The Clippers shooting woes

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

Suddenly the Clippers can't shoot, and a team that was supposed to be an offensive force is just offensive. J.J. Redick's injury is part of the problem, but there's more to it than that.

Nine minutes into the game in Brooklyn between the Nets and the Clippers, L.A. was 8-14 from the field and 3-4 from beyond the three point line. Not surprisingly, they were ahead in the game, 23-10. From that point, through the middle two quarters and into the fourth, the Clippers were outscored 76-40. During those 28 or so minutes of basketball, the Clippers shot 10-41 -- making two out of 16 three pointers. The final quarter of garbage time the Clippers made some shots and made the final score more respectable -- but shooting 24% for more than two quarters was more than enough to lose the game.

I didn't watch the pre-game or halftime shows on TNT. I certainly didn't watch the post-game. I decided to spare myself the aggravation. As you know, those guys have a tendency to get me worked up.

At any rate, since I didn't watch or listen to them, I don't know what they said. But I can tell you this -- if anyone says that they "predicted" this or "knew" that or "told you" the other about how the Clippers weren't a real contender using the team's recent struggles as proof that they were right, that person is lying.

The Clippers have lost four of their last seven. During that time (and a little bit longer than that), they have been a terrible offensive team. Not "worse than expected." Not "sub-par." Not "worse than they were during the first month." Just plain bad. Empirically bad. One of the worst five offenses in the league bad. Second worst offense in the Western Conference bad (and worst since Trey Burke came back for Utah).

And absolutely no one thought that was going to happen. Whether the Clippers could stop anyone, whether they were "tough enough" (whatever that means) -- those were the issues people raised about this team. But everyone expected them to score and to do it efficiently. After all, this is a team that had the fourth best offensive efficiency in the league last year, and everyone agreed that they had added offensive weapons and a better coach.

I consciously avoided the studio guys, but of course I couldn't avoid Reggie Miller. I tried to tune him out, but it was impossible to ignore everything he said. At one point he asked where the fight and the toughness were in the team. As if fight and toughness are the things that make the ball go in the basket. They were missing three-fourths of their shots! Did anything else matter? He also said that Chris Paul had single-handedly carried the team to victory in "two or three games on the road trip" -- which is demonstrably false (Paul didn't play the fourth quarter in the Memphis win, he and Griffin and Jordan were all keys in the Philly win, and Crawford was the hero in Boston). So we know that Reggie isn't really watching, or perhaps that he just likes the sound of his own voice and doesn't concern himself much with the content of his words.

Here's a news flash: the Clippers are not contenders if they can't shoot. Ground-breaking insight, right?

Pick whichever shooting percentage number you like, and whatever level you want, and you can come up with some very telling numbers for the Clippers season. The easiest is probably effective field goal percentage (eFG), which takes into consideration the team's shooting both inside and outside the arc, which has been a major problem lately.

In games where the team has posted an eFG below 47%, they are 1-6. They are 14-3 when they shoot better than 47%. It's worth noting that 47% is not asking much -- league average in eFG is 49.4%.

This again all goes into the "no sh*t, Sherlock" category. The Clippers aren't the only team in the NBA whose winning percentage goes up along with their field goal percentage. Where it gets scary is when you look at the game log.

Date

Tm

Opp

W/L

Result

eFG

10/29/2013

LAC

@

LAL

L

103-116

0.542

10/31/2013

LAC

v

GSW

W

126-115

0.547

11/1/2013

LAC

@

SAC

W

110-101

0.586

11/4/2013

LAC

v

HOU

W

137-118

0.601

11/6/2013

LAC

@

ORL

L

90-98

0.395

11/7/2013

LAC

@

MIA

L

97-102

0.548

11/9/2013

LAC

@

HOU

W

107-94

0.528

11/11/2013

LAC

v

MIN

W

109-107

0.575

11/13/2013

LAC

v

OKC

W

111-103

0.488

11/16/2013

LAC

v

BRK

W

110-103

0.584

11/18/2013

LAC

v

MEM

L

102-106

0.436

11/20/2013

LAC

@

MIN

W

102-98

0.568

11/21/2013

LAC

@

OKC

L

91-105

0.457

11/23/2013

LAC

v

SAC

W

103-102

0.566

11/24/2013

LAC

v

CHI

W

121-82

0.634

11/27/2013

LAC

v

NYK

W

93-80

0.473

11/29/2013

LAC

@

SAC

W

104-98

0.482

12/1/2013

LAC

v

IND

L

100-105

0.463

12/4/2013

LAC

@

ATL

L

97-107

0.494

12/5/2013

LAC

@

MEM

W

101-81

0.544

12/7/2013

LAC

@

CLE

L

82-88

0.362

12/9/2013

LAC

@

PHI

W

94-83

0.457

12/11/2013

LAC

@

BOS

W

96-88

0.487

12/12/2013

LAC

@

BRK

L

93-102

0.414

The Clippers posted an eFG better than .500 in 11 of their first 15 games during the first four weeks of the season (through the Chicago game on 11/24 when the posted a season high eFG of .634). Since that game, they have been above .500 in eFG one time in nine games -- and that one time last week in Memphis certainly didn't start off well, but was skewed above the line by nine straight three point makes in the second half.

