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The Up Tempo Canard - Will the Clippers Run?

When I ran into Kevin Arnovitz before Neil Olshey's press conference yesterday, we joked about how he wasn't going to say anything we didn't already know.  We ask questions, he answers - but the answers are so circumspect and homogenized, I could probably answer them for him in advance.  And for the most part, that's kind of how it went.  No real surprises, certainly no bomb shells.

But in Olshey's comments, and in the answers Andy Roeser gave during his conference call on Tuesday night, and in citizen moKi's account of the conference call with season ticket holders, one theme keeps emerging that no one is even asking about.  These guys are going out of their way to say that the Clippers are going to play more uptempo next season. 

Roeser on Tuesday night:  "We have every intention of opening camp with Mike Dunleavy this year, but I think we have every intention of approaching some things differently to. He and I have had quite a bit of time to talk since the season has been over. I think he’d like to see us play a little more uptempo than we did last season, be a little more active scoring. I think it will be a much more entertaining brand of basketball for our fans."

Olshey on Wednesday morning: "Whether he [Griffin] fills the wing in transition and goes upstairs and catches lobs because he can catch and finish on the move, or whether you send him rim running and pin and seal him in the post against a small, he can play the style we want to play, which is uptempo."

And according to moKi, one of the main points of the STH conference call was to emphasize a faster pace.  "Roeser repeatedly promised a 'young, exciting, uptempo' team."

Now, while talking to the season ticket holders, it's pretty obvious why you would emphasize a higher-scoring brand of basketball: it's more entertaining.  But Roeser answered a question about MDsr's status with the team by saying they would play more uptempo, while Olshey answered a question about Blake Griffin by saying they'd play uptempo.  While it's not exactly a non-sequiter, in neither case did the answer require that information.

It smacks a little of talking points - "make sure you say 'uptempo' whenever possible to start building some excitement."  But the real question is: will it happen?

When you look at the last two drafts and now add in Griffin, you can certainly understand the thinking.  The Clippers of 05-06 were not overly athletic - they might have been the least athletic team in the league.  Elton Brand is strong and efficient, but not a stunning athlete by any means.  Cat Mobley and Sam Cassell formed no doubt the least athletic backcourt in the NBA.  But Al Thornton, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Mike Taylor and Blake Griffin are all among the most athletic players in their positions from their draft classes.  And obviously Baron Davis has thrived in an uptempo attack in the past.  So the idea has merit.

The problem of course is that we've heard this story before.  When Brand was injured in August of 2007, the plan for being competitive without him was to play at a faster tempo, in order to get more scoring opportunities.  And from the minute that Baron Davis was signed last July the Clippers talked about running more.  In neither case did it happen.

  • In 2005-2006, the year the Clippers made the playoffs, LA averaged  90.6 possessions per game, ranking them 14th in the league.
  • The following season, they slowed down to 89.5 possessions per game, 18th in the league.
  • In 2007-2008, with Brand missing all season, they sped up a little to 92.1, 12th in the league.
  • In 2008-2009, with Brand gone and Baron Davis running the point, they were exactly the same - 92.1 possessions per game, which ranked them 13th.

Note that we're not talking about major differences in the number of possessions per game, and the Clippers have been more or less in the middle of the NBA pack for four seasons.  They didn't increase the tempo one bit last season, despite all of the talk after signing Davis, and anyone who watched the games knows that in fact they played at a faster tempo when Mike Taylor was running the point.

Maybe this time it will be different.  I hope it will.  But we've heard this spin before.