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Clip Chat: Is this defense for real?

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Robert Flom and Taylor Smith discuss the Clips’ surprisingly stingy defense, the early shooting woes and Blake Griffin’s performance to this point.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are off to a stellar 7-1 start to the season, good for the top spot in the Western Conference. Most expected them to get off to a flying start to the year with so much to prove, but the way they’ve gone about it has raised a few eyebrows.

What aspect of the Clips’ performance to this point has surprised you the most?

Robert Flom: Their defense. I expected the starters' defense to be really good: they were above average last year, and that was with playing a Paul Pierce statue a decent amount of minutes every game. Blake Griffin isn't a great defender, but he is a substantial upgrade over Pierce, so I was expecting some improvement.

However, I thought the bench's defense was going to be terrible, as it contains two horrible defensive players in Jamal Crawford and Marreese Speights. Instead, they are everywhere on that end of the court, and Speights has been a plus on defense overall. It's just been shocking to be honest.

What's surprised you the most, Taylor?

Taylor Smith: I posed this question with the stingy defense in mind. I don't think anybody saw them being ranked No. 1 in defensive rating, even if it's early in the season. They've been suffocating. Opposing teams are shooting under 40% on the whole against them, and they have a D-rating of under 90. Both of those are insane numbers.

That said, I'm a bit surprised by the offense. The ORTG of 105.4 is 10th in the league, though that number may be skewed a bit by a trio of wins in which they failed to crack 100 points.

Numbers aside, there have been plenty of moments already this season where the offensive unit hasn't passed the eye test. We take offense with this club for granted these days, especially when Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick are out there together. I have no doubt that they'll finish the season ranked in the top-five in offensive efficiency once they really kick things into gear, but the relatively sluggish start is a tad surprising to me.

Thoughts?

Robert: Simply, I think a lot of it has to do with cold-shooting from outside. JJ missed tons of open 3s in the first few games, and as his percentages trend up, so will the offense. Jamal, Wes, and Austin have all been misfiring from deep as well, and while they certainly aren't Redick, they should hit a higher percentage of 3s as the season goes on.

That said, the starting unit has struggled offensively at times, especially against good defenses. I think reintegrating Blake will take a bit more time, and we have already seen what the offense looks like when he and Chris Paul are clicking. I'm not worried right now, but talk to me again in a couple weeks if the Clips are still 10th.

What's your biggest worry so far?

Taylor: My biggest worry is that the way the bench is performing on the whole probably isn't sustainable in the long term. Mo Buckets is fun now, but how long is that going to last? I have a hard time believing a guy that was previously a sieve is now a defensive anchor, so it just feels like a matter of time before that other shoe drops.

This team has enough depth to where they can boast some ferocious five-man units while only using one or two starters, so here's hoping we also see more consistent staggering from Doc. And you?

Robert: Mine is basically similar, but I'll go a bit of a different route.

As I said on the podcast last week, I really want to see Doc experiment more with lineups in general. Definitely more staggering for sure, but also exploring different starting lineups and rotations. Maybe don't play Luc as much against a team without a big scorer? Or try Brandon Bass alone without Speights with the reserves just to see how that looks. Early in the season is the time to try new things and see what works. I'm glad the Clips are soaring, but I want to see a bit of tinkering as well.

What do you think about all that?

Taylor: I totally agree. Now is the time of the season for experimentation, so it'd be fun to see Doc think outside the box a bit. On paper, this is the deepest Clipper team we've seen in quite some time, and there are potentially some solid lineup combinations to be unlocked if he'd just give some guys a chance. Where's Alan Anderson, for instance? If he's hurt it's one thing, but it's strange that he's even nailed to the bench during garbage time.

These are really luxury complaints, though. The team is 7-1, which is about as good a start as we could've hoped far, particularly because they've played some quality foes already. It'd be nice to see a few of the regulars hit shots more consistently, but that's coming. J.J. won't be a bricklayer forever.

What do you think of the way Blake has looked so far?

Robert: I've mostly liked the way Blake has looked. He's trying on defense, been aggressive attacking the basket, and consistently made plays on the court. Blake's ability to pass and handle the ball is just so good, and he makes the right play most of the time. His jump shot is still inconsistent, but when it's on he's basically unguardable. More importantly, he looks very healthy, which is a requirement for a deep Clipper playoff run. The next question is just staying healthy. How about you?

Taylor: In general, I like what I've seen from Griffin so far. He's rebounding at a better rate than he has in years and also playing active defense. I expect the assist numbers to rise closer to their normal levels - he's only at 4 per game - and it's also a positive step to see him taking some threes. I'm glad he's not gotten triple-happy, especially considering he's only connected on 26% of them so far, but expansion of range has been on my Blake Griffin wish list for a while. You can never have enough weapons in your offensive arsenal. I imagine he'll start making them as he grows more comfortable taking them.