Well, if you had asked me that question a couple of weeks ago, I would have said they've responded great. Now? It's less clear. Part of being a bad team is that you can catch the opponent napping from time to time. But it seems that by and large the Clippers are seeing the A game from opposing teams this season. There's been so much hype about Lob City, there's really no flying under the radar.
For the first seven weeks of the season, they handled it all fine.On February 18 the Clippers were 19-9, five seconds away from going 20-9 with a three point lead and the ball at home against San Antonio. They somehow lost that game, and it started a string of 8 losses in the last 12 games. They've lost their mojo, and may need Austin Powers and Felicity Shagwell to travel through time to get it back. I don't know if it has anything to do with expectations, but the team is certainly not playing well.
2. Considering the Hawks haven't hired anyone with head coaching experience since Lenny Wilkens in 1993, we know bad coaches. Is Vinny Del Negro overrated as a bad coach or is he the real deal bad coach?
It's one thing to hire someone without head coaching experience -- it's quite another to hire someone with no coaching experience at all. Of course it was Chicago who made that mistake initially with Del Negro, but for some reason the Clippers looked at his two seasons with the Bulls
and said "Yup, that's our guy." And we've all seen what has happened in Chicago since they got a new coach.
VDN's the real deal of bad, make no mistake. The Clippers offense is laughably predictable, and only the talent of Chris Paul keeps it moving forward at all. The defense is by far the worst of any team in the league above .500. No one ever accused Del Negro of being an X's and O's genius, and ostensibly he has seasoned assistants on his staff like Marc Iavaroni
and Dean Demopolous to compensate for that. But game planning, in game adjustments and substitution patterns have all been suspect this season.
Presumably Del Negro's saving grace as an NBA head coach is as a motivator and a developer of young talent (that's the way the story goes, anyway). Both seasons he was in Chicago, the Bulls used late surges to sneak into the playoffs, at a time when other teams might have quit, and young players like Derrick Rose
and Joakim Noah
and Taj Gibson
all played well under VDN. But given that during the current funk the Clippers have been routinely outworked by lesser teams, while Blake Griffin's development seems to have stalled as defenses have figured out how to defend him, neither of those supposed VDN skills seem to be working for the current team.
3. What's the biggest on-court difference Chris Paul has made this season?
This is another question that I may have to answer twice, once for the first seven weeks of the season and once for the last four weeks. Early in the season, the massive difference Paul made for the Clippers was that they had a guy they could turn to in the fourth quarter of close games. The Clippers have a sad history all around, but that history is particularly sad when it comes to point guards. In recent years I've been reduced to rooting for the likes of Rick Brunson
and Jason Hart and Dan Dickau. Aside from one season of Sam Cassell
and the occasional B-Diddy sighting, the Clippers haven't had above average point guard play in two decades. Semi-related to this, the Clippers have never had anything close to a closer (again, with Cassell being the exception). They've had some very productive players, but Elton Brand
for instance was not a go-to scorer. The ability to turn to Paul to solve both of those problems, to lead the team and to create scoring opportunities either for himself or for his teammates in crunch time, was completely new for the Clippers. And through the first seven weeks of the season, the Clippers had a stellar record in close games (8-3 in games decided by 5 points or less or in overtime). Lately that trend has been reversed (1-5 in close ones since that San Antonio loss). It's hard to fault the fourth quarter performance though -- the Clippers fell behind early in all of those losses, and battled back to make it close in the fourth quarter, only to come up short because the hole was too big.
4. If there was a secret instructions to be stolen out of the Clippers' Smithsonian that, should the Hawks receive it, would leave the Clippers completely vulnerable and get the Hawks a win, what would those instructions say?
I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.
Actually, I don't think it's a big secret (and like anything, it's easier said than done).
(1) You have to keep Paul out of the lane.
(2) Stay down on Griffin and stay between him and the basket at all costs. He doesn't have a move to speak of, and if he can't get to the rim, he struggles. So just stay down, body him, and don't bite on any fakes. If you force him to shoot jump shots or jump hooks (really anything where the defender is still between him and the basket) then you've done your job. The only other move he has is the spin, and defenders seem to have figured that out as well.
(3) Close out on the shooters. The Clippers 'offense' such as it is, involves constant pick and roll with Paul or Mo Williams
or Randy Foye. The rest of the players space the floor, but there's no off ball player movement. If you close aggressively and keep the other Clippers from hitting open threes, they are not great at taking the ball to the basket and making plays.
(4) On offense, move the ball and the Clippers defense will get confused/disinterested (I know that's not a specialty of the Hawks, but you asked).
(5) Exploit the lack of height in the Clippers backcourt (this one will work well for the Hawks if Joe Johnson
is at guard and not at small forward).
5. Would you guys really want Jamal Crawford as a backup point guard? Please elaborate if so. Can we send you some footage to help?
Well, Crawford's not on the Clippers radar as a point guard -- we're lousy with those -- but as a shooting guard, or really any sort of guard with decent size. The Clippers' guard rotation consists of Paul, Williams, Foye and Eric Bledsoe. Of those four, only Foye is much over 6'0" and Foye's certainly not the 6'4" they list him at - more like 6'2". The Clippers are actually very lucky that so few NBA guards these days know how to score in the post, but when they run into one of them it's bad news. Now, the flaw in this reasoning is that while the Clippers do indeed have a glaring need on the defensive end for a big guard, it's not as if Jamal Crawford has ever been known for his defense -- or ever really played defense for that matter. So while there's undeniable talent there, and he at least has true NBA two-guard size, at the end of the day, he's not really solving the problem. Crawford has been best coming off the bench in an instant offense role, and the Clippers already have Mo Williams thriving as a sixth man this season. So I'm a little baffled by the rumored interest. Now, the latest
has the Clippers insisting on shedding Ryan Gomes
' dead weight contract in any Crawford deal, and that would make more sense simply because it would help the Clippers on the salary cap. I don't think the deal is going to happen because it's not worth it to the Blazers to take on Gomes.
6. What's the most important correlation in regards to your 5th place offensive efficiency this season?
I have them fourth in offensive efficiency, but I won't quibble. The Clippers are efficient on offense because they are very good at all the things that preserve possessions. They have the fourth lowest turnover percentage in the league, which means that they are giving themselves a chance to score more than most teams. And they have the third highest offensive rebounding percentage in the league, which gives them more second chances to score than most teams. Their field goal percentage is only slightly better than average, but they are fifth in the league in threes per game, boosting their effective field goal percentage. The offensive efficiency number is even more impressive when you consider that the Clippers are the second worst free throw shooting team in the league. If they simply shot the league average from the line, it would be worth a little more than an extra point per game and the Clippers would have the second highest offensive efficiency, behind only Miami.
I bet it hurts. That one sure was a head-scratcher. As a rule of thumb, if a guy isn't starting for his college team, you probably shouldn't draft him ahead of Chris Paul. That's my take anyway.