In the August doldrums of the NBA off season, there isn't much for Clipper fans to talk about. The roster is mostly set with 14 guaranteed players, and the last spot may go to Big Baby before training camp even begins. With a team in place, let's have some fun by making irrational, optimistic predictions about each player for next season.
Larson: Caden, a dream scenario exercise for you: if each player on the Clippers's roster were to have his best possible season, what would it look like? Who would be their best NBA selves in comparison to other players. Let's go through player by player to find their best doppelganger versions beginning with the projected starters.
Larson: This one is the easiest to me because the comparison has been made so many times before. DJ's best self next season would be Tyson Chandler circa 2011 and 2012 when he anchored the Mavericks's championship run and won Defensive Player of the Year the next season. Chandler set the archetype for the modern day athletic big man: be a terror diving to the hoop on PnRs, always at risk to catch a lob, and protect the rim. While Doc may argue Bill Russell is whom DJ should be aspiring to be, for next season, Chandler is good enough. Your thoughts?
Caden: For DeAndre to achieve that Chandler ideal he's going to need to improve his defensive acuteness. According to Nylon Calculus, Deandre is not quite at the elite anchor level he is perceived to be --The rate he contests shots could be a little higher, and players make about 48% of their shots over him, which isn't bad, but could be better. Can he make the jump? Absolutely. He's the most athletic center in the league and another year with Doc will only help him improve.
Larson: DJ has the athleticism even Chandler never was capable of, few humans are, he just needs to add Tyson's defensive intelligence and feel. Plus Chandler can make free throws...
Caden: What about Blake? It's hard to say dream doppelganger when he is one of the most unique and best players in the league. I'm going to piss you off and bend the rules already, but for me best-case scenario would be a Karl Malone-like season. Not only are they both chiseled by the gods, but their advanced statistics to this point in their careers are very similar. Per-100 possessions they get basically the same amount of points, shots and rebounds. Their true shooting percentage and usage are also close. As similar as their numbers are, Blake could learn a lot from Karl. When catching the ball in the post, Karl would make a move rather quickly, while with Blake the ball can sometimes stick. Karl was all-defense a few times, which would be a dream if Blake could improve that much on that end.
I know, I know, you wanted current players. Deal with it.
Larson: As for Blake, what are rules if not to be broken? I love the Karl Malone comparison, something that's been talked about quite a lot when discussing Blake's evolution as a player. Like the Mailman, Blake has started expanding his game to include that midrange jump shot, which by late is his career Malone was killer at, and along the same lines has steadily improved his free throw shooting. The playoffs showed us that Blake can be a good, even great, defender when he's continually focused and not conserving energy. If he played defense like that at all times, I think he'd surprise a lot of people, but it's probably just not possible in the regular season to expend that much energy.
But you're right Blake is so unique that I'm gonna cheat even more. I think his best season next year would not only include large elements from Karl Malone, but also Sir Charles Barkley and LeBron James. One of the greatest and most terrifying skills Barkley had, other than commenting nonsense on basketball games, was grabbing a rebound and pushing the ball up court. He was like a runaway freight train in the way he moved in transition. There's no other power forward, or even big man, in the NBA that can grab a rebound and run a fast break better than the Flying Lion (Draymond Green may be second place). Let's just hope Blake doesn't inherit Barkley's 3 point percentage (he's one of the worst shooters from behind the arc ever).
As far as incorporating more of the King, we all saw glimpses of it during the first round of last years playoffs against the Spurs when Blake was throwing up triple doubles. Blake is one of, if not the best, passing big man in the NBA as Seth Partnow shows here, and Zach Lowe comments on here. However LeBron may be the best passer in the NBA, especially from the post as he showed with the Heat and in the Finals this year. If Blake could take his passing to the next level, the way LeBron bends defenses from the block and lasers the ball around to shooters, the Clippers's offense will be even better. Could we see Blake's assists averages creep up to maybe 7? That may sound crazy at first, but I really think Blake could do it.
Caden: Blake's growth to be that dynamic force that appeared briefly during the previous playoffs is hindered by the Clippers' other best player, Chris Paul. Blake EXPLODED when Paul sat and it was wonderful seeing what he could in the position of a playmaker. Look at him against the Rockets, he corrals the rebound, turns, and goes with the confidence of a Drake diss-track. There was no hesitation, and he was good at it. Yet, this area of skill collides with Chris Paul's specialty, working in the open court. Hopefully they can work a Venn-diagram and find a happy middle, but given the choice I would rather the ball be in Paul's hand with Blake filling the lane.
Larson: Now honestly this is the player that I have a hard time making a comparison for. I know a lot of people have talked about how he's similar to Isaiah Thomas because of his size and toughness, but to be honest as a millennial, I can't say I have watched that much of him to make an apt comparison.
