The team is struggling. They’re injured, beaten up, and, quite frankly, playing like a bunch of guys who don’t even know each other. It’s almost as if they walked onto the court at 24 Hour Fitness, saw some other guys who looked athletic, and decided to play together. The team is a long way off from their 4-0 start to the season. You remember those good times? The team was a few minutes shy of going 5-0 and looking as if they were the class of the Western Conference. And that’s when everything changed. They say never to get too high or too low during a season, but it’s also hard to not see some bad signs creeping up every now and then when you watch them play. Whether you want to admit it or not, there are fundamental issues going on with the Los Angeles Clippers right now. To get better and achieve some semblance of success, the team must weed out these problem areas.
During the preseason, there was a Film Room about how the Clippers had changed up their pick-and-roll defense. We wondered whether or not that was here to stay since, well, it was the preseason and it’s hard to take much out of preseason games as far as schematic changes go. As of this second, we can say that the change is here to stay and it’s been one of the major problem areas for the team as a whole. Time and time again, opposing ball-handlers have been able to just get downhill on pick-and-rolls before settling into a very easy shot.
Last season, the Clippers allowed opposing ball-handlers to average 0.75 points per possession in the pick-and-roll while forcing a 22.3 percent turnover rate. Those marks ranked sixth and third, respectively, in the entire league. However, this season, there hasn’t been much to write home about. While the points per possession allowed has only crept up to 0.79, the team is only forcing ball-handlers to turn the ball over on just 14.8 percent of the possessions. One of the quickest ways to get out and run is to force opponents to turn the ball over. As of right now, the Clippers, due to their new pick-and-roll coverage, are not actually turning anyone over enough.
The team is also still getting killed by roll men. Last season, they gave up 1.06 points per possession to roll men in pick-and-roll sets. That figured ranked worst in the entire league. So far this season, the team is giving up 1.09 points per possession to them and forcing a turnover on just 6.9 percent of the possessions. In total, they’re stopping neither the roll man nor the ball-handler. And, to be perfectly blunt, if you aren’t stopping either one then you’re just completely failing at your job and it means the entire scheme should be scrapped. The Clippers aren’t forcing teams into a decision anymore. Rather than being proactive and forcing the action, Doc Rivers’ squad is now reactive and always late to the party.
Due to the low turnover rate, the Clippers are averaging a paltry 12.0 fast break points per 100 possessions. The Los Angeles Lakers, for reference, are just behind them at 11.9. The figure for the Clippers ranks 18th in the entire league. For the sake of a fair comparison, the team ranked 11th in that department last season with 14.6 fast break points per 100 possessions. Whether you realize it or not, 2.6 points is a pretty huge deal. By being unable to parlay turnovers into easy baskets, the Clippers are digging themselves an even larger hole.
This isn’t to say that switching their pick-and-roll coverage back to what it was the previous years will even matter. We have to face the facts here. Namely, the team is integrating all these new pieces into the fold and there has to be a certain level of trust to play the attacking defensive style the Clippers have in the past. That trust was there when the starting unit was intact. Now that they’re trying to work Lance Stephenson into the equation, the team has to try and work through the kinks. That brings us to another one of the team’s major issues.
There’s zero trust out there on the court. You can even see it on the offensive end when players are just standing around without the ball trying to dictate where other players have to be. On the game Thursday night in Phoenix, you could see Josh Smith waving Paul Pierce into the right position on the other side of the court while Jamal Crawford isolated at the top of the arc. It’s simple things, really, but the team still struggles with them. They won the first four games of the year through sheer talent, but, now, when the need for chemistry is greater, the team is struggling to find that cohesiveness.
Far too often throughout the first nine games, the team struggled to get anything going offensively because they were unsure of who could do what and where someone had to be. This is another thing that should probably fix itself over time with more and more repetitions – namely in practice. The fact the team only had six preseason games and a handful of practices could be the cause of a lot of this. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to get everything sorted out prior to the season officially tipping off. That weighs on a team and makes everyone unsure of what their job happens to be.
There are a lot of players struggling to do simple things. Chris Paul is averaging a staggering 2.9 turnovers per game in just 32.6 minutes. That’s a lot for him. He’s also shooting just 41.9 percent from the field and 28.0 percent from beyond the arc. The strained groin and hand issues are undoubtedly taking a physical toll on him. Paul’s shot has looked like his shot of old on some occasions, but then completely abandoned him at other times. Once again, time should heal that wound. At least you would think so.
The struggles of Jamal Crawford have been well-documented on this site and by people everywhere else. Paul Pierce is also struggling, as is Lance Stephenson. The man acquired in the Matt Barnes trade is only shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three. The upside is that he’s pulling down 3.3 rebounds and dishing out 2.1 assists in just 22.1 minutes per game. The issue is that he also is averaging 1.7 turnovers. Far too many times he tries for the flashy play rather than the right play. Like with Paul, that’s something that should be fixed over time when Stephenson gets even more repetitions with the starting unit. That is, if he continues to get those minutes. We shall see.
The team’s two best players thus far – Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick – should continue to be just fine. Griffin is averaging nearly 26-9-4 on 55.8 percent from the field. Redick is averaging 14.8 points per game while enjoying a lovely 53/44/95 shooting line. The unfortunate thing is that Redick is now injured and could be out for quite some time. Everyone knows how much Redick means to the fabric of the offense. He’s the man who makes a lot of what happens possible by being a nonstop motor of movement on the perimeter and drawing defenses towards him because of his shooting prowess. Without him, there’s no telling how the offense will look.
The other starter, DeAndre Jordan, has his own issues. Far too often this season he’s looked as if he’s just there to go through the motions. That can’t happen. He got the money he wanted, he’s in a situation that suits him perfectly, and he needs to start showing up on a nightly basis to be the difference maker the team believes him to be. Yet, like most things going on with this team right now, that should fix itself as the season continues to drag along.
A lot of what is going on with this team right now are things that should work themselves out just by spending more time together. Some of the other issues – such as the pick-and-roll defense – are things that need to be ironed out as soon as possible. It’s hard to see how this team can be truly successful going forward if they’re allowing ball-handlers to dictate everything. The time for being reactive is over with this team; it’s time to start being the enforcer and forcing teams to play your way.
This squad still has a chance of being a special team. It doesn’t matter whether they lose to the Detroit Pistons or if they win the game, either. The end goal is still the same – a championship. They definitely do need to address the things that are plaguing them, though, or else this could be a season of nightmares instead of a season of dreams. Work to earn the trust. Work to earn the comradery. Work to earn the teamwork necessary to be successful. Otherwise, this is all for naught. Sort through the issues, guys. And fast. The rest of the league won’t wait for you.