The Big Picture
The Clippers look to keep the ball rolling and improve to 2-0 on the young season tonight against the Phoenix Suns, who have lost both of their games so far. For the Clippers, the goal has to be to continue to accumulate wins by taking care of business against weaker opponents to beef up their record, as match-ups with Golden State, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City loom on the horizon in the coming weeks.
While winning is always the immediate priority, the overarching trend to track for the Clippers in the early weeks of the season will be the integration of their new talent into the lineup and system. Danilo Gallinari (3-13), Patrick Beverley (4-12), and Milos Teodosic (2-9) all struggled from the field in the Clippers’ opening game, and the Clippers will need a good mixture of volume and efficiency from those three guys to be effective on offense this season. L.A. will also need Austin Rivers, who has had a bumpy pre-season with injury and illness, to round into form after a dismal opening night showing.
As those key newcomers get comfortable, Doc Rivers will have to turn his attention to finding space in his rotation for other off-season additions, such as Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, who both only played in garbage time against the Lakers. Doc Rivers seemed fairly attached to a 9-man rotation, but we didn’t see any three-guard lineups (!!) or any minutes with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed side-by-side. This essentially means a three-forward rotation with Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, and Wesley Johnson splitting all available time at small forward and power forward. That isn’t a sustainable 82-game rotation, and Doc has to know it—look for at least one of the Dekker, Harrell, and Brice Johnson bench forward trio to get more opportunities in the near future.
It doesn’t seem very likely that the 2017-18 season will be any more enjoyable for Suns fans than the 2015-16 or 2016-17 campaigns were, two years that saw a combined record of 47-117. Phoenix’s only big off-season acquisition is rookie Josh Jackson, a versatile, athletic forward who is a really, really exciting prospect—but he isn’t going to win them enough games here in his rookie season to turn around the franchise just yet.
The Suns remain remarkably young, with a bunch of fledgling prospects finding their NBA footing and a handful of capable veterans perpetually on the trade block. Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Josh Jackson are the Suns’ four most exciting (and incredibly young) prospects, while team leaders like Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler are way too old for Phoenix’s window, but help the team be competitive nightly in the meantime.
The Suns’ defense has been abhorrent so far this season, allowing 128 points per game—including 132 points to a Los Angeles Lakers team that only managed 92 points against the Clippers’ defense. They’ve typically struggled to stop the Clippers’ attack, with Chriss having an especially hard time with Blake Griffin last season. Look for that pattern to continue tonight.