The Defense: The Clippers have a defensive rating of 93.0 right now, by far the lowest in the NBA, and look every bit the part of an elite defensive squad. They are communicating well, rotating with purpose, and playing their hearts out. Chris Paul, Luc Mbah a Moute, and DeAndre Jordan are all elite defensive players at their respective positions, and Blake Griffin has really stepped up his intensity on that end. I don’t know if this level of defense is sustainable for the whole season (it probably isn’t), but for right now it is devastating opponents. More importantly, it is reassuring to know that the Clips can play this level of defense when the playoffs come around. There can be no more excuses about bad defensive players or short wingspans—this defense can lock teams down, and must continue to do so for important games.
Luc Mbah a Moute: The Clippers’ starting small forward is performing at an All-NBA level on the defensive end. Always a strong defensive player, Luc has seemingly upped his game by several notches this year, and is simply one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA right now. Meanwhile, after endless discussions over last season and the summer about whether or not the Clippers could win with Luc and his poor outside shooting in the starting lineup, he has performed terrifically on the offensive side of the ball as well. Shooting 56.5% from the field (by far a career high), he is constantly cutting at the right moment, and has developed a fantastic synergy with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Nobody is unseating Luc from the starting lineup any time soon, that’s for sure.
Chris Paul: Chris Paul is a top 5 point guard of all time. He is also peaking this year at age 31. CP3 is averaging career highs per 36 minutes in points, rebounds, steals, three point attempts and makes per game, and free throw attempts and makes per game. That’s crazy for a player in his 12th season. His increased free throw and three point attempts have transformed him from an efficient scorer to one of the most efficient in the NBA—he is picking his spots better than ever before, and making them count when he does shoot. Paul currently has an assist to turnover ratio of 5:1, an insane statistic when considering that a ratio of 3:1 is considered strong. The Point God not only still puts forth effort on defense, but remains one of the best point guard defenders in the NBA. His propensity for steals and his captaining of the defense are invaluable to the Clippers, and he is one of the few point guards in the NBA who truly makes a difference on that end. Chris Paul is the early front-runner for MVP, and there is little reason (outside of a bit of regression from his three-point shooting) that he can’t keep these numbers up all season.
Being 10-1: The Clippers have a 1.5 game lead on the Warriors for 1st place in the Western Conference, and are 2 games up on the Spurs. These are small leads, but every game matters at the end of the season when playoff seeds are determined. In 2015, the Spurs dropped a game at the very end of the regular season and lost to the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs despite being one of the three best teams in the Western Conference that season. If they had won an extra game or two, they would have had a far lesser opponent in the first round. While I think the Clippers can take the Spurs this year regardless, having home court advantage against them and especially Golden State would be extremely beneficial come playoff time. Grabbing the one seed in the West is important for the Clips, and they are on the path to achieve that goal.
Austin Rivers and Wes Johnson’s Shooting: Amidst all the efficiency for the Clippers’ rotation players are two glaring sores of poor shooting. Austin Rivers’ numbers are down across the board from last season, and while he will definitely shoot better than his current 20.7% from three, it’s still a bit worrying that he doesn’t seem to have improved much on the offensive end. Wes Johnson has been even worse shooting the basketball, which really limits his value. As long as Luc Mbah a Moute is playing this well, it will be tough for Wes to find minutes even when he is healthy. The good news is that both Austin and Wes are contributing on the defensive end, and that their poor shooting is due for a positive regression over the course of the season. Neither of them are sharpshooters, but their best offensive play should still be ahead of them this season.
Lack of Alan Anderson: Wes’ struggles/injury would seem to warrant the inclusion of Alan Anderson into the Clippers’ rotation, but so far it hasn’t happened. Anderson has only played in one game, and it was for just 9 minutes in garbage time. Quite a few people thought at the start of the season that Anderson might end up being the best fit for the Clippers’ starting lineup; instead he has not even been able to crack the rotation. It is possible Doc is conserving his minutes due to his age and prior ankle injuries. It’s possible that Doc might even be saving him as a kind of secret weapon to unleash later in the season or playoffs. However, I think the simplest explanation is the correct one in this case, and Anderson simply hasn’t shown enough in practice to get real playing time. I hope that isn’t the case, because I still think Anderson has a role to play on this Clippers’ squad.
Nothing!!!!: While there are a few things to nitpick about the Clippers’ start to the season, they are small and relatively unimportant. The Clippers are off to their best start in franchise history, and truly look like a team that could win it all this season. Fingers crossed that they stay healthy and on track for the next 71 games.