The Back Story:
- First meeting of the season. The Clippers won the season series last year 3 games to 1.
The Big Picture:
As tough as the Clippers' first nine opponents were, the last three including tonight's game are almost equally bad. In the final NBA standings last season, only seven teams had fewer wins than the Clippers with 29: Detroit, New Jersey and Minnesota were among those seven, with New Jersey and Minnesota being the two worst teams in the league. Still, it hasn't seemed to matter, as the Clippers managed to lose to the Pistons and Nets, at home no less. With his veterans and ostensible team leaders hurt, coach Vinny Del Negro is going all in with a youth movement. Monday against the Nets he started five players under the age of 23, all of whom would still be in college had they played four seasons. It's exciting to watch the young guys develop, but also pretty painful. Just when the team is building momentum, they seem to come up with a terrible turnover or defensive mistake. Eric Gordon is the grizzled old veteran of this group. At the ripe age of 21, he's already started 133 NBA games. He's trying to become the go to scorer that the team has never had, and is making great progress in that regard. But he's not getting nearly enough help from his teammates right now, not to mention that the team looks completely lost when he's not on the floor. Blake Griffin will be looking to bounce back in this game after posting just 3 rebounds and 11 points on Monday. He's facing a steady diet of double teams right now, and the Clippers need to do a better job of handing them.
Minnesota seems like a mess, but at the same time it's hard to ignore some of the good things that are happening for them right now. John Hollinger even suggested today that Kevin Love and Michael Beasley could be the best forward combination in the NBA - and speaking of youth, those guys are 22 and 21 respectively. Unfortunately, despite Beasley's offense, they're still one of the least efficient offensive teams in the NBA, ranking 28th. There's also reason to question the plan, if indeed there is one, of David Kahn. In the summer of 2009, they seemed to be stockpiling point guards, drafting three and then signing Ramon Sessions. Ricky Rubio has yet to come over, and they got rid of a couple of those 2009 points, but then their big free agent signing of 2010 was, you guessed it, another point guard, Luke Ridnour. But 2010 was really the year of the wing for Kahn - he traded for Beasley and Martell Webster, and drafted Wesley Johnson and Lazar Hayward (actually acquired on draft day for Trevor Booker). This was with former lottery pick Corey Brewer already on the roster. As it happens, injuries to Webster, Ridnour and Jonny Flynn have made all that depth at those spots valuable this season, but the Wolves don't seem to have a viable center, and no one much to back up Love. The irony of the Wolves lack of size is that they traded Al Jefferson, their leading scorer, to Utah for future picks this summer. PER tells the story of the Wolves lineup at present - Love (21.8) and Beasley (17.9) are rated highly, and no one else on the roster is above 15, the mark for an average player. Still, Love and Beasley have carried the team to two wins in their last four games, and the Wolves also had close losses to the Lakers and Bobcats recently, so they are definitely playing better than the Clippers, losers of 6 straight. Ridnour is expected to play tonight after missing several games with a pulled hamstring. Jonny Flynn is expect back soon from off season hip surgery, but while he was originally targeting tonight's game for his return, head coach Kurt Rambis doubts he's ready yet.
- Programming note. This game is on Fox Sports West, not Prime Ticket. If you, like me, have a series scheduled on Prime Ticket to record all the Clipper games on your DVR, you need to take the time to also record this one. The last time they were on FSN West I missed the game - no big deal though. It was only double overtime versus Utah.
- The pick. The last thing the Clippers want is for the Timberwolves to get good any time soon. Five years ago the Clippers traded Marko Jaric to the Wolves for Sam Cassell and a first round pick. It's already one of the most lopsided trades of all time, and it may get a lot more so if that picks ends up being near the top of the lottery. The pick has been top ten protected forever, and has that same protection against this year. But next year all the protections fall off, and if the Wolves continue to struggle, the Clippers could wind up with a very high draft pick in what figures to be a very strong draft (assuming a number of underclassmen decide to stay in school an extra year with an NBA lockout looming next summer). Of course, the worst case scenario would be that the Wolves suck this season, but somehow magically get good next season, and the pick ends up in the middle of the first round. My favorite side note of this trade - when it's all done, Sam Cassell, born in 1969, could possibly end up being traded
forwith someone born in 1992, 23 years younger than him. That would have to be a record.
