Playing each other in back to back games, the Hornets and Clippers made a few adjustments in the second game, especially in the pick-and-roll action. More adjustments went right for the Hornets, you know, since it was a 42-point slaughter in favor of Charlotte. Not much went right for the Clippers, although glimpses of positive moments exist in the tape! Head of the Film Department, Ph.D. Justin Russo, broke down the effectiveness of Clippers defensive scheme in the first game against the Hornets. The second game's headlined by the ineffectiveness of guarding different type of screens. The Hornets turned the Clippers defensive strategy on itself. Offensively, the Clippers varied different type of pick-and-roll looks, struggled with a new starter in the second half, and, well, just struggled passing the ball in the second half.
The Clippers attempt to ICE screen's over the middle, meaning they want to force baseline. The Hornets knew the scheme. Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson adequately feign the screen middle, and flip it to the baseline side. Lin superbly keeps Paul on his hip, not allowing him back in the play while probing to the basket. It's the same fake as the last game, but instead of changing the screen, the Hornets changed the location of the other three players. In the first game, two offensive players would be opposite side of the ball, one on the wing and another either at the corner or short corner. The fifth player stood in the corner ball-side. Clifford adjusted by crowding the ball-side and only having one shooter on the side of the roller, in this case, Kemba paired with a rolling Jefferson. They didn't do this every time, but the pick-and-roll was most effective with the big man rolling to the weak-side, instead of the ball handler attacking that area.
When icing, Deandre zones for a few moments, guarding both Lin and Jefferson until Paul gets back. Lin's ability to hold Paul off forces Jordan to guard both. On the wing, Kemba Walker's movement is key for Charlotte. As the screen is being set Kemba drifts to the corner. If Kemba continued his path to the corner, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could have pinched down, aided Jordan with the roller, and have a moderate chance at contesting a three. Instead, Kemba pops back to the wing. Trying to pinch down on Jefferson and recover to Kemba would be too much ground to cover for Luc. He chooses to stay with Kemba instead of helping Deandre. Jordan, still guarding two men, really can't do much. Neither choice for Deandre is a good one. Option 1 is a close range, floater style shot for Lin. Jordan chooses Option 2. Since the person with the ball is the most dangerous, he shades closer to Lin and hopes to deflect a pass or block Jefferson. He doesn't and Jefferson winds up with the easy layup.
Credit the Hornets, they created a numbers mismatch in their favor. Lin executes perfectly, pressuring DJ to guard him just enough until Jefferson rolls to the block. The Clippers strong-side defender closest to the screen, Blake, needs to bounce down. Blake isn't guarding a strong shooter in Cody Zeller, and has help right behind him in Jamal. With Jamal's mark, Nicolas Batum, being so close to Zeller he could rotate to either. If Blake slid over, instead of the weak, late reach attempt, Deandre could have stepped over to Jefferson and not been caught in purgatory.
The Hornets utilized dribble handoffs particularly well. Clippers guards fight over the top of virtually ever screen. The sequence of a guard getting a down screen, running to a dribble handoff then attack the bucket was common in preseason game #4. Late in the fourth, Lamb gets a down-screen from Roberts, forcing Crawford to trail. With the ball at the top of the key, Hawes essentially provides a second screen on the handoff, even though he doesn't come close to touching Crawford. The idea of the screen influences Crawford to take a wider approach, trailing even further. Lamb gathers the handoff from Hawes midstride and continues to the basket unhindered. Aldrich backpedaled the moment Lamb touched the ball, which to an offensive player just means attack. Within the philosophy of the system, Cole did the right movement, but when Lamb gets that deep Cole has to meet him a little higher. Josh Smith decides to do neither of two things, guard Kaminsky tighter in the corner or help out on the drive. Both options are open. Lamb takes the easy layup instead of the corner three.
Smith should be eliminating the corner three. The approach this season circles around eliminating three's and not letting the roller score as much. And if Clipper guards are going to fight over screens, they have to be more attached to their man. Crawford was feet behind Lamb, placing Aldrich as the last and only line of defense between the ball and the rim.
Offensively, the Clippers pick-and-roll prowess with Paul, Griffin and Jordan is their elevator pitch. It's a terror to guard any combo of the three all-star caliber players. The Shanghai Slaughter didn't have much go right for the Clippers, but they fear mongered their pick-and-roll for misdirectional purposes and great secondary actions a few times in the game to generate open shots.
Following a deflection and scramble for the ball, Batum finds himself matched against Chris Paul. Griffin sets the screen on the baseline side of Batum. The purpose of the screen's location is to put Blake at the free-throw line area, a region he excelled in last year as a playmaker. Blake's ability forces Lin to overcommit his help, stepping from the wing to the middle of the free-throw line. Jordan's lob-potential grounds Al Jefferson by his side. Usually, most teams would have Jefferson step up and Lin slide over until everyone recovers. But most teams don't have Jordan, a frequent flier to Lob City.
Good shooters never stop moving, and JJ is one of the best. Larson Ishii wrote about JJ's off-ball ability in his player preview, implying he's the supplement juicing the Clippers offense. JJ's wide open on the wing when Blake receives the pass. Instead of waiting for the ball, he creates an even easier shot for himself by drifting to the corner. DJ spots Lin overcommitting on the help and sets a flare screen, destroying any chance of Lin contesting the shot. Redick and Jordan scream with their hands to get JJ the ball in the corner. Too bad Redick destroys any chance at a bucket by stepping out of bounds.