So what do we know? (a) The Clippers tend to win when they shoot well; (b) the Clippers tend to lose when they don't shoot well; (c) the Clippers haven't shot well for three full weeks.

Clearly injuries have played a major role in the sudden and drastic crash of the team's shooting numbers. It's not mere happenstance that in the first game of their cold streak Chris Paul left in the third quarter with a strained hamstring, and in the second game J.J. Redick suffered injuries to his hand and wrist that have kept him out of actiion since, and will keep him out at least another month. Those issues are compounded by injuries to Matt Barnes and Reggie Bullock, and even though Paul is back in the lineup and appears to be at full strength, the loss of Redick has had a major impact on the team.

But should it be this bad? We're talking about J.J. Redick here, a very nice player and a key to the Clippers, I agree, but come on. How does the offense go from top five to bottom five through the loss of one role-player? The impact of Redick's absence on the Clippers offense has been much more akin to the loss of a mega-star -- a Chris Paul, a Kevin Durant, a LeBron James etc. -- than to a role-player, fourth-leading scorer, type.

The idea that Redick's off-ball movement is crucial to everything the Clippers do on offense explains the impact to a certain degree -- but then again, the guy was averaging 28 minutes per game when he was playing. That's 20 minutes per game, more than 40% of the game, when he wasn't out there. Presumably they practiced things without Redick, in anticipation of that 40%, even before he was hurt. How can they have become this bad?

The answer is that the loss of Redick hurts -- and the Clippers are also in a shooting slump. The biggest issues can be laid directly at the feet of three players: Jared Dudley, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford, the three remaining healthy wings on the opening day roster. A quick look at monthly splits reveals that among the top eight rotation players, only DeAndre Jordan and Darren Collison are shooting better in December than they were before. So Paul and Griffin are off as well, but it's really the wings that are the problem right now. (The shooting woes are so pervasive that Paul's biggest drop off in December has actually been from the free throw line -- shot just aren't falling for this team.)

Dudley has been below his career shooting numbers all season -- and has been far worse in December. You could put him in the "injury" category as well, given that he has battled painful tendinitis in his knee all season and might well be taking some time off were it not for all the other injuries.

Willie Green didn't play significant minutes until Redick was injured -- but frankly he's been bad all season. So this isn't a slump in the sense that he was shooting well and now he's shooting poorly -- he hasn't shot well since last season. He posted an excellent .553 eFG for the Clippers last season, when he was the starter for 60 games on a very good team. His eFG so far this season is .377. To put that in perspective, it is third worst in the entire NBA among players with at least seven starts -- and his field goal percentage of .319 is easily the worst of that group. (Coincidentally, Chauncey Billups, the man Green replaced in the starting lineup last season, is number two on that list.) Green is 32 years old, and it's possible that he has just reached the end of his usefulness -- that this isn't just a slump, but an age-related decline. A precipitous one, to be sure, but it happens.

And then there's Crawford. Crawford began the season red hot, scoring efficiently both inside and outside the three point arc. But he's cooled off considerably in December. Jamal's decline coincides very nicely with the calendar -- he had his best game of the season in the last game of November, and has struggled in the seven December games. His eFG on November 30th was .507 -- since then, it's .415.

There's an old cliche in basketball that defense never goes into a slump. It's meant to convey that sometimes the shots aren't falling, but a good defensive team will always be able to win games, despite poor shooting. Well guess what? It doesn't matter whether defense slumps or not if offense slumps badly enough. No defense can make up for 32% shooting (like the Clippers shot in Cleveland) or 3-16 quarters (like the Clippers had last night in Brooklyn). You still have to make shots to win basketball games.

And eventually the Clippers will start making shots again. I said it after the Cleveland game -- at some point the Clippers offense will start humming again (and hopefully it will be before Redick's return). When it does, all the citizens of Clips Nation will be much less depressed, and it will be difficult to imagine just how bad the team has been during this dreadful road trip. If you're looking for a bright side, it's out there. Despite how terrible they've been, they're still 3-3 on this trip. That's not good considering the level of the competition, but it could have been worse. And the defense has been good. So there's that.

Heading into the season, everyone expected the Clippers to be among the best offensive teams in the league. For the first four weeks of the season, they were exactly that. For the last three weeks, they've been among the very worst teams in the league. Until they start making shots, they're going to lose a lot of games, and it doesn't have anything to do with toughness or fight.

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