The Los Angeles Clippers have undergone a wealth of changes in recent years. They’ve made serious upgrades to their roster, brought in a championship-level coach and are very close to entering into a new era of ownership.
Their current roster has been carefully constructed and built to compete on the highest level. At the moment, the Los Angeles Clippers are running out of excuses as to why there’s no Larry O’Brien trophies on their side of Staples Center.It’s fair to suggest that the Donald Sterling fiasco was a mental impediment to the Clippers 2014 playoff run. However that type of suggestion proposes the idea that they’re a championship ready team right now, and with maximum mental focus the Clippers would’ve made their first trip to the Finals.
Evaluating whether or not the current Clippers team is championship worthy can be debated by glancing over their roster that sports the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and two All-Stars. A closer and more technical look tells a story that lends this team greater contention credibility.
Attempting to dissect the idea that superstar players are necessary for championships, 82games defined a blueprint for all championship teams. According to author Dennis Lindsey there are certain characteristics that belong to all championship teams.
Let’s examine if the Clippers have these characteristics, and if the claims of Los Angeles’ former b-team being championship ready are actually true.
More than 90 percent of NBA champions had a recent All-NBA First-Team Selection. Check. Clippers point guard Chris Paul has finished as a first-team selection in his three previous seasons, while forward Blake Griffin has finished on the second-team in his last three as well. Barring any type of horrendous injury where he misses a slew of games, Griffin seems poised to make the first team this season.
Paul’s importance to the Clippers is highly undervalued. Although he’s widely considered as the league’s best point guard, his value stretches beyond throwing lobs to Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan.
Paul also led the league in steals per game (2.5), assists (10.7), and ranked second in win shares per 48 minutes with .270. Paul is the unquestioned leader of the Clippers and their leading scorer in the fourth quarter.
His proven ability to close games is often overlooked due to size bias. It’s the fact that he’s a point guard. Paul’s an extension of head coach Doc Rivers on the floor and with his consistent presence on both ends he’ll continue to be a first team selection annually.
More than 80 percent of NBA champions have had a recent All-Defensive First-Team Selection. Check. Once again Chris Paul allows the Clippers to scratch this off their checklist. Paul finished as a first team All-Defensive selection four out of the last six seasons with 2.5 steals per game. He easily picks the pockets of unsuspecting ball handlers and plays the passing lanes very well.
Paul isn’t the only Clippers player who makes a concerted effort on the defensive end. At the beginning of the 2013-14 season Clippers head coach Doc Rivers empowered Jordan to take ownership of the defensive end and that paid dividends as he finished third in blocks per game (2.5), and led the league in defensive rebounds (783). As long as both Paul and Jordan can continue their stellar defensive play, the Clippers will continue to rank near the top of the league in defensive efficiency.
More than 90 percent of NBA champions had a player ranked in the top eight of efficiency in the preceding season. Check. At the end of last season Chris Paul ranked sixth at 25.9 player efficiency and Blake Griffin compiled a 23.9 PER, ranking ninth. However Griffin’s emergence last season has given him the confidence to flip that statistic.
The Clippers will likely seek to increase Griffin’s utilization rate and secure more production out of the All-Star forward which will result in the highest PER of his career. With both Griffin and Paul at the top of the league in efficiency, the Clippers run at a premium.
They’ll continue to do so into next season.
More than 70 percent of all NBA champions had a player named the league’s MVP in one of the four seasons prior to winning the title. Missed. The Clippers are yet to scratch this off their checklist. Although Griffin received his first year of MVP consideration, the Clippers still fall short of this requirement. With such strong candidates every year like Kevin Durant and LeBron James, it’s possible Griffin or Paul may never see an MVP trophy, however I’ll give them a pass for simply being mentioned in the conversation.
Top 10 caliber player or Top 10 defender as a sidekick. Check. Blake Griffin finished the 2014 season in the top 10 of made field goals, free throws, defensive rebounds, points, player efficiency, usage and win shares. With Griffin’s emergence as a superstar forward while Chris Paul sat out for 18 games with injury, it’s unclear as to whether Griffin is a sidekick to Paul or the other way around.
It’s a moot point regardless, due to the high rate of production the Clippers receive from both Griffin and Paul. Why look a gift horse in the mouth is the old adage, and if you’re getting such a high rate of production from either – it doesn’t matter who’s the sidekick.
Although he doesn’t qualify as a “sidekick,” a case can be made for Jamal Crawford as well. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year Crawford averaged 18.6 points and 3.2 while moving in-and-out of the starting small guard spot for the majority of the season due to multiple injuries.
If he is a sidekick to Paul or Griffin, by statistic and honor he’d be the best available in the league.
It seems the Clippers are definitely championship ready, and it’s safe to assume that Paul and Griffin are vital for their championship aspirations. In any given season there’s barely a quarter of teams that will possess these characteristics, and only a handful of those teams will have the depth necessary to compete and push themselves to the finals. It seems the Clippers aren’t just all flash and hype. If they steady the course, they’ll prove themselves to be real.
With regards to the question “are the Clippers real contenders?” Survey says … yes.