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Clippers and the A.G.E. of Reason

Doc Rivers wasn't the only coaching hire the Clippers made this past offseason that has paid dividends. Alvin Gentry's offense has delivered the Los Angeles Clippers to new heights.

Christian Petersen

Earlier this season, way back in December, I wrote a piece about the Los Angeles Clippers propensity to be a jump-shooting team and wondered just how well that offensive style would fare going into the playoffs. Well, the playoffs are almost here and instead of working with just 21 games of data, we now have 75 games of data to draw some conclusions from. Some of the data comprised is a tad interesting but the story behind the offense is a lot more substantial than just numbers.

Through the first 75 games of the 2013-2014 season, the Los Angeles Clippers have attempted 1790 threes. While that's not even close to the top mark in the league, it still ranks firmly inside the top ten and will, most likely, finish there. And, as of right now, the team ranks 8th in three-point attempts per game (23.9). That means that at the conclusion of this season, which is only a mere two weeks away, the Los Angeles Clippers will have set a franchise record for both three pointers attempted per game and three pointers attempted overall.

The previous records were 21.8 three-point attempts per game, which came in the shortened 2011-2012 season, and 1752 three-point attempts overall, which came last season. In essence, the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Clippers have attempted 38 more three-point field goals than the 2012-2013 version did but they did so in 7 fewer games. In fact, they did it in 8 fewer games since they had attempted 1760 going into last night's game in Minnesota before hoisting up 30 long-range attempts.

The Clippers have attempted more threes now than they ever have at any point in their franchise history.

To add onto this little phenomenon, the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Clippers have taken 25 or more three-point attempts in a game 30 times this season. Last year's edition of Lob City did it 22 times. The lockout shortened 2011-2012 Los Angeles Clippers did it 18 times. It's the only three instances in Los Angeles Clippers history where the team has taken 25 or more threes in a game over 10 times. The Clippers have attempted more threes now than they ever have at any point in their franchise history. What changed? Well, the Clippers made one crucial coaching hire and entered a new A.G.E. of Reason.

When Doc Rivers was acquired from the Boston Celtics on June 25th of last year, it marked a change in philosophy and mindset. But Doc Rivers didn't come to Los Angeles alone. On July 8th of last year, just 14 days after the arrival of Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers brought in former head coach Alvin Gentry, who picked the Clippers over their STAPLES Center bunkmates. This was truly the making of something special.

Alvin Gentry, prior to coming back to Los Angeles, had spent the better part of five years in Arizona as the head man for the Phoenix Suns. While in Phoenix, he inherited the run-and-gun ways of Steve Nash and the guys around him. What Gentry did was mold them into a team that could compete night-in and night-out by getting up shots at a good rate but also at an efficient rate. During his first full season as head coach in Phoenix, which was in 2009-2010, Gentry's Suns went 54-28. They did so behind a powerhouse offense that ranked first in Offensive Efficiency (112.7), sixth in Three-Point Attempts per Game (21.6), first in Effective Field Goal Percentage (54.6%), and first in True Shooting Percentage (58.5%).

Over the next two full seasons in Phoenix, the Suns went 73-75 under Alvin Gentry but the offense was still a thing of beauty to watch at times. In the hands of Steve Nash, the Phoenix offense looked like a well-oiled machine that ran on "Oo's" and "Ah's" while eviscerating opposing defenses. In 2009-2010, 40% of the Phoenix Suns field goal attempts came inside of 8 feet. Another 26% came from beyond the arc. In 2010-2011, 65.4% came from those two areas. Down, slightly, from the 66% that happened a year earlier but still a substantial amount. In his final full season in Phoenix, 2011-2012, that number dropped down to 61.7%.

While their percentages of high-efficiency shots were dwindling, so too was their Offensive Efficiency. After putting up an Offensive Efficiency of 112.7 during Alvin Gentry's first full season, the Suns managed to put up a mark of just 107.0 in his second full year before finally regressing even more and ending up with a mark of 103.5 during his final full season. The regression in Offensive Efficiency could be directly tied to the lowering marks of high-efficiency shots. Halfway through last season, the Suns dismissed Alvin Gentry. In the 41 games he coached last year, the Suns had an Offensive Efficiency of 99.6. The mighty had fallen far. And, last year on the whole, the Suns had seen their high-efficient shot percentage slip a little further. It went from 61.7% down to 61.1%. Not a massive drop but one nonetheless.