What level of cheating is it to just say the best Chris Paul may just be a younger version of Chris Paul? Is that looking at your neighbor's paper or more like copying and pasting from Wikipedia? The problem is that I don't think CP3 will ever regain that old athleticism. Best case scenario next season would be him recovering some of his youthful ability to get to the hole and penetrate the defense. I mean remember when Paul dunked on Dwight Howard? Now it's a big deal if he gets one dunk for the season.
I would say add in Jason Kidd's brain and vision for the court, but Paul already has that. The only thing I really want out of Paul would be to repeat, or even improve on his career-best shooting from deep last season. Paul shot about 40% from 3 on the most attempts in his career by 100 fga. He had the second highest 3pt% behind off the dribble after Steph Curry last season. So I guess the best case comparison for Chris Paul next year may be Steph Curry mixed with a younger (and hopefully healthy) Chris Paul, something that sounds pretty ridiculous even thinking about it. But that's what you get when you try to imagine a superstar having his greatest season.
What's your take on Paul?
Caden: Your Chris Paul comparison is cheating. That's not like looking at your neighbor's paper, it's more like an X-Men: Day's of Future Past cheat. Everything that got us here, FORGET ABOUT IT. I want the angry, uber motivated, "loser" Chris Paul. He's hardened because of his experiences. He takes less for granted.
You said you were too young to watch/compare with Isaiah, so does that mean you dislike when I say I hope Paul has a Jerry West-like season? This is all on legend, interviews, and pixelated YouTube videos, but from my understanding West was an intense perfectionist, a-la Paul. In the grainy videos, West seems to always go right for a pull-up jumper, a-la Paul. West didn't win a championship till his 12th year. Well, it's about to be Paul's 11th, can he finally become a "winner" this late in his career? Near the end of West's career, he was averaging consistently around 25 points per-game and 9 assists. Personally, I want to see Paul become more aggressive scoring the ball, he's just too efficient for that to be a bad option. I understand the debate, "well if he shot more he would be less efficient." This year there will be so many threats to score that he will have more spacing than ever.
Caden: What are your thoughts on my NBA doppelganger J.J. Redick?
My belief is a dream season would be a complete repeat of his post All-Star game production. Redick averaged 19.6 points-per-game and shot 44 percent from deep, with a true shooting percentage of 62 percent according to basketball-reference.com. With Paul, Blake, Lance, Pierce and Crawford, he will never have much ball handling responsibilities (something that isn't true for your mother), so, off-the-ball J.J. forces the defense to shift, as he has a sort of gravitational-pull since teams must respect his shooting ability. To create motion on offense, the Clippers will run him through numerous screens and Redick can run his defender into screens in ways that many in the league cannot, creating enough space to get his shot off, or setting forth a series of motion for the Clippers.
As a defender he is undervalued. He won't miss many rotations, and, as we saw in the playoffs against Harden, he can be difficult in the one-on-one setting.
Who is your comparison for Redick?
Larson: WOWOWOW. You and J.J. Redick look way too alike for me to be comfortable with, especially because I, and the rest of the world, acknowledge how devastatingly handsome he is. To me you'll always be the stupid elementary school kid with the awkward, overgrown bowl cut (I have pictures if anyone is interested). I guess you grew into your looks, if only you grew into Redick's jump shot also.
Wanna know who my NBA doppleganger is?
It makes sense right? We both are Asian and went to Harvard. Now I'm just waiting for the Knicks to call me up, they could probably use the point guard help.
Caden: Your NBA comparison with Jeremy Lin appeared to have come easier than mine, especially since there is a limited amount of options with a lack of Asian influence in the Association. You sure you don't resemble ex-Clipper great, Wang Zhi Zhi a little more?
Larson: Now that I think about it, I probably resemble Corey Maggette the most just in terms of physical likeness. But I think your Redick post-All Star comparison is spot on. But you know who they also compare pretty well with? Ray Allen's last two years under Doc with the Celtics. Allen shot a blistering 44% and 45% for the season those years under much of the same off ball cutting and action the Clippers employ for Redick. Because they are both excellent shooters that played under Doc, Redick and Ray Ray is a pretty common comparison people bring up. If Redick can live up to and match Allen's production on the court, including remaining a heady team defender, we can expect him to have a roll on the Clippers for years to come.
As long as we're getting greedy here in our player comparisons though, wouldn't the best Redick season look similar to what Korver did last year? While I'm not really sure we can expect anyone to shoot 49% from three on about 450 attempts for a season like Korver did, I think we can safely expect Redick's numbers to exceed last season's. I believe Redick is one of the top pure shooters in the NBA, and with the addition of Paul Pierce, Lance, and Josh Smith, Redick's looks should be the best of his career so far. He shot 43.7% last year. Is shooting around 46% or 47% possible? What's your upper limit on what Redick could shoot this year?
Caden: Redick and Allen, compared offensively, is akin. Ray used to run his defender through a gauntlet of screens, and it is well noted the phenomenal cardiovascular condition Ray sustains. For players that played over half the season, JJ is in the top-10 per-48 minutes in distance traveled, working at 3.6 miles per-game pace according to NBA Stats. To force a defender to work through that many screens and maintain a road-runner's pace is immeasurable for the offense. He alone led the league in points scored coming off of screens. Plenty of other scoring opportunities were generated with defenders leaving the screeners and following Redick.