- Free KLove. Minnesota seems like a mess, but at the same time it's hard to ignore some of the good things that are happening for them right now. Last Friday Kevin Love posted the first 30-30 game in the NBA since Moses Malone did it in 1982; Love recorded 31 points, 31 rebounds to be precise. Think about that for a minute. Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and a whole host of other present and future hall of fame bigs played their entire careers in those intervening 28 years and never had a 30-30. Oh, and he had a 20-20 (23 points, 24 rebounds) against the Lakers a couple games before that. Despite his ridiculous productivity, Love was averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game heading into his 30-30 against New York. He sat the entire fourth quarter of the Wolves win against the Kings. He's played 41, 41 and 32 (foul trouble) minutes since, so it seems like Kurt Rambis has finally gotten the memo that the guy is pretty good. What has gone a little under the radar with Love's crazy rebounding is the fact that he's shooting terribly from the field. Better than 45% for his career, he's making around 41% of his shots this season, and that's after heating up in his last few.
- The Beasley Steal. Minnesota hasn't done a lot of things right on the personnel front in recent years (see Cassell, Sam), but someone needs to acknowledge that they probably made a killing when they traded for Beasley. Sure, he's a head case, but he's also talented, as back to back games of 42 and 35 this week would attest. He's averaging over 30 in his last 4 games. Meanwhile, Minnesota only gave up a couple of second round picks and some cash to get him. Miami got what they wanted out of that trade, so you can't blame them, but 28 other teams should be asking themselves if maybe they should have made a better offer. The Clippers, preserving cap space for LeBron James and seeking exclusively "high character players" were not interested in Beasley, but you kind of have to ask yourself if that was the right decision. Of course, with Beasley the question isn't about the short term - everyone knows he can score. But can he stay focused and stay out of trouble over the long term, so it's really too early to render a final verdict on the deal. For what it's worth, Kevin Pelton says that Beasley can't possibly sustain his recent productivity (insider required), as he's living on long two point jumpers which is not a good recipe for success.
- Class of 2008. Henry Abbott had a quick piece today on the disappointing draft class of 2006. The draft class of 2008 is the other story, shaping up as one of the best in recent memory. Three weeks into the season, four players from that draft are averaging over 20 points per game (Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Gordon and Beasley) and Love is leading the league in rebounding, while scoring 18.5 himself. The Clippers just saw Brook Lopez from that class and the group also includes O.J. Mayo, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, J.J. Hickson, Serge Ibaka and Nic Batum, all playing well. Zero players from the 2009 draft are averaging 20 (Tyreke Evans is best at 19.5), one from 2007 (league leader Kevin Durant) and two from 2006 (Rudy Gay and Andrea Bargnani). For good measure, in addition to Gordon, Beasley and Love, we also have two second round project centers in this game, DeAndre Jordan and Nikola Pekovic (although Pekovic may miss the game with a twisted ankle).
- Speaking of the Class of 2008. The Clippers alumnus from that class is Eric Gordon, and he's having a terrific season so far. He's trying to become the go to scorer the Clippers have never had, and he's making great strides. He's averaging 23 points per game through nine (he missed a couple with a sore shoulder) and if he could find his three point stroke he'd be averaging a lot more - both from the missed shots he'd be making, and from the way it would set up the rest of his game. He's attacking the rim relentlessly and getting to the line; he made 16 of 20 free throws Monday night setting career highs for attempts and makes. He's currently seventh in the league in free throw attempts per game. Imagine if he were making threes?
