Five down, one to go. The final game of the preseason is upon the Clippers, who will be facing off with the Sacramento Kings tonight. This game is the final opportunity to glean impressions from exhibition basketball before a purgatorious week, and then (voila!) the regular season.
This is perhaps as talented a roster as the Clippers have ever put together, so it comes as something of a surprise that the dawning of the regular season brings some anxiety with it. Alas, every guard on the team has struggled shooting the ball thus far, leading to a growing sense of dread that this could actually carry into the regular season.
Granted, the team will have a full week following tonight’s game to make whatever adjustments need to be made, and that should be enough for Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul to get back on track. Though they are shooting 29.6 and 30.8 percent from the field, respectively, those inefficient numbers stem largely from the difficult shots each player is taking.
Crawford (who, I will remind you, only shot 40.4 percent from the field last season) is asked to produce points in lineups that allow a defense to put pressure on him, as has been the case with him for several season now. There is a difference between him shooting inefficiently and him shooting poorly, so a five-game stretch of less-than-stellar numbers shouldn’t cause too much concern.
Paul, on the other hand, has seemed almost exclusively interested in difficult shots lately. Whether this is a result of preseason boredom or is an effort to dip his feet in the water a bit during live game action, we cannot know. What seems certain is that he will begin attacking more aggressively (he’s only been attempting 10.3 shots per 36 minutes) and refining his shot selection once the games start mattering.
The outlook is a bit murkier for others on the team.
Austin Rivers has struggled to make himself useful, shooting abysmally from the floor in the team’s first four games. However, he calmed down his approach and seemed to do his best to only take what the defense gave him in last night’s loss to the Jazz, resulting in a respectable 6 of 12 shooting night for 15 points with four assists (he also coughed up four turnovers, but you take what you can get). If Rivers is content to continue in a more restrained manner, there is no reason that he cannot have a (relatively) efficient season.
Perhaps more concerning has been the drought that J.J. Redick finds himself immersed in. He has shot a horrifying 17.7 percent from three-point land through five games, and it has looked as bad as that number suggests. His misses have not been like Paul’s—he has been getting the open opportunities that he is supposed to in Doc Rivers’ offense, but has failed to hit those shots. Shooters do go through slumps, but there was no stretch of games last season in which Redick got this cold from beyond the arc.
It is, of course, overreacting to assume that this will translate into the regular season, particularly when considering that Redick is coming off of a season in which he led the league in three-point percentage. However, it would also be wrong to ignore this slump completely. Be mindful of this during the first few games of the regular season.
There is a good chance that Redick will not play tonight (after Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan sat out last night’s game, it would make sense for Redick and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to have a night off), so this may just be the taste that the prolific shooting guard leaves in fans’ mouths until the regular season begins.
Not everybody has been struggling for the Clippers. Aside from the obvious dominance of Griffin, a standout of the preseason has been Marreese Speights, who is at this point the team’s second-leading scorer by a wide margin. He has shot a refreshing 35.7 percent from three-point range and has shown the potential to be a useful floor-spacer in several different lineups.
At center, Jordan has been his usual self, but he could come into tonight’s game with something of a chip on his shoulder as he looks to have a big night against DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins got the better of Jordan in three matchups between the two last season, so shutting down one of the most prolific offensive centers in the NBA would be a nice source of early momentum for Jordan as he again looks to vie for Defensive Player of the Year consideration.
Should Clippers fans be worried about the struggling guards? A little bit. Should they be happy to have such a nice set of big men? Of course. Should they be excited to see another season of basketball rearing its head? Most definitely.
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