Welcome once again, friends and fellow hermits. This is another edition of Clips From The Mailbag, where we will answer questions that were sent in via email, twitter, carrier pigeon, or hot air balloon. As you can expect, all questions are related, in some fashion, to the Los Angeles Clippers. So, let’s get this party started by breaking open our first question.
Will this year's Clippers make the Western Conference Finals for the first time?
Hard to say, if we’re being completely honest. They certainly have the best talent they’ve ever had to make a run at the Western Conference Finals, but there’s no way of knowing if it’ll happen. They’re probably a 56-ish win team right now, so that’d put them firmly in contention for one of the two spots out in the West. But you have to factor in the other teams that’ll likely be there with them – i.e. Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Oklahoma City Thunder. That makes the road insanely tough. Odds are that the Clippers will have to play one of those teams in the first round and then another one in the second round. That diminishes their chances for a Conference Finals berth right off the bat.
Ideally, in a perfect world, the Clippers get one of the two top seeds in the West and try to squeeze through that first round series against the New Orleans Pelicans, or whoever else might make it in the final two seeds, so that they can stay moderately healthy going into the second round. We shall see, though. As of right now, it’s just really hard to say if the team makes the Conference Finals for the first time ever considering the extremely high level of talent and competition in the Western Conference this upcoming season. At this rate, "How the West Was Won" won’t just be a movie from the 1960’s; it’ll be the story of the 2015-16 season, where blood was spilled to find the best team.
The second unit never runs a system. How important is that with all these ball stoppers?
Here’s the thing to remember when saying the second unit never runs a system: it’s been a weird preseason. Now, I don’t mean "it’s been a weird preseason" in the sense that the lack of a system for the second unit is just because of the preseason itself or due to the team still trying to figure out who everyone is. Simply, it’s been a weird preseason. The team has had to do a lot of travel and hasn’t really been able to put a system in place for the bench yet. That’s why the main stuff you’re seeing out of them is pick-and-rolls and basic cuts while the ball-handler pounds the ball into the court endlessly. It’s high school level stuff being run and you can see it in their play.
Since the team just got back from a pointless – and, yes, it was pointless because there’s no reason to even go that far away for preseason games – trip to China, you can expect the bench to start getting more plays implemented into their everyday routine. For now, all we’ve seen are Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith pick-and-rolls with the occasional Paul Pierce spot-up. Well, that and the Jamal Crawford chuckfest. But it doesn’t need to be preseason for that last one to take place. Things should get better for the bench as they come back home and get acclimated to their surroundings more. You have to remember, they only had four days of practice prior to their first preseason game before then travelling to Canada and China. There’s not a whole lot you can put into place during that time.
How is Lance Stephenson going to take over Chris Paul's role as primary facilitator?
First off, he’s not. At least not with the starting unit. There’s been some talk recently about putting Stephenson in there with the starting unit since he can play some small forward minutes, but I ultimately don’t see that being a viable option going forward. He will – or, at the very least, should – be the team’s primary facilitator off the bench. While Crawford can supply some passing and vision, Stephenson has looked really good passing out of the pick-and-roll this preseason when given the opportunities. Does the team want him to handle the ball as much as Chris Paul? Of course not. But, at the same time, handling the ball nearly as much when the second unit is on the floor is something the team should definitely look into. He hunts for assists and gets pouty when guys don’t take shots off of his passes, but you can sort of live with that for now if he’s dropping dimes out of the pick-and-roll.
In the end, who is left out looking in for last two spots on bench?
Since the team waived Nikoloz Tskitishvili on October 3, they’ve been left with 16 players on their roster. There are a slew of guaranteed roster spots. Those ones being Cole Aldrich, Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin, Wesley Johnson, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Pablo Prigioni, J.J. Redick, Austin Rivers, Josh Smith, and Lance Stephenson. That’s 12 guaranteed spots. That leaves four players battling for three spots. Branden Dawson, Chuck Hayes, Luc Mbah a Moute, and C.J. Wilcox are the four. Due to Wilcox being the team’s first round pick from 2014, it’s unlikely he doesn’t make the roster. So that’s 13 spots sewn up. That leaves the final two spots between three players and it’s sort of tough to gain any insight here. But, let’s work this one out.
The team gave Dawson a guaranteed contract so he will most likely be making the team. I don’t see why he wouldn’t at this point. Even if his entire season is reduced to him just sitting on the bench in a suit, it’s a smart play to keep a late second round pick on the roster since he’s cheap and might be able to do something in the future. That leaves one roster spot for Hayes and Mbah a Moute to fight it out over. While Mbah a Moute has looked solid during preseason, I still ultimately feel this is Hayes’ job to lose.
