1. What grade do the Clippers get for the first half of the season?
Steve Perrin: I'm tempted to give the team an A+ -- I mean, they finished the first half of the season tied for the best overall record, so it's hard to ask for more than that. However, they have lost some home games against teams they should have beaten so I can't really give them a 100%. They get a very high A, and they're wrecking the curve for everyone else against the good teams.
Lucas Hann: A. Solid A. The Clippers have been tremendous so far this season. They've exceeded expectations even with some absences (notably Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill). I won't give them the A+ because they've had some bad losses. It hasn't been perfect but it's been about as close to that as you could ever want.
John Raffo: A. Or A+. Anything else would be ludicrous.
Erik Olsgaard: A. Solid A. 95%. Top marks. Way to go, you get a gold star. I shouldn't have to say more than, "17 in a row," but I will because I am obnoxious. The Clippers have played extremely well, and they haven't even really overachieved that much. Crawford was shooting out of his mind earlier, but he's come down to earth and they're still winning. This team is the real deal.
2. What has been the biggest surprise so far this season?
Steve Perrin: While the performance of individual players like Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe have been exceedingly pleasant surprises this season, the biggest single surprise of the season has got to be the team defense. The Clippers were near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency last season, and while they began playing better in the second half of the season, they still finished in the bottom half of the league. To turn that weakness into a strength as a top five defense this season is astonishing. Part of it is individuals -- Blake Griffin is a much better defender this year, while Barnes and Bledsoe and Lamar Odom are all plus defenders who are new to the roster, or in Bledsoe's case, healthy and playing consistent minutes. But the coaching staff deserves credit too for having the defense working well at the team level.
Lucas Hann: I think that the biggest surprise this season has been the bench lineup as a whole, especially defensively. I mean, we knew heading into the season that the Clippers had a great bench and one of the deepest teams in the league. And we knew that would be an advantage almost every night, especially with Jamal Crawford's scoring. But I've been surprised both with Vinny Del Negro's decision to give 5 backups big minutes together on the court every night, and even moreso with their effectiveness in those minutes. I mean, a couple weeks ago that Bledsoe/Crawford/Barnes/Odom/
John Raffo: Hmm. There's three things that come to mind: a) Matt Barnes, b) Blake Griffin's improved defense (and the maturation of his court attitude). And c) the Clippers team defense. I will choose letter "c".
Erik Olsgaard: I was going to say Matt Barnes' late-career breakout, or Eric Bledsoe's big step, or Crawford/Odom's crawl out of the basement... but it's got to be the defense. Teams win with offense, but offense can be streaky, as the Houston Rockets are showing us. Defense, on the other hand, is never streaky. Teams often get crazy hot offensively and later cool off -- hi, New York Knicks -- but teams don't usually put together streaks of forcing turnovers or preventing points in the paint. No, instead the Clippers have a system where they attack the offense at the perimeter and rotate to keep everything within 10 feet contested. While they sacrifice the mid-range jumper and the drive-and-kick jumper, it's not a bad strategy to force teams to beat you with spot-up jump-shots. They just need to tighten up on limiting second chance points, and I think they'll take the next step defensively. For now, top 5 will just have to do.