Most of the citizens of Clips Nation know that I'm a proud father of two, ClipperMax and ClipperZoe (not their real names). I'm more of a "fun dad" than an "advice dad", but I will bring the paternal wisdom from time to time. And one of my go to nuggets is the following -- you need to know the difference between a problem and a not-a-problem.
Lots of people, kids especially, get very worked up over things that simply aren't a big deal in the big picture. Like the proverbial duck, you need to let some of the water roll off your back. If you can recognize the things in life that really aren't problems it gives you more time to deal with the things that are.
Two games into the NBA season, I'd like to apply this philosophy to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers are 2-0 on the young season -- the least impressive 2-0 you can imagine, with narrow victories over two injury-depleted and/or bad teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the NBA season is 82 games long, and attempting to draw definitive conclusions after 2.4% of the games have been played would be, in a word, stupid. Still, there are some trends emerging, and we can at least reflect upon them. Specifically, we can ask ourselves, is this a problem, or not a problem?
J.J. Redick's shooting -- Not a problem.
Puh-leeze. Do I really need to explain this one? It's two games. Sure, he's 2-13 from deep. It's not a problem.
The team shooting -- Not a problem.
Basketball statistics are probably the most consistent among the major sports. Players are who they are. The Clippers haven't shot very well after two games -- they will. The majority of the players will approach their season career averages over the course of the season.
The offense -- Not a problem.
At least it's not definitively a problem as of yet. The Clippers led the NBA in offensive efficiency last season, and by all indications they should be better this season. The loss of Alvin Gentry is not going to turn them into a second tier offense suddenly. Execution and efficiency are the types of things you expect to be missing early in the season. The Clippers will be able to score, don't worry about that. Save your worry-energy for other stuff, like...
Rebounding -- Problem.
The Clippers have been outrebounded by 14 and 4 in the first two games, and on their defensive glass it's even worse. Is two games too few to concern us? Sure. But the team was 26th in defensive rebounding percentage last season, so this isn't simply a two game problem. Matt Barnes has four rebounds in 49 minutes. None of the wings are good rebounders in fact. But the guy that concerns me is this kid Griffin -- what's his first name? Blake? His rebounding has been trending down since he was a rookie, and as he focuses more and more on scoring (he's leading the league in points per game after two games, yay points!) he's lost focus on the glass.
Perimeter defense -- PROBLEM.
When your best option on defense is to put the 6'0 Chris Paul on the 6'6 Kobe Bryant, you've got a problem. And like the rebounding, this is not a two-game problem, this is a carry-over problem. The Clippers were forced to defend Kevin Durant with Paul last season. Kevin Durant is like seven feet tall or something.
Barnes looked not one but two steps slow against Bryant Halloween night. Off the bench, Chris Douglas-Roberts feels like a better option than anything the Clippers had last season, but at the same time he doesn't really look the part of defensive stopper out there. CDR only defended Bryant for about three minutes last night, and he did pretty well when he was on him. But the fact that he was on him so little tells you something. Doc Rivers would rather try to outscore opponents with Redick and Jamal Crawford on the wings than deal with any of his mediocre crop of small forwards. If any of them were even generously classified as a "stopper", you wouldn't see Redick and Crawford on the floor together in the fourth, and you wouldn't see Paul on Bryant.
Small forward -- PROBLEM.
See above. After watching Perry Jones more than double his career high on Thursday night against Barnes, Rivers basically said "Screw that" on Friday and put his best scoring unit on the floor in the fourth quarter. Redick and Crawford played the entire fourth quarter together against the Lakers -- a luxury afforded partly because Wesley Johnson is such a non-threat on offense -- as Doc concluded "Even if we can't defend the wing, we sure as shit can score." The best small forward on the Clippers right now is a shooting guard who is a notoriously bad defender, even for a shooting guard. That's a problem.
The stats say that CDR made almost 39% of his threes last season. My eyes tell me that ain't happening again. CDR's mechanics are simply terrible. Maybe he looked OK in Charlotte when compared to the motion of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, but next to J.J. Redick's stroke, CDR's is an abomination. Oh for five in two games is nothing -- if the ball looks like it's likely to go in. CDR's 0-5 is exactly what I expect -- even from wide open corner threes, of which he's had four. The Clippers offense would look SO MUCH BETTER if the floor spacers were making their open looks. I expect Redick's threes to fall. Roberts'? Not so much.
Still, it's telling that Rivers is using CDR over Reggie Bullock. And at least Barnes has made some shots after being ridiculously cold in preseason. The bottom line however is that the small forward position is at least as big a problem as we feared it might be, if not bigger. Barnes is Barnes, only a year older. As for CDR, I'd like to see him defend some other elite scorers, and I think he'll be better on that end than for instance Jared Dudley, but I have no delusions that he'll be any sort of an offensive threat.
Every team has weaknesses (yes, even the Spurs). It doesn't exactly qualify as breaking news to say that the Clippers have issues at the small forward position and rebounding. The team has been decidedly unimpressive in their first two games, in a number of ways. Most of them really aren't issues -- they're just two game anomalies that will work themselves out.
Whether Rivers and the Clippers can figure out a way to shore up the rebounding and the wing is a different question. Those are problems worth worrying about.