How the Clippers Turned it Around, and if That’s What’s Best for Them
After a 113-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Clippers sit at 17-19 and just one game out of the last playoff spot in the west. Yes, this is true, I double-checked. These are the same Clippers that only two weeks ago were 11-18, injury-riddled and on tank watch. Now, they have won six of seven and are back in the playoff race.
More importantly, they are healthy, well for them. Blake Griffin and Milos Teodosic returned this week. Patrick Beverley is out for the season, and who knows if Danilo Gallinari will come back. New hero Austin Rivers is out with a sore Achilles but will be back sooner than later. Once he is back, the Clippers have enough to compete and make the playoffs. Here is how they turned it around, and if making a playoff push is still in the best interest of the franchise long-term.
In the past seven games, the Clippers are scoring a blistering 115.7 points per game. That has brought them to 10th in offensive efficiency for the season. The Clippers offense is not a pretty one, but when healthy it's effective. They rely on offensive rebounds, free throws and when things get tough Blake Griffin or Lou Williams to bail them out.
Williams has never been better and is the hands-down Sixth Man of the Year so far. He is averaging a career-high 21.7 points and 4.8 assists per game on 40 percent shooting from deep. Lou Will has eight 30-point games off the bench this season; the rest of the NBA has eight combined. As of late, he has been unstoppable and crafty as ever. Watch this move!
Here Williams starts the play with a high pick and roll on the top right of the key. Williams darts around his defender and waits for the screener to get a tiny piece of him. That's all Williams’s needs. Then Williams drives, but when Marc Gasol comes to help he takes a hesitation dribble to act like he is going to throw the lob to a rolling Willie Reed. This causes Gasol to go box out Reed, and Williams can drive and shoot a beautiful leaner off the glass. His craftiness and touch around the basket is elite. This guy will be getting buckets until he is 40.
Even in his 12th season Williams in one of the best pick and roll guards in the league. Ranking in the 84th percentile in pick and roll with an outstanding 45.6 percent score frequency. Four of the six top offensive lineups for the Clippers feature Williams. However, he was there during the Clippers struggles; he isn't the biggest reason for their turnaround.
The Return of Milos and Blake
Milos Teodosic and Blake Griffin returning to the starting lineup have turned things around. Duh! Teodosic has played in ten of the past twelve games, and his passing has made a difference. The Clippers are only 26th in assists, and they needed his passing desperately.
Since he has returned, he is averaging 5.6 assists per game in just 27.7 minutes per game. He is still struggling to hit threes, as he is only shooting 29% from deep since he returned, but there is no question the offense flows better with him on the court. Teodosic leads the