Josh Smith secretly had himself a quality game - 9 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. A quality game relative to most Clippers' bad game. He's a great all-around talent in the league, and the caricaturizing of JSmoove has made him underrated. Outside the three-point line he'll never be guarded. Inside, he's an abled passer and scorer that teams respect. Smith sets a solid ball screen for Austin Rivers, getting in the way of Brian Roberts. Rivers uses a subtle hesitation move to then turn the corner, occupying both Roberts and Spencer Hawes as he attacks the basket. Josh Smith starts rolling to the basket unchecked, which freaks out both Jeremy Lamb and Tyler Hansbrough so much they both leave their man to guard him. Now there are four Hornets guarding two Clippers in the paint. Rivers decides against the shot and the pass to Smith in the overpopulated lane, and elects to kick the ball to Jamal Crawford. Crawford whips it to Pierce in the corner, who beats a sloppy closeout from Hansbrough and dumps it to Smith for the easy shot in the paint.
The pick-and-roll to a drive-and-kick sequence was rare for the Clippers last year. They drove to the basket the second least often in the NBA last year according to stats provided by the NBA. The Clippers relied on transition, set plays, post-ups, and pick-and-rolls for their points. Using secondary actions, swinging the ball and attacking the basket create gaps. Too often the Clippers relied on playmaking from individuals, instead of making plays together, like this.
Cheeky Doc Rivers. While Kemba Walker shot free throws, Doc calls for a high pick-and-roll with DJ. He calls it loudly enough for everybody to hear. Even the announcers declare its inevitability. Either respecting Chris Paul plenty, or not respecting Blake or DJ to hit a jumper, the Hornets send Hansbrough to corral Paul away from the screen. So centered on preventing Paul from using the screen, DJ runs unabated. Jefferson and Batum swivel their heads while guarding the weak-side, preparing for the seemingly predictable screen from DJ for Chris. Jeremy Lamb stands flat-footed ball-side corner, just watching the ball and not his man. Two things happen when DJ reaches the three-point line. He obviously changes direction, but, also, motionless JJ blurs to the wing. The timing is impeccable, uniformly DJ and JJ move. The flat-footed Lamb reacts a half-second late due to his JJ-radar being turned off and not standing in a great defensive stance. With Deandre unguarded and a trailing Lamb, no defenders are available to help. Paul finds a wide-open Redick for the easy shot. The Clippers sleight of hand started with Doc yelling for the high screen, but the manipulation is only possible with the power of the Clippers pick-and-roll.
Positive moments for the Clippers were lacking, and any that existed occurred in the first half. The second half was a much more disappointing, inept half.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute signed a non-guaranteed one-year contract with the Clippers after his contract was voided with the Kings. The Clippers small forward spot has been the weakest position in the starting lineup for years, and Doc decided to give a chance to the Fresh Prince after halftime. Mbah a Moute didn't make the most of his opportunity. Ph.D. Russo wrote about the spacing issues more in-depth earlier today, but this is the Clippers first possession and Mbah a Moute stands in the far corner. Luc had the best seat in the house for this possession, because he sure didn't do anything. He literally stands in the corner the entire time. Halfway through the possession Luc ponders cutting, even raises his hands to a ready-position, but decides against it and retreats to his safe haven. Batum begins the possession by guarding Luc like an average shooter, then realizes he's guarding a man who connected on 29 total three's in his first six years in The Association. Last year with the 76ers, Luc made 62 threes on 30.7 percent shooting. Better, but not great. Batum leaves him and steps in front of Deandre. With Batum spotting DJ, Jefferson is able to flood the strong side. Jefferson discourages attacking the paint in a Chris and Blake pick-and-roll. Then he lurks near Griffin as Blake's main defender, Cody Zeller, hedges hard on the ball screen.
Mentioned early was the lack of drives in the Clippers system. With Luc starting, driving was impossible. The paint was crowded. At the start of the half the score read 56-51 Hornets. When Mbah a Moute checked out at the 4:13 mark in the third quarter, the score read 74-56 Hornets. Doc's evaluating lineups in the preseason, and Luc evaluation reads "need improvement."
Most the bench issues compound with a lack of ball movement. Here is a archetypal possession for the Clippers bench. The offense initiates their Horn set, with the ball handler centered at the three point line, two high-posts, and two wings in the corners. Usually the set is ran with the two post-players, but instead Lance switches with where Josh Smith would be. Rivers dictates where the play will unfold, but with Lance at the high post, Aldrich will always be used as the screener. Lance is prime as the playmaker for the play, but Marvin Williams disrupts this entire progression. Upon getting the entry pass, Aldrich reads Rivers down screen for Lance. Lance's inability to hit jump shots allows Marvin Williams to disengage from Stephenson, making himself harder to screen. Marvin then recognizes the handoff action before it happens and shifts closer to the upcoming handoff, but sags off underneath instead of trailing like the Clippers do. Aldrich hands the ball to Sir Lance-a-lot and finds nobody to screen at first, then tries to flip the screen. Marvin ices that and forces Lance into a crowded drive who passes to Aldrich in the crowded paint for a highly contested shot.
Marvin disordered the entire play himself because the play was for one player, even though a Horns set is supposed to shock the offensive system in a flowing offense. The offense didn't flow - it got dammed up. Three of the Clippers players never changed moved. Aldrich, Smith, and Jamal stay in the same general area, allowing the Hornets to wall up and close gaps. The ball stays on the same side of the floor. There was never an effort to create motion, either with passing the ball or cutting. The Clippers generally made themselves easy to guard in the second half. Easy to guard teams shot a lot of lazy jump shots, and that's what the Clippers did. When the Clippers did generate better looks, they used multiple sides of the floor, attacked the basket and passed the ball around, like this possession, even though the shot didn't go in.
Clippers problems are abundant. Stagnation with the second unit could be solved with the addition minutes to Pablo Prigioni, a player who might not be as skilled as others, but plays with a winning, team oriented style. Yes, the game was a pitiful performance, but nitpicking will only do so much for a proven team.