I decided to round up our ensemble cast sometime last week to chip in on another roundtable piece, something we haven't done in a little while now. After a little discussion, I determined that it was time for a little midseason report card, evaluating just where this team stood roughly halfway through the regular season. After laying down a few ground rules (no alternative grading methods, we don't do pass-fail or some other holistic mumbo-jumbo at this respectable website), the ball got rolling.
Unfortunately, like so many of my teachers in the past, it took forever to hear back on grades. And they were not as universally positive and saccharine as I crossed my fingers and knocked on wood for. Let's just say that if the Clippers had type-A parents paying for their tuition, they would be put on blast for their seemingly lukewarm performance so far this semester (and far too many of our writers and fans have approached the team the same way so far this season).
Dear Sir and/or Madam,
Here is your child's report card for the first semester in the NBA major. Enclosed you will find comments from our esteemed faculty evaluating your student's progress thus far. Any failing grades must receive a signature from a parent and/or guardian before return. On behalf of all our staff, we hope you have a safe and joyous All-Star break before classes resume next semester.
Clips Nation University
P.S. Semester dues must be paid to continue with your child's education. Please address this matter at your earliest convenience.
|Professor Robert Flom||B–|
The Clippers are about where I thought they would be, with around a 70% winning rate — on pace for the usual 57 wins under Chris Paul. The offense is even better than expected, the best in the league as a matter of fact, and the defense is as mediocre as feared. Again, very little under or over achievement.
There have been some very good wins, and some very bad losses. The reason I am a little bit down has nothing to do with the actual play of the team directly, but more on the composition of the roster and what it says about GM Doc.
The failure of Jordan Farmar and underwhelming play of Hawes has turned the bench into the Jamal Crawford show once again, and the quiet departure of Reggie Bullock does not bode well for either the drafting prowess or player development abilities of the front office. I have a lot of hope for this team to make a deep playoff run if they stay healthy, but the lack of depth on this roster is a real worry.
|Danielle Greenberg, Adjunct Professor||B|
Aside from the loss against New Orleans, this team has been playing much better as of late, and my grade would have been worse if they hadn't shown that they can resemble the team that had a legitimate shot of beating Oklahoma City in the second round last season. Since December, they have had a few excellent wins. I wish I could go higher than a B, but I can't.
Yes, they are 33-16, which is one of the better records in the league. They are not the disaster that many pundits make them out to be. For example, it is not a big deal or outrageous that the Clippers have two All-Stars and Portland has only one. After all, they have a better record! They are a very good team who can outscore anyone on any night.
However, it does feel like they are failing to live up to the lofty expectations from this summer. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are deserving All-Stars, but it feels like both can play better and with more intensity. Griffin has games where he is incredibly dominant, but he does seem overly reliant on his jumper. No matter how you slice it, long twos are not a good shot, and he seems to love taking them.
I do think he is trying to save his body, and I do not blame him. He takes a beating. But I don't think people should expect to see vintage Blake when the postseason rolls around (which some have speculated). He also could give a little more effort on the boards. As for Paul, I remember him getting to the free throw line much more frequently in previous seasons. It was a big part of his game that seems to have evaporated. He still has a tremendous impact on the game, but I miss seeing him slice and dice his way into the teeth of a defense.
Also, many people speculated that the arrival of Steve Ballmer would be a shot in the arm to the players and energize them. However, it almost feels as if the opposite is true. There is no spark to this team much of the time. They have plenty of talent. They have an elite coach in Doc Rivers. It feels like they are going through the motions. Some have speculated that they are biding their time until the playoffs, but what right do they have to do that? What have they really accomplished in the post-season that suggests that they are simply a post-season team?
For example, no one worries about the Spurs in the regular season. They are always in the mix for a championship. The Los Angeles Kings are a mediocre regular season team, but they are a machine in the playoffs. Those two teams are built for post-season success. The Clippers have not earned the credibility and trust that they can just flip a switch when it counts. In many games, the intensity has not been there on the defensive end until it is too late.
Also, one quibble that I have is that Rivers is too reliant on Jamal Crawford hero-ball. This is a proven failure in the playoffs. Everyone criticized Vinny Del Negro for just dumping the ball into Crawford, but Rivers does the same thing! How much trust does he have in his system if he is resorting to ISO at the end of games? He seems to favor Crawford over Redick in the clutch. Yes, Crawford has helped win several regular season games, but Redick just feels more like a playoff closer down the stretch.
Rivers' signings have also been shaky, and none of his acquisitions this summer have really panned out for the team. Finally, I wish this team scored a bit more in the paint. They are very reliant on jump shots, and if they are not falling, they may not have the defense to make up for it. Matt Barnes is an ideal backup, but at some point the Clippers need to figure out how to get that elusive 3 and D athletic wing player that they so desperately need.
|Jul Jessup, Dean (College of Hard Knocks)||C|
C as in satisfactory, C as in participation, C as in they've done the minimum amount mandatory to remain what qualifies as a "contender" in the middle of the season.
