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Good, Bad, and Ugly: Clippers Off to a 4-1 Start

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The Clippers are coming off a bad loss to the Detroit Pistons Saturday night, but are still sitting pretty with a 4-1 record to start the season.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Good:

The Defense:

The Clippers have had by far the best defense in the NBA through the first five games. Per NBA.com, they boast a defensive rating of 92.8, 2.3 points better than the second-ranked Celtics. Essentially, they are allowing 92.8 points per game, which is fantastic. Of course, they have played two of the worst teams in the NBA in the Suns and Lakers, as well as a horrible offensive team (Jazz), so their numbers are cushioned a bit. But still, they have been mighty impressive on that end, rotating with effort and purpose. They are helping the helper, closing out hard on three-point shooters, and boxing out. Smaller players boxing out correctly is what is enabling DeAndre Jordan and Blake to rack up rebounds in such large numbers. Defensive rebounding is a large part of defense, and there’s no reason the Clippers can’t be one of the best rebounding teams in the league this season.

Leading the team on defense has been Patrick Beverley, who looks every bit the All-Defense 1st Team player he was last season. He has hounded opposing point guards relentlessly, bodied up bigger players, and directed everyone else on the floor in concert with DJ. As long as those two guys are healthy, the Clippers should be solid on the defensive end at the very worst. It also helps that nobody in the rotation right now outside of Lou Williams is a true minus defender. Not having sieves on the court constantly is a huge boon on the defensive end.

Blake Griffin:

If it weren’t for the exploits of Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, Blake might be the leading candidate for (very) early season MVP. He’s hitting some numbers that he hasn’t been close to since his 3rd place MVP finish in 2013-2014, and is doing other things that he wasn’t doing back then. At a basic level, he’s averaging 24.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 35.4 minutes. If he keeps up that level of scoring, it would be a career high—his previous high was 24.1 in 2014. The 9.6 rebounds are his highest since all the way back in 2011-2012, which was the first season Chris Paul was in LA. Most importantly, he’s never been this efficient at scoring before. That is in large part due to Blake’s new weapon his arsenal: a fluid three-point shot.

Blake has been working on that outside shot for years, and we saw the first fruits of his labors towards the end of last season, but it’s shocking how much he’s improved since then. His shooting stroke is smoother than ever, and is a little quicker than it used to be as well. Blake is taking threes from the corner, from the wing, off the dribble, and even on stepbacks. His outside shot is legit, and he’s taking almost six of them. That should open up the paint for him and the rest of the Clippers’ offense, enabling easier baskets. He’s also getting to the line eight times per game, another high he hasn’t seen in four years, and almost certainly the direct result of his improved shot. Blake is active, he’s playing as hard as ever, and looks like a top 10 NBA player once more. Just sit back and enjoy the show.

Bad:

Pistons Game:

I gave most of my thoughts on the Pistons’ game here, but it was still a horrible loss that must be taken note of. While it was just one game, a couple issues arose in it that could return to plague the Clippers in future games. The first is that the offense really lacked ball movement and flow. Pat Beverley is a really good player and an underrated point guard, but he isn’t the type of guy to get the ball whipping around or consistently create open looks for teammates. As long as Milos Teodosic is out, the Clippers might struggle a bit in that regard. Second, Blake Griffin ran into a brick wall in Anthony Tolliver, and once he was stopped, the Clippers had no answers on offense. The Clippers will struggle most games if Blake isn’t playing well, but they can’t be as helpless as they looked Saturday night. A resurgence from Danilo Gallinari will help a lot in that regard. Anyway, this was a bad game, and the Clippers were flat all the way through. Every team has a few of those throughout the season, so let’s just hope this doesn’t become a frequent occurrence.

Ugly:

Milos Teodosic’s Injury:

One of the things Clippers’ fans were most excited about going into the season was being able to watch Milos Teodosic. The Serbian legend had been considered one of the best players in the world not playing in the NBA, and his arrival to the highest level of basketball was highly anticipated. He dazzled in preseason, throwing underhanded passes, no look wrap arounds, and numerous lobs. He also showcased his shooting with some nice threes off the dribble. Sadly, he went down with a foot injury in the Clippers’ second regular season game, and was announced out indefinitely with a strained planter fascia in his left foot. That hurts. It hurts for the viewing experience (Milos probably has the most aesthetically pleasing game on the Clippers right now), and also for the on-court product. Pat Beverley is awesome, but he can’t replicate Milos’ passing ability and vision. Nobody on the Clippers can, or can even come close. That lack of ball movement and next-level passing is one of the reasons the Clippers struggled so heavily against the Pistons. Pray that Milos won’t be out for too long, as he is one of the keys to this Clippers’ offense being fun (and good) this year rather than a chore.

Danilo Gallinari:

There’s no other way to put it: Danilo Gallinari has been abysmal to start the season. He’s shooting 29.8% from the field, 25.8% from three, and is only getting to the line 3.8 times per game (he got there 6.1 times per game last season, and 8.2 the season before). And, really, that’s the crux of it. He simply isn’t making shots—everything else is fine. He’s rebounding at the same level as previous seasons, his assist to turnover ratio is virtually identical, and his defense looks acceptable. That’s all well and good. But the Clippers brought him in to score the basketball, and he hasn’t been. A lot of that is missing open shots, and it’s highly unlikely that Gallo continues shooting this poorly. Hopefully that improved shooting will open up his dribble-drive game, and his free throw attempts also go up. On the other hand, he's looked a step slow this season, and has really struggled to get by his man. Again, it’s possible he’s just out-of-sorts in general, and he’s definitely appeared uncomfortable. If that’s the case, he should find his rhythm as the season continues. As long as he hasn’t actually lost a step, Gallo should be alright in the long run.