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Good, Bad, and Ugly: Clips Shaky at 3-1

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The Clippers have won three of their first four games. On the other hand, they haven’t necessarily looked great doing so. Here are some things I like and don’t like about the Clippers’ performance thus far.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Good:

The Clippers are 3-1: Don’t scoff at the win-loss column. The Clippers may not have looked terrific in putting together their three wins, but it won’t matter at the end of the season when looking at home-court advantage. Despite the Clips’ struggles, 3-1 is still one of the best records in this young NBA season, and their wins were against solid enough teams. Do I wish they would have beaten the Thunder at home? Or that they looked a bit smoother in their earlier wins? I sure do. But a win is a win is a win.

Blake Griffin closely resembles Blake Griffin: The Thunder game was extremely rough for Blake, as he bricked open shots, missed free throws, and let several passes slip through his hands. Before that, however, he was the Clippers’ best player over the first three games. Moreover, we all remembered just how good a (mostly) healthy Blake Griffin is. His ball-handling, passing, and ability to attack the basket remain at a premier level for a big man, and he seems to have lost none of his athletic burst. I think he will continue to improve as he adapts to playing 30+ minutes a game again, and as he figures out the playing styles of unfamiliar teammates (remember, he didn’t play much at all with Luc Mbah a Moute last season). I don’t know if Blake has much of a shot at the MVP with all the insane seasons some players are having so far, but he should be a lock for an All-Star Game and All-NBA team if he keeps up this level of play.

The Bench: The Clippers’ best lineup this season is their all bench squad. And it isn’t even close. They have a +/- of 7.3, an incredible mark for a unit consisting entirely of reserves. Raymond Felton has played excellent defense and been a steadying hand on the offensive end. Jamal Crawford and Marreese Speights have scored a lot of points at a relatively inefficient rate, but have been trying hard on defense. Austin Rivers, however, has been the prince of the reserves, attacking the basket time and again, and actually finishing once he gets there. His defense is as strong as ever, and he hasn’t forced quite as many awful jumpers as he has in the past. There is every possibility his improvement is real. If so, he will be one of the best bench players in the NBA this season. Wes Johnson has done the little things, and his defensive contributions are appreciated as always. The bench might not keep up this level of defensive intensity all season, but because they should positively regress towards the mean on offense, their overall impact shouldn’t be much lessened. They are also a joy to watch.

Bad:

J.J. Redick: J.J. has been ice cold to start the season. His shots have been off, and normally automatic jumpers have clanged out time and again. Worse, his overall play hasn’t been up to snuff, as he has had some uncharacteristic turnovers and careless passes. It is far too early to start worrying about a potential decline from J.J., but the Clippers need him to start hitting open shots— it’s the basis for much of their offense. He had a second baby over the summer, and Clippers’ fans remember that he struggled for a bit the last time he had a newborn. Redick has an impeccable work ethic, and is one of the best shooters in NBA history. Four games are a tiny sample size in the huge body of work that is his career, and a single hot-shooting performance would push his numbers back towards respectability instantly. J.J. is going to be fine.

The starting lineup in general: The starting lineup just hasn’t looked comfortable this season. While Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan have all played well individually, DJ isn’t playing quite up to last year’s standards, and the unit as a whole isn’t meshing on the offensive end (they have a total +/- of 0.5). Part of this could be due to J.J.’s cold shooting, as his spacing opens up so much for everyone else. On the other hand, team’s might be adjusting to Luc’s presence (or lack thereof) on the offensive end. When Jamal or Austin join the starters instead of Luc, the units have performed very well offensively: they are the only two significant lineups that have shot over 50% from the field thus far. Again, it is early yet, but if the offensive struggles of the starting lineup continue, Doc Rivers might have to replace Luc with a more offensively skilled player. I’m curious to see how Alan Anderson would perform in that role, though it appears that Doc is conserving him for later in the season. If not Anderson, either Austin or Wes Johnson would help spacing at least a bit, though the Clippers’ defense would certainly suffer. Let’s just hope this starting lineup can figure things out.

Ugly:

Clippers Shooting: The Clippers have started off the year shooting 27-94 from three-point range. That’s 28.7%. Taking out JJ actually makes those percentages drop—despite his struggles, he’s still shooting better than the Clippers’ average. Austin Rivers is 2-9 from deep, Wes Johnson is 2-7, and Jamal Crawford is 1-13. All these players will shoot better than that as the year goes on, as simple variation is working against them right now. While some of their three pointers have been contested (especially Jamal’s), quite a few have been open, and they just haven’t been dropping. This cold streak could continue for another few games. It could also end tomorrow against the Grizzlies. When it does, look out NBA!