Once Alvin Gentry stepped through door, you could see the potential that this offense would have. Last year under Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers looked lost and without a system. Much too often the onus was bestowed upon Chris Paul to make something happen late in shot clocks or Blake Griffin to do something dazzling in an effort to salvage a possession. As the season trudged along, it became more and more apparent that the Clippers struggles in half-court sets would be a burden in the playoffs. And to make matters worse, when Blake Griffin got injured just hours prior to the decisive Game Five meeting with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Clippers proverbial goose was cooked. It was too much for Chris Paul, and the rest of the bunch, to overcome. Despite the fourth highest Offensive Efficiency in the NBA last season, the Los Angeles Clippers were out of the playoffs in the first round. Not with a roar but with a whimper. Something had to be done about the offense.

Doc Rivers had visions of Ray Allen running around Kevin Garnett screens every time Redick would come off of a pin down screen by Blake Griffin.

This is where Alvin Gentry saved the day. The movement in half-court sets this season when compared to last season is astounding. A lot of that was highlighted by J.J. Redick's ability to move without the ball and make defenses use a ton of energy just trying to keep up with him. Doc Rivers had visions of Ray Allen running around Kevin Garnett screens every time Redick would come off of a pin down screen by Blake Griffin. It was the thing that basketball dreams are made of. But Redick's season was short-lived, for the most part, as he's only played in 30 games. Somehow, someway, the Clippers offense has not only survived, but eclipsed what they did last season.

After putting up an Offensive Efficiency of 107.7 last season, they've upped that mark to 109.3 and now sit with the second best Offensive Efficiency in basketball behind only the two-time defending champion, Miami Heat. While teams improving offensively isn't unheard of, the difference between this year's Clippers offense and last year's Clippers offense is a lot different. Gentry wanted the guys to shoot more threes. And they are. As noted towards the beginning of this piece, the Clippers have set a record franchise pace for threes. But it's not just the threes anymore. It's everything.

In 2011-2012, the beginning of the Clippers heightened use of the three ball, 65.5% of their shots came either inside of 8 feet or from three. During last year's great offensive year despite a lack of a true system, the Clippers had 69.1% of their shots come in those areas. This year, that mark has come back down to 66.6% but it falls directly in line with what Alvin Gentry accomplished during his first full season with the Phoenix Suns.

As noted back in December, the Clippers were one of the most prolific mid-range shooting teams in the NBA. They still are. Their 42.1% shooting on 16-24 foot jumpers this season ranks tied for third in the NBA with the Miami Heat. The only two teams ahead of them are the Portland Trail Blazers (42.8%) and the Indiana Pacers (42.7%). On true mid-range shots, which are classified as any shot not taken inside of the paint or from three, the Clippers are shooting 41.9%. That's fourth best in the league behind Oklahoma City (42.9%), Dallas (42.5%), and Miami (42.0%). Not bad company.

In general, the Clippers do not shoot the three ball that well. They're tied for 19th in three-point field goal percentage with the Memphis Grizzlies (35.3%). No one would rank the Grizzlies as a good three-point shooting team. And they know that they're not. They take ten fewer threes per game than the Clippers do. But if you look a little bit higher up the chart, you'll see the Houston Rockets sitting at 17th in three-point field goal percentage. The reason this is noteworthy is because the Houston Rockets take the most threes in the NBA this season. They're averaging 26.1 attempts per game. A shade over two more per game than the Clippers.

So, while the Clippers aren't a great shooting team from beyond the arc, the fact that they hoist up so many threes is actually a good thing at times. When you combine the fact that they take so many threes, are extremely efficient on mid-range jumpers, and are the second best team in basketball at finishing inside of 8 feet, you can see it's no secret why the Los Angeles Clippers have comprised such an elite offense under Alvin Gentry.

Some might call this the Alvin Gentry Effect (A.G.E.) but others might call it the Daryl Morey Valuation (D.M.V.) since Daryl Morey has been one of the biggest supporters of the analytical movement in basketball. (You can probably make a joke about age and the DMV somewhere in here.) It's really no secret, though. The higher quality your shots are, the better your offense should be. In the case of the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Clippers, they've combined a devastatingly efficient inside game with an equally efficient mid-range game but then sprinkled in a ton of three-point attempts in an effort to maximize their efficiency even more.