If we are being greedy, its not unfathomable for him to shoot 46 percent, which would be my guess for his cap, but to reach that, JJ has to become more efficient and get rid of that pull-up 3 he has a tendency to shoot. If he keeps his offensive production similar to last years, remains a reliable team defender and challenging individual defender, then the Clippers will be getting one of the better shooting guards in the league.
Larson: Finally on to the last Clipper starter and the old man of the group, Paul Pierce. I think it's pretty hard to accurately predict how Pierce's season will go. He's going to be 38, and at that age every season holds the potential danger of Father Time rearing his ugly head, unless you're a basketball cyborg named Tim Duncan that can play for all eternity.
In today's NBA, The Truth's best position may be as a small ball 4 with his ability to stretch the floor and guard slower, bigger players rather than small forwards. If you asked me what I'd want out of Pierce this year, it would be a combination of Robert Horry's clutch shot making ability and Shane Battier's 2012 season with LeBron's Heat, where he played terrific defense as a small ball 4 while hitting 42% of his three pointers. While that's what I WANT (defense and shooting), I realize it's an unfair expectation because Pierce isn't near the defender Battier remained in his twilight years. Honestly the Pierce comparisons are tough with how much longer players are lasting in today's NBA along with the shift in style of play. Maybe there's a parallel to how Vince Carter adapted his game in Dallas? Or maybe we should just be hoping Pierce replicates his post-All Star break Nets performance or his production in the playoffs with the Wizards. I'll gladly take a 40% shooting from deep season from Pierce with some play making ability and veteran leadership. The Clippers hopefully will take a Spursian strategy for minimal minutes (about 25 a game) and resting Pierce on back-to-backs to keep him fresh for the postseason, that way Pierce can keep doing what he has been. I want Paul "I Called Game" Pierce on the Clippers next season. Can you think of a really good Pierce comparison?
Caden: Pierce as the last Clipper starter? Are we sure he is even starting? Pierce definitely will finish games, but it's questionable if he will start. It's possibly a better decision to have Pierce come off the bench, where he can be given more responsibilities. A lineup of Paul, Redick, Pierce, Griffin and Jordan projects to be one of the best in the league, but, like you said, Pierce will most likely be on a minutes plan, and to maximize his ability/minutes as a player, maybe he should play more with the second unit. He would be able to have the ball in his hands more, but more importantly, his leadership ability would flourish. Stephenson and Smith need a veteran example. Pierce knows Doc's philosophies, and coming off the bench with all the new players gives an on-court coach for players learning a new system.
It's interesting to see the hope Pierce has inspired in the Clipper's faithful. Has such an older player ever given this considerable of a spark to a championship contender? Maybe Gary Payton and Karl Malone with the Lakers in 2003, but that excitement seemed to stem from signing both, not just one individually.
You're right, the difficulty in finding a comparison for a Pierce dream season is real. You just requested Pierce to shoot 40 percent from deep, well in last year's playoffs he shot a sweltering 52% on over 6 attempts per game!!!! Holy shit. People liked to talk about Playoff Wittman, what about Playoff Pierce? He never seems to miss a big shot, he wants the ball in his hands; he's just a freaking winner. The closest comparison I can think of would be Ray Allen with the HEAT in 2013. Obviously Pierce and Allen play completely different positions, but their roles will be similar. Allen and Pierce have a confidence and ability to make big impacts in clutch moments. Neither player is quite as good as the once were, but in select moments, you'll see the greatness that made them both Hall of Famer's. Offensively, they both spread the court, and if Pierce could shoot at the 41 percent rate Allen did, which would only be a 2 percent increase, Pierce would provide spacing the Clippers have never had with this core. From an advanced metrics standpoint, Pierce's last season compares well to Allen's 2012-13 season. Pierce will have more catch-and-shoot chances, which bodes well, as he shot 40.5 percent last year. Defensively, they both struggled guarding their match ups. Ray lacked the speed to guard smaller wings and strength to guard larger wings. Pierce, eventually playing both the 3 and 4, will have the same issues Ray had with speed and strength against certain match ups. I know this isn't the most organic comparison, but from an age, production and psychological impact, Pierce has similarities to Allen's first year with the HEAT.
Larson: I actually like the comparison. Pierce is going to be an old timer, floor spacer, just like Allen except in a different manner. The Clipper starters were already one of the best 5-man units last season, if they play up to these comparisons it will be amazing. I'm excited for a starting unit of Jerry West/Young Chris Paul, J.J. Redick/Ray Allen, Ray Allen/Paul Pierce, Karl Malone/LeBron James/ Charles Barkley, Tyson Chandler. Seems like a pretty good team.
Next week we'll cover the rest of the Clipper roster's dopplegangers.
Who do you think each starter projects to if he plays his best next season? Let us know in the comments.