If one were to read significance into the NBA preseason, which clearly one should not, one would look at the lack of offensive spark from the 1-4 Los Angeles Clippers. The team that led the NBA in offensive efficiency last season looks completely lost on offense this preseason.
In their fourth exhibition loss, a 104-93 defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in Las Vegas Saturday night, the Clippers showed nothing beyond some one on one basketball on offense. Jamal Crawford got off to a red hot start, making his first six shots which included four three pointers — and then missed his next six. And basically, once Crawford stopped doing it, nothing much could save the Clippers from themselves.
NBA offenses thrive on easy shots. Brilliant shot making needs to bail any NBA team out of difficult situations many times every game — but you must get more than your share of easy ones from your offensive schemes to thrive. So far this preseason, and particularly so in this one, the Clippers looked lost on the offensive end, and simply aren't getting the easy looks they need.
They've also experienced some flat out bad shooting, and some players are in ruts of varying depths -- those things are not helping matters. Chris Paul is well below 40 percent in the exhibition season, including 3-17 from three point range. His elbow jumper, his bread and butter shot, has been short pretty much every time. Meanwhile, Matt Barnes can only dream of Paul's 38.7% shooting — he's made just two baskets in two dozen attempts. Ralph Lawler confessed to feeling bad for Barnes during the broadcast from Vegas, and I'll admit to feeling bad for Lawler: how many times is he going to have to say "Barnes is due"? Barnes was 0-9 tonight, and Rivers seemed almost stubborn in leaving him out there, hoping to the FSM that Matt would get something going.
With the offensive flow stagnant and three guys who have been reduced to non-scorers on the floor most of the time (that's Paul and Barnes plus DeAndre Jordan, who is always a non-scorer) the Clippers are relying almost exclusively on Crawford and Blake Griffin to produce points.
Things will get better than this, we all know that. Paul will be fine. Barnes will make more than one shot per dozen attempts. But one does wonder how much the Clippers offense might miss assistant coach Alvin Gentry. The team that won 57 games last season is back more or less in tact — but the coaching staff is not. If many experts don't think that coaching matters, then you can imagine what they think of assistant coaching. But maybe it matters more than we think.
Joe Ingles, the 27 year old rookie from Australia, started tonight and played his most significant minutes as a Clipper so far. His line wasn't amazing by any means — three points, three rebounds and an assist in 19 minutes -- but he also had the best plus/minus of any Clipper at +7. Ingles has that feel for the game that you can't really teach, a feel that is tough to describe. He missed both of his shot attempts, but at least the ball moved on the offensive end when he was in. His one assist was quite pretty — he looked off a defender as he faked a lob to DeAndre Jordan, even as he found Griffin all alone on the other side of the basket. But he also had a couple of hockey assists in the game — making passes that led to passes that led to buckets. The guy is a terrific passer, you can tell that after watching him for five minutes. He was certainly a better option than Barnes tonight; but that's not saying much. Based on the current situation, I think Ingles makes the team. Basically, it seems like Rivers brought him in to give himself more options at the three — and with no one standing out, Rivers may very well keep them all around and continue to experiment.
No one's going to push the panic button in preseason, least of all Rivers. The truth is, even last season, the Clippers' offense often hinged on the effectiveness of the center pick and roll, and that play hinges on Paul making the elbow jumper. It's a little simplistic but nonetheless true that the Clippers will look much better very quickly when that shot starts falling. But energy and spacing and ball movement are lacking as well. Maybe those things are related to a lack of motivation during meaningless games — but they could be a symptom of a bigger problem with the guy who was essentially their offensive coordinator last season now up the road in Oakland working with the Warriors.