Today we’ll tackle the final five players in our player rankings. Starting Monday, we’re beginning our annual player preview series, and those following closely will notice that the order of our previews will closely, but not identically, mirror these rankings.
15. Diamond Stone
14. Paul Pierce
13. Brice Johnson
12. Alan Anderson
11. Raymond Felton
10. Marreese Speights
9. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
8. Jamal Crawford
7. Brandon Bass
6. Wesley Johnson
As always, hate mail will only be accepted through snail mail, fax, or telegram.
5. Austin Rivers
I’m going to be a hypocrite here. Many of the arguments I used to support other player placements contradict ranking Austin Rivers this high. Among rotation players, only Pablo Prigioni and Josh Smith had lower on-court net ratings, and no one had a higher off-court net rating. His RPM last year had him 65th out of 81 point guards leaguewide, 62nd defensively. He’s a poor rebounder for someone with his size and athleticism — out of 126 NBA players 6’6” or less who played at least 50 games last year, Rivers was 105th in defensive rebounds per 36 minutes (for reference, Chris Paul ranked 32nd, Raymond Felton 51st, Pablo Prigioni 66th, and both Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick were in the bottom five). And so on and so forth.
While this doesn’t paint a particularly rosy picture, some context does help. Rivers is like the anti-Pierce in that regard. Rivers played less with Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan than any other perimeter rotation player on the roster.
|Minutes Played Together Per Game|
|Mbah a Moute||17.2||16.8|
Rivers played more with bench-heavy lineups than any other rotation player (excluding Prigioni and Aldrich), which naturally depresses his on-court differential and increases his off-court differential.
All of this obscures Rivers’ positive impact when on the floor, especially on the defensive end. He’s already the Clippers’ best perimeter defender behind Mbah a Moute and CP3, something we here at Clips Nation have written about extensively during the last season.
His offense is coming along too. While his assists were down last year, he averaged a 2.0 AST/TO ratio in the two seasons prior with the Pelicans and Clippers. His FG% has improved every year he’s been in the league, and he’s become an above-average finisher at the rim (although there’s still some room for improvement there). After a slow start from outside, he shot 40% from three after Christmas on 3.1 attempts per game, suggesting that he can become a league-average or above-average outside shooter. His 55.4 TS% over that period is another positive indicator of his potential.
That last part is important — potential. Rivers is still only 24, the only rotation player who has significant room for growth (Griffin and Jordan can still get better too, but only incrementally so). It’s not unreasonable to expect him to take another step forward this season on both ends of the floor, and becoming an undeniably good 3&D combo guard.
4. J.J. Redick
Redick has had the best three seasons of his career the last three years, at ages 29, 30, and 31. He peaked last year, hitting exactly 200 three-pointers for the second straight season while leading the league in accuracy at 47.5%. Clippers fans know all about how good he is at tirelessly running around screens and moving off the ball, and how much his conditioning and marksmanship mean to perhaps the league’s best offense outside the Bay (before last season, they finished #1 in offensive efficiency two years in a row). He’s an underrated defender and passer, and together, him and Chris Paul make up the second-best backcourt in the NBA.
At his age, it’s unreasonable to expect Redick to be every bit as good as he was last year. But he’s still very much in the prime of his career; Kyle Korver’s late-career success in Atlanta the last few seasons is a good comparison for how to remain an elite shooter into the mid-30s. Redick should be able to maintain this level of play for another two, maybe three seasons.
3. DeAndre Jordan
Like Redick, DeAndre is coming off the third of three straight career years. But he’s still only 28, coming off an impressive summer in Rio that should put him in play for the Team USA bump this season. He’s slowly becoming a slightly more adept and versatile scorer, and his passing remains extremely underrated (as with Redick, he doesn’t get to showcase this ability much because of Blake and CP3).
More importantly, his defense is continuing to improve as he masters the subtler points of rim protection. He’s legitimately in the DPOY conversation now, after getting some undeserved votes in 2014 and 2015. Expect him to have another career year. A first trip to the All-Star Game, an All-NBA berth for the third straight season, another top-3 DPOY finish — these are all in play for DeAndre.
2. Blake Griffin
I toyed with putting Blake at #1, but there’s still too much uncertainty after his quad injury. His peak is higher than CP3’s (as we saw against San Antonio in the 2015 playoffs), but we don’t see that level of excellence from him consistently in the regular season, where he chooses to preserve his body.
Blake was the Clippers’ best player for the first two months of last season, but Chris Paul was still recovering from nagging injuries that slowed him down until mid-December. Despite the team’s success in his absence, the Clippers are clearly better when both players are healthy and playing together, as if four months of uncontextualized data invalidates 4+ years of evidence to the contrary.
No foursome in the NBA the last few years has fit together as perfectly and played off each other as well as the Paul-Redick-Griffin-Jordan quartet (although I’d expect Curry-Thompson-Durant-Green to overtake them this year). However, there’s a small kernel of truth to the idea that the Clippers space the floor better without Griffin.
While he’s made great strides in his jumper the last few years, he’s still one of the more inefficient midrange shooters among jump-shooting big men. He only shot 38% on midrange shots last year. No big man took more midrange shots per game than Blake (9.0 FGAs/game), but his 38% was only good for 29th out of 37 big men who took at least two attempts a game. Some of this was skewed by the quad injury, which affected his shot in December before he went out as well as after he returned in April. In November, he made 43% of his midrange shots — was this what we should expect from a healthy Blake, or was it just a hot start to the season?
Turning some of those long twos into threes would be helpful, too. Blake clearly has the ability to be effective from outside the arc, but he’s been hesitant to extend his range the last few seasons (something the Clippers very much would like him to do). Even making 34% on two attempts a game would be huge for the Clippers’ offense.
1. Chris Paul
CP3 is coming off his best two seasons with the Clippers, and his best overall since ‘08 and ‘09 in New Orleans, the gold standard of modern point guard play. Unfortunately, his excellence has somehow gone unnoticed, as he was robbed of a top-5 MVP finish in each of the last two years, a flagrant miscarriage of justice.
Although people continue to expect an inevitable decline, CP3 has staved off Father Time the last few years. He’s still a consensus top-3 point guard and top-10 player overall, arguably top-2 at his position and top-5 overall.
Like with Redick, it’s unfair to expect him to match last year’s production, but reasonable to think he can maintain this level of play for another two or three seasons. As long as he does, the Clippers’ championship window remains open — in theory at least. Unfortunately this doesn’t hold up in a league where the Warriors exist.