A team like the Portland Trail Blazers does this, to some extent, by using LaMarcus Aldridge and his deadly mid-range acumen to traumatize defenses on a near nightly basis. It frees up their shooters in corners - namely Wesley Matthews, Dorrell Wright, and Nicolas Batum - and also Damian Lillard up top to rain down threes from above while opposing defenses cower in the paint for any hope of relief. It very rarely comes. However, there are times when this type of offense doesn't work. And that's where the easy shots inside come into play.

By being the second most effective offense inside of 8 feet, which is aided in large part by Blake Griffin (745 attempts) and DeAndre Jordan (456 attempts), the Clippers have made opposing defenses pay all year when they close out too aggressively on shooters. The guards, upon penetration, can either choose to finish around the rim themselves, which they are very proficient at doing, or they can lob it up for the bigs to slam home. It's quite the conundrum to be presented with. Do you close out hyper-aggressively on shooters and risk them head-faking you out of your shoes before getting into the paint for the finish or do you sit back and try to rotate at the perfect time every time? Not many defenses these days can succeed doing option two. Only a select few - namely the Grizzlies, Pacers, and Bulls - can do this for a consistent 48 minutes without being made to look foolish. But even that doesn't work all the time.

It's become an offensive ecosystem ... The sum is greater than the parts.

What Alvin Gentry has done with the 2013-2014 Los Angeles Clippers, above all else, is get them to buy into an offensive system that truly benefits every single player. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin to even guys like Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes. They all have their part and they all have their skills. Where one guy is a very good cutter, the other is a very good shooter. It's become an offensive ecosystem that highlights the strengths of each player rather than forcing them to expand upon their weaknesses. The sum is greater than the parts. You won't see DeAndre Jordan operate out of the high post as a passer all that often. But you'll see Blake Griffin do it time and time again. You won't see Matt Barnes take shots in the mid-range area but you'll see him do so around the rim or from three. You won't see Jared Dudley cutting to the rim all that often. But you will see him spotting up or shooting in the mid-range.

Where Doc Rivers has given the Clippers an identity on defense, and the passion to believe, Alvin Gentry has given them the same belief and identity on offense. No longer do the Clippers go into a game wondering what they'll be doing on offense or defense. Now they know. The structure is the same every night. The movement is beautiful, the cuts are timed perfectly, and the presence of every player is felt one way or another.

Alvin Gentry's effect on this team's offensive prowess is undeniable. While the offense was great last year, this year it's reached a height it has never seen. Is there still a long way to go to perfect it? Without a doubt. One step towards reaching that goal of perfection would be getting J.J. Redick back healthy. But the pieces that have been substituted into his place, namely Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford, have done a marvelous job to keep the machine churning.

And during the time that Chris Paul was out with his injury, the Clippers offense never once suffered. They put up 110 or more points an astounding 11 times over that stretch of games. Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford stepped up beautifully to fill in for the ailing leader. It also didn't hurt that Blake Griffin rose to the occasion and delivered exquisite performance after exquisite performance. He dominated. But Alvin Gentry deserves a lot of that credit. The offense never missed a beat despite being without one of the five best players in the entire league. The offense evolved and elevated another guy, Blake Griffin, into the top five stratosphere. It truly says something about the effect that Alvin Gentry's offense has had on this group of players.

When the final chapter of this grueling season has been finished and the entire story has been written, let there be no mistake about it. This wasn't a "title or bust" season for the Los Angeles Clippers. Along the way, they found themselves and improved when some guys didn't appear that they could. While some guys did regress a little bit, either through injury or other ailments, others rose to the occasion. When there was an injury, the next man up took his place and performed. When there was stagnation, more movement was demanded and more movement was delivered.

All the while, watching this unfold, was the man sitting next to Doc Rivers. He sat there, stoically, observing every nuance and play. He dissected every piece of information that the players on the court gave him and he constructed a system that gave every player a chance. Alvin Gentry, whether he's here for only this year or many more, has helped give the Los Angeles Clippers an offensive identity when they needed one the most. He's ensured that the prime years of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have not gone to waste. And, most importantly, he's given the Los Angeles Clippers a realistic chance at winning an NBA Championship.