- Darko. Speaking of drafts, what can you say about Darko Milicic? Of the top six picks from the 2003 draft, five have made an All Star team (including the Clippers' Chris Kaman), and four are among the biggest names in the entire league (not including the Clippers' Chris Kaman). The odd man out is Milicic, drafted second in 2003, just behind LeBron James and ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade (and Kaman and David West and Travis Outlaw and Kendrick Perkins and...). Darko keeps getting paid to play basketball for some reason, having signed a 4/$20M contract with the Wolves this summer. That would be based on career averages of five and a half points and four rebounds over the course of seven seasons. At least he's consistent - he's averaging 5.7 points and 5.7 rebounds for the Wolves this year (while making a tidy $4.3M). No wonder Al Jefferson was expendable. Assuming the Wolves decline his fourth year and he doesn't sign another contract (dear FSM, not another contract), Darko Milicic will
stealearn over $52M in his NBA career.
- Aminu the starter. Has Al-Farouq Aminu supplanted Ryan Gomes as the Clippers starting small forward, three weeks into the season? We know why Bledsoe is in there, with the top two point guards going into the season (Baron Davis and Randy Foye) out with injuries. But both Gomes and last season's starter Rasual Butler are completely healthy, making Aminu's rise to the top of the depth chart more surprising. Aminu has started two straight games, including playing in front of Gomes Monday night (the two were together in the lineup on Friday). Maybe it's a semi-permanent promotion, maybe it's situational. VDN may want to use Gomes against bulkier threes. But last night against Travis Outlaw he went with Aminu, and one presumes he'll do the same against the perimeter-oriented Beasley tonight. Certainly Aminu has played well enough to remain in the lineup for the time being. Speaking of Beasley, Aminu is going to want to stay draped on his left hand. There may not be a more one handed player in the NBA - Beasley only goes left, and he's very good at it. But there's no esxcuse for not forcing him to his right if you know what's coming.
- Aminu and Johnson. The Clippers needed a small forward in the 2010 draft, and most draft boards had Wesley Johnson as the top prospect (though he was more of a wing, and is playing more shooting guard for MIN), followed by Aminu. It at first appeared to be a poor crop of small forwards, but several others emerged in workouts, and eventually six were drafted in the top 16 picks. At the time, Aminu looked like the 'potential' pick - a very high ceiling, but raw and perhaps not ready to help right away. Johnson was the opposite - a 23 year old college junior, a polished scorer, ready to help an NBA team as a rookie, but not as long or athletic as some other prospects. As it happens, Aminu is contributing much more than most people thought he could. Johnson, for his part, joined the Wolves' starting lineup after just four games and is putting up respectable rookie season numbers of 10 points and 4 rebounds but Chief's per minute numbers and PER are actually quite a bit better than Johnson's at this point.
- Love and Griffin. The game features two of the best young rebounders in the NBA facing off against each other. Griffin and Love no doubt know each other well - they were both in the high school class of 2007, both McDonald's All Americans, two of the most highly recruited bigs in college that year. Griffin is by far the more athletic of the two, but if he thinks he'll be able to keep Kevin Love off the glass through sheer athleticism, he can forget it. If he doesn't box out, Love will get every carom. He has a nose for the ball, great hands, and he goes after every board.
- The ClipperWolves vs. the TimberClips. The Clippers roster features three key reserves who played in Minnesota in recent years - Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith and the injured Randy Foye. The Wolves have former Clipper Sebastian Telfair currently starting at the point (Telfair went from Minny, to the Clippers, to Cleveland, back to Minny in the last year or so). Maybe these teams should try raiding players from a good team?
- Another young team. Like the Clippers, the Wolves are very young. Their starters in the last game were all 25 or younger (Milicic and Telfair have been in the league 8 and 7 years respectively, but were both very young when they were drafted, before the new draft rules). Ironically, the one rookie they start is actually older than Beasley or Love or any of the Clippers starters - 23 year old Wesley Johnson was in college for four years, after starting his career at Iowa State before transferring to Syracuse and redshirting a year. The Wolves will get even younger when they get Jonny Flynn back.
- Superstar for one game: Anthony Tolliver. Tolliver set his then career high last February when he scored 29 against the Clippers while playing for the Warriors. He has surpassed that number twice since.
Pray you no more of this, 'tis like the howling of Irish wolves against the moon.
- Get the Timberwolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.