Los Angeles Clippers: What The Clips Need To Be Contenders

Jan 3, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; The Los Angeles Clippers bench during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Clippers won 127-91. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; The Los Angeles Clippers bench during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Clippers won 127-91. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Los Angeles Clippers are not a championship-caliber team — right now.

These days the Clippers aren’t playing contention basketball. Once the Western Conference favorites, the Clippers have slipped out of that conversation.  It’s hard to predict the remainder of this team’s season, let alone their postseason fortune.

Despite their spotty play, fortunately, the Clippers hold a record of 23-12. They’re sitting comfortably as the fifth-best team in the west. To say this Clippers team has underachieved, thus far, is partially accurate. This Clippers team is merely performing to the talent level of its roster.

There’s a few vital components which constitute the lifeblood of any championship team. Although they’ve advanced out of the dark ages, the Clippers are still a handful of players short of trophy hoisting. The deficiencies have manifested themselves in all of the Clippers 35 games thus far.

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To propel themselves back in the 2015 NBA championship conversation, it will take filling in those inadequacies. The first step is making an honest attempt at identifying them.

There’s no immediate course of action to take that will shake things up and put the team back on track. Other than trades or signing a few remaining free agents to a veteran minimum’s there’s not much that can happen. Truth is, head coach Doc Rivers has great coaching acumen but is lacking in the roster building department.

He’s built a team horribly dependent on each player that makes an inch of positive contribution. Those that aren’t performing up to par aren’t very desirable anywhere else in the league.

If the Clippers are to improve, they must increase their defensive tenacity. Last season the team ranked ninth in defensive rating, with the same starting unit they are 15th this season.

Rivers summed up the Clippers defensive problems in one statement:

“We don’t have that one guy. I’m not going to tell Matt, ‘I need you to go stop LeBron.’ I’m not going to tell Chris that or J.J. or Jamal or Reggie [Bullock]. It’s going to have to be a team effort, and we knew that coming into the season.”

That’s not Rivers taking shots at the aforementioned players individually. It’s his way of hinting at what’s been painfully apparent for the Clippers — meager personnel. Most notably (and criticized most) the small forward position is in need of an upgrade, especially on the defensive end.

Matt Barnes isn’t the multi-position defender the Clippers need. Reggie Bullock isn’t the player the Clippers were hoping for, and it’s still unclear what Chris Douglas-Roberts brings to the club. Barnes has been able to retain the starting gig, and has made a name for being the Clippers Mr. intangibles. A guy that goes for the 50/50 balls, and is willing to sacrifice his body for the team.

However, his ability to defend stars like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard or Klay Thompson is lacking just that — ability.

The Clippers currently allow 100 points per 100 possessions. They hold the 15th-worst (or best if you’re an optimist) defensive rating in the NBA.

Wing defense isn’t an issue that’s easily remedied. At the moment, there is a lack of tradeable assets in the Clippers locker room. There are fewer reserves capable of adequately filling in should the Clippers trade Jamal Crawford or J.J. Redick. It’s a scenario dependent on whether or not teams would be willing to deal.

Regardless, acquiring a Tony Allen, Avery Bradley or Kawhi Leonard takes more trade bait than the Clippers currently have.

Should the Clippers decide to move Crawford (and they shouldn’t) they’ll miss the scoring production in their second unit. Crawford’s averaging 16.3 points, compared to the 27.1 contributed by all other reserves. No other bench players are yet to crack double-digits in scoring.

Losing Crawford also places too much stress on the starting unit to perform. Imagine how lost the season will be if Crawford’s gone and Redick’s lost for any amount of time. Second, a bench of Jordan Farmar, Reggie Bullock, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Glen Davis and Spencer Hawes is a recipe for puke. That’s not the stuff championship teams run on.

Unfortunately, this need may have to be fulfilled by summer free agency.

The Clippers have improved in previous summers; there are a few positive factors present in their locker room. Despite an improved jumper, Blake Griffin, is still not the offensive superstar the Clippers need him to be. Although he’s currently ranked ninth in scoring (22.4 points per game), Griffin can be indecisive and passive.

When his shot isn’t falling, he can mentally check out as well on both ends of the floor.

Griffin’s offensive game is still limited and can’t be trusted late in games. He’s inefficient posting up, and when the ball is in his hands too long, the Clippers suffer. Griffin’s averaging 39.6 percent from the field when holding the ball six seconds or longer. It makes Griffin a liability in isolation and forces the Clippers to overpass when they need to be more selfish.

An unrelenting scoring machine (other than Jamal Crawford) is what the Clippers need most. Chris Paul is five inches short of taking on the role and satisfying himself.

If the Clippers can acquire one player to fix their shortcomings, they’ll join the western conference elite conversation again. At the moment, it seems they’re stuck in the mud. Talented, but a victim of their roster or lack thereof. There’s no simple fix for the Clippers, and at this rate they just won’t last.

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