Mbah a Moute started the second half of their last game at small forward, but that was such a disaster that it could sway Doc Rivers’ opinion of him. Mbah a Moute’s played in three games, tallying 11 points and 8 rebounds on 3-of-8 shooting in 25 minutes. Hayes has also played in three, tallying just 2 points on 2 attempts and racking up 5 rebounds in 20 minutes. It’s a razor thin decision at this point. But, with the slew of wing players, I do see Hayes getting the job as a depth chart big who can defend true post threats. The team already has a younger, more athletic Mbah a Moute on the roster – i.e. Dawson.
Is Wesley Johnson starting such a bad thing? Seems like anybody that can hit a 3 has value with the other four and it bolsters the bench.
It’s not a bad thing. In all actuality, it’s probably the best option for the team. It allows Paul Pierce to stay with the bench players and be the calming influence that they’ll need. The bench could have the tendency to go rogue and do their own thing at times, so Pierce’s leadership with them – as well as floor spacing – would be such a huge boon to their possible success. This would allow Wesley Johnson to stay with the starters. It’s a role he’d be more comfortable in since it’d require less thinking and less doing. All that would be required of Johnson is to defend, run on the fast break, and just stand in the corner offensively while throwing in the occasional baseline cut or two. The core four players are still going to be amazing offensively. They can carry Johnson and help him along the way. It’s probably for the best that Johnson starts. Not even just for the team, but also for himself. It maximizes his impact and value.
What are the realistic expectations for Lance Stephenson this season?
In the simplest and nicest way possible, the most realistic expectation for Stephenson this season is that he’s just not as terrible as he was with the Charlotte Hornets. I don’t think people understand how abysmal he was. He set a record for the lowest three-point percentage (with a minimum of 100 attempts) in NBA history last season. Stephenson was arguably the worst player to play 1500 minutes last year. So, a realistic expectation would be for him to not be that bad. I think it’d be hard to duplicate that level of futility, but you never know. Something like an 8-4-4 season wouldn’t be terrible as long as it’s on way better efficiency than what he did with Charlotte. He just cannot be as terrible as last year. That’s the realistic expectation.
Who does Matt Barnes fight on the Clippers for dating his ex and how many seconds do they last?
The easy answer is Lance Stephenson. Let’s face it, that sounds like something these two would get in a fight over. Lance doesn’t give a damn and neither does Matt Barnes. I feel like they’d scrap over the last blueberry pancake from IHOP. They’re tough dudes. Not fake tough guys, but legitimately tough. Their stories are pretty incredible and neither one really backs down from anything. I could see them fighting over something like that. As for how many seconds it would last, I go with 17 generations. They would fight until the world no longer exists. Lance would blow hot hair in Matt’s face, Matt would fake throw a ball in Lance’s face, and the cycle would just keep going on ad infinitum. We would cease to exist and all that would be left is Lance and Matt throwing down. Think Neo vs Agent Smith in The Matrix Revolutions.
Would you rather fight 100 Chris Paul sized Blake Griffins or one Blake Griffin sized Chris Paul?
Going to have to go with the one Blake Griffin sized Chris Paul. Easier than having to deal with 100 Blake Griffins the size of Chris Paul. At least with the one-on-one matchup, you can take your time feeling out strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. With 100 of them dudes, you have zero time and zero room for error. You’d be fighting against a roving band of pygmies who are yoked as hell and have insane athleticism. You might as well just sign your will away right then and there. With the one Blake Griffin sized Chris Paul, you stand a better chance. With Paul’s knee troubles, you might be able to work that weakness into your advantage and lead yourself to an upset. I’m going with that choice. Don’t want any part of the 100 Blake Griffins no matter what their size might be.
How many elite years do you think Chris Paul has left in him?
This is a tricky question. His first four seasons with the Clippers have been insane. He’s produced .276 Win Shares per 48 Minutes in Los Angeles. That’s almost unheard of in this day and age. Even nuttier, he’s averaging 18.7 points per game and 9.9 assists per game with the Clippers in 34.8 minutes per game. His first six seasons in the league, he averaged the exact same points and assists per game, but did so in 37.1 minutes per game. Paul is also shooting better from everywhere with the Clippers, turning the ball over less, and generally being the best point guard in the league. With that said, he is now 30 years old and has had chronic knee issues. So, this is tough.
Paul’s game should age well since it’s not predicated on speed, athleticism, or anything like that. He’s quick, but he’s not fast. He’s improved a lot over the years, especially with his ability to make shots from deep and stretch the floor. Paul is still the best mid-range shooter among guards in the game and that’ll likely stay with him over the next several years because that’s an elite skill that he’s honed. If I had to put a number on how many elite years he has left, I’d probably say two. I think he has two elite years left, two really good years left, and then the run of average years starts. Father Time is undefeated, folks. The window on Chris Paul’s prime and excellence is closing. Enjoy it while you can.