jumpers they took. And why did they miss all those jumpers? Because their legs got tired and the shots just wouldn't fall anymore. I know, it's shocking, right?

As it stands right now, the Clippers rank 5th in Offensive Efficiency and 15th in Defensive Efficiency. I'm going to say this right now for all to see. That 5th place rank in Offensive Efficiency will get worse if the style of play doesn't change soon. Less jumpers, more interior shots. The more we continue to just chuck up contested jumpers, the more we'll continue to struggle on offense. There are a lot of culprits. Chris Paul is a major one. As is Jamal Crawford. I've said it over and over. The 2013-2014 Los Angeles Clippers are just a moronic collection of players that continue to showcase their stupidity in epic ways. Nothing has changed. Over the last few games, it's only gotten worse.

I know what people are going to say. It's still early in the season. We're still trying to find our identity under Doc Rivers and Alvin Gentry. We're gonna figure it out. Yeah, that's all well and good. Problem is that we don't have the time to just "figure it out" and ride out this streak of stupidity. You have to get in front of it and keep pace with the rest of the conference or else you're not going to have a homecourt playoff series to rest on. You'll be on the outside looking in and wondering what happened. You can't afford to wait until February, March, and April to kick it into high gear. You have to position yourselves now. You might not win the division or lock up a top four seed right now but you can certainly lose that chance right now. We're 25% of the way done with the season. We're at the quarter pole. This is when adjustments should be made. Not later. Now. Because as of right now, this team is not a championship contender in any sense of the phrase. They're first round fodder. And that's sad.

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