I know that there is a tremendous gap among Clippers fans — especially on this site — with one group complaining, "We should be BETTER, I am disappointed!" (the group to which I belong) and the "We are doing just fine WTF are you talking about you greedy morons?" crowd. So, let me explain to you my stance.
Part of my disappointment in the Clippers thus far has been because of the ridiculous success of every other playoff team in the West, particularly the W–erm, the Wa–ack--something in my throat, sorry — the NBA team residing in the San Francisco Bay region of these United States. Also, frankly, I had extraordinarily high expectations coming into the season, and I still stand by them. I figured it would take about 60-62 wins to win the West, and that the Clippers would be the ones to do so. As it turns out, 60 wins might just get you the 3-seed, while my beloved Clips are only on pace for a measly 57!
And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds coming from a Clippers fan, but I am disappointed with the Clippers current status as the 5-seed, regardless of how well everyone else is doing. We should be doing even better. On media day, Chris Paul was angry, and it pumped me up. He reiterated how bitter the taste of the Game 5 loss to the Thunder was and pretty much vowed vengeance on the rest of the conference, and I believed him. I won't say that Chris' play, or the play of any particular player, has held the Clippers back this season. I don't believe that. The focus is off. The hunger seems eased. Did we win it all in the offseason when we got rid of Sterling? If not, then why do we seem so satisfied?
Make of it what you will — some people were pumped to get C's in high school, because at least they passed; some were disappointed because they expected an A. I belong in the latter category, so color me disappointed. Oh, and I also thought the Clippers bench had improved in the offseason — that one's my bad.
|Thomas Wood, Professor Emeritus||B+|
This crowd makes me feel like Brody Stevens. (Positive energy!) While the Clippers currently sit fifth in the conference standings (although their record is ahead of division default 4th seed Portland), on February 1st last year, they were fourth, with essentially the same winning percentage they have now.
Am I a tad disappointed? Sure I picked them to finish number one. But, if a dumb kid exceeds my expectations, I'm not going to grade him higher than an underachieving smart kid if the two deserve the same grade. A B+ is a B+, and I don't want my preseason expectations to color this team's grade. Also, they're second in the conference in point differential, which is a better indicator of future performance than their record. Oh, and they're second only to a Golden State team that is playing like the bloody Jordan-era Bulls. Tough to be angry about that.
Finally, this Clipper starting lineup is really, really good. Yes, this team is just six and a half players deep. (Spencer Hawes, you get a half because you can be so much better. I believe in you and your silly hipster hair bun. Positive energy!) Yes, this bench has me as depressed as Selma.
But, and it's a 'but' Sir-Mix-A-Lot would like, this bench won't haunt us this much in the playoffs. It can't. Rotations shorten. The starting lineup will play 40 minutes each night. This starting five ranks third in the whole damn league among five-man lineups with at least 200 minutes, behind only that destroyer of worlds in Oakland and, strangely, a Sacramento Kings lineup.
It worries me that this team has yet to suffer a major injury, but knock on hardwood, they'll stay fit and head into the April playoff tournament as one of several quality teams capable of taking the conference crown. Cue Dennis Green. They are who we thought they were.
|Erik Olsgaard, Corey Maggette Professor of Cardboard Studies||B|
The last time we did a roundtable, the Clippers were on a 9-game win streak, and I predicted that their success was little more than a mirage, with wins against weak competition. My grade, at the time, would probably have been a C+. Shortly thereafter, the Clippers lost 5 of their next 8, including all of their road games over that time, and my generally quiet twitter feed was filled with lots of negativity and I-told-you-so's. At this point, the Clippers had dropped all the way down to a D in my gradebook.
Then, on Christmas, against their bitter rivals from Oakland, and on a national stage, the Clippers found their... gumption. They destroyed the Warriors, and they would go on to win won 11 of their next 15 games. Those 4 losses were actually pretty understandable too, against Toronto (#1 in the East at the time), Atlanta (#1 in the East at the time), Miami (Hassan Whiteside breakout game), and Cleveland (when they finally began to look like the team we all expected). And the 11 wins had an average margin of victory of 18 freaking points. Stella had to go to Jamaica to get her groove back, but the Clippers never even had to leave home. (YUP. That reference just happened.) Exactly 1 month after the miracle, the Clippers had moved their grade up to a B+.
But as quickly as it came, that fire that was fueling the Clippers seems to have left again. The last few games have been disappointing, with effort being the main issue. It was enough to drop them half a grade, but not enough for me to worry long-term. As long as the boys in red-and-blue can get in the right mindset for the playoffs, they should be fine. Right now, they remind me a bit of the Spurs, who never seem to fully turn it on until the playoffs. That's a good thing, right? That's what I'll keep telling myself.
Side note: Spencer Hawes will need to ace both the midterm and the final exam in order to receive a passing grade this season. He is currently on academic probation and will not be going to the prom, no matter how incredible his dance moves are.
|Dr. Steve Perrin, Head of Department of Clipperology||B|
The Clippers can't get an A, because they clearly haven't been as good as they can be. But they've been pretty good. The record is more or less on pace to equal the team's record win total from last season, which is nothing to sneeze at.
But last season's team managed that while battling through several key injuries, while this season's team has been incredibly healthy. Not to mention that they were supposed to be better. So versus expectations, the Clippers have clearly come up a little short, though not as far short as many would have you believe.
The good news is that there's nothing fundamentally wrong that is keeping the Clippers from being better — at least nothing that we didn't already know. Every team has strengths and weaknesses, and the Clippers' weaknesses at the small forward and the bench aren't secrets; nor are they likely to go away any time soon.
The defense on the other hand can get better — even if they aren't going to be elite, they can be better, and they need to be. If the Clippers play better down the stretch than they have thus far, no one is going to be particularly surprised — and in the big picture, you'd want to be at your best in the second half of the season than the first, if you had your druthers.
|Professor John Raffo, Curmudgeon-in-Chief||B+|
(Ed. Note): Raffo did not provide a composite grade so I was forced to interpret his results and make an educated and probably-accurate guess.
|Matt Heller, Dudley-Do-Right Fellow||B+|
|It's not that we're playing significantly worse than last year (with the notable exception of bench play). It's that the rest of the West is significantly better — and continues to improve. The really troubling thought is that we've been incredibly lucky with the injury bug so far this year (even with the Ben Bolch jinx), especially compared to other "elite" teams in the West with similar or better records. No major Clipper rotation player has missed any extended period of time. Compare that with Golden State (Bogut), Portland (Lopez), Houston (Dwight), Memphis (Gasol and Z-Bo), and San Antonio (Kawhi), and you look at the standings a little differently.|
|Dr. Shap, M.B.B.S.||B–|
Not bad for a student that's come into the season studying enough to get by, but not quite at the standards I expected, hoping to see a bit of a leap to the next level. I did come into this season expecting the team to be in the running for the best record in basketball all season, as so much about the end of last season made me think this team was on the cusp. This idea resonated within the team plenty, too. Looking at the standings, there aren't even that many teams that L.A. is looking up to.
Yes the bench has been quite bad, the small forward depth in particular is a concern, and there's a handful of other issues, from concerning losses to incredible competition within the conference. Even then, recently my biggest worry has been: How far can this team go depending on Jamal Crawford hero ball so much? I've grown to love Crawford as a Clipper, his skills are absolutely dazzling on the court and he seemingly does nothing but cool things off of it, but I am worried about how much we can rest on him in the postseason.
The last two postseasons are littered with successes and failures that have depended on Jamal more than we realize. I think this is simply how Crawford plays, and we've embraced it, and have really lived and died by it. Problem is, title teams rely on their consistency, and Crawford is all over the place. He doesn't even really have spots on the court he likes, which makes him all the more exhilarating and terrifying.
I have no doubt the Clippers can win a title with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as their stars, I'm becoming more and more confident with DeAndre as a rim protector, and Redick is as lights out of a shooter as you can get. The bench is concerning but with a tweak or two it can become passable as rotations become shorter in the postseason. Honestly, I thought Crawford was a goner coming into this season, surefire trade bait for a wing upgrade. Now that he might be here to stay, I have no doubt the dude can single-handedly win games, but how many series can the team win with Doc comfortable rolling the dice on the shots Crawford takes?
|Professor Bolts, Not a Terrible Human Being||A|
|Here’s what way too many of you sound like to me: "My kid isn’t President of the United States, he’s just a world-renowned neurosurgeon, so he’s a total failure." The Los Angeles Clippers — known for decades as nothing more than a Jay Leno punchline — are playing just a hair under .700 ball. They have two bonafide All-Stars. They have the third-best Margin of Victory in the league, behind only the two teams who are clearly the cream of the crop this season. They’re 9-4 against the other current playoff teams in the Western Conference, quite a few of whom they’ve blown out — in some cases, on the road. I mean WTF? There’s just no pleasing some people ...|
|Lucas Hann, Teaching Assistant||—|
Overall, the Clips end up with a 3.9 GPA for the semester (they've earned an elusive A+ in my 100-credit class), based off the much-lauded UNC athletic curve. Excellent work team, turn in your minimum-ten-word essay if you have a chance!
Citizens can add their own grades in the comments section and we'll add you to their courseload for next semester. With the All-Star Break around the corner we'll be sure to have more Roundtables coming at you, keep your eyeballs glued.