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The Case for Pessimism

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For a few more hours at least, the Clippers are undefeated and have the best record in the NBA.  If they can somehow beat Detroit, they will match their best start in franchise history.  And people are beginning to notice.  There were two separate pieces in today's LA Times, including a Bill Plaschke column.  John Hollinger wrote a piece in today's NY Sun examining how a team he predicted would win 20 games this season could be 25% of the way to that goal after 4 games.  Wages of Wins Journal also tries to explain the hot start (hint, the answer rhymes with Kiss Craman).  (Hat tips to citizens mp, John R and ZhivClip for first alerting us to some of these items today.)

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's review the records of two teams from this time last season:  

  • Dallas Mavericks 0-4
  • Los Angeles Clippers 4-1

I don't need to tell you that after 82 games, the Mavericks had the best record in the NBA and the Clippers missed the playoffs.  So it's EARLY... really, really early, while the NBA season is really, really long.  

We know that three of the Clippers' wins have come against teams that started a combined 0-13 (they're now 1-14) and all the Pacers wins came against teams who've started ice cold.  In other words, the Clippers RPI at this point is not as good as their record (they are last in the league in strength of schedule according to Jeff Sagarin).  As it happens, the Warriors and Bulls will probably be OK when all is said and done, so in the RPI world, those could well end up being 'quality wins' by the end of the season.

I was certainly more optimistic than most prior to the start of the season, but even I didn't actually predict that the Clippers would make the playoffs (though I did make the case for it).  And even if you have always believed in Chris Kaman, he ain't gonna lead the league in rebounding (is he?)  Someone asked me today if I thought the Clippers would make the playoffs even if Brand doesn't return, and my answer was "Are you kidding me?"  As weird as it seems, I'd almost rather the team were 2-2 right now (and playing really well).  Part of the plan for surviving the Generic era is for opponents to take the Clippers lightly, but the top of the Pacific Division standings is not exactly under the radar.  

The Generic Clippers have more talent than critics gave them credit for.  Even as Hollinger was eating some crow about the Clippers hot start, he continued to dismiss the talent as unproven:

Other than Maggette and Cassell, none of these guys has played this well for such an extended period.

Really?  Cat Mobley who averaged 21.7 points per game in 01-02?  Tim Thomas who averaged 15 points per game in 20 playoff games in 2006?  These guys can't possibly play this well for more than 4 games in a row?  Hmmm.

But even if I see talent on the roster, there's talent on every NBA roster.  Chris Kaman could ultimately turn out to be a better rebounder than Elton Brand, but Brand remains without question the Clippers best scorer, best shot blocker, and best low post defender.  The Generic Clippers will struggle to win games against quality competition, as we'll no doubt find out tonight.  The plan remains to try to stay in games with effort and execution, and hopefully win enough to be in the race when their best player returns.  No return, no playoffs.  Late return, no playoffs.  It's still pretty simple.

The scoring (and in particular the three point shooting) has been a wonderful surprise, but it's highly unlikely to continue at this pace.  I'm a big believer in the long ball, and I'm a big believer in confidence, so the fact that MDsr has green-lighted more threes this season is a great thing for many reasons.  But these are more or less the same guys who've been at the bottom of the league in three point shooting the last few seasons.  Thomas and Mobley remain the only proven deep threats in the primary rotation.  Yes, Dan Dickau can shoot, and that's great, but if Brevin Knight and Sam Cassell are healthy, Dickau won't play.  Yes, Quinton Ross worked on the three this summer, and that's a great step, but he's unproven to say the least.  Maggette and Cassell are shooting it with confidence right now, but they're both in the low 30s on their careers.  In short, it would be wonderful if the team continued to make 8 threes every game and shoot 44%... but it ain't gonna happen.

The Generic Clippers are confident and loose right now, and that's great.  They need to continue to hustle and play the game the right way, and hopefully they will continue to get big games from their scorers.  The team will be entertaining, which is great for ClipsNation.  But let's not kid ourselves.  It's going to be a struggle.  And there are going to be some really tough stretches.

OK, enough of the wet blanket thing.  I just looked at the schedule.  After Detroit tonight, four of the next five are in Staples, with the only road game in Oakland against the still Jackson-less Warriors.  How does 9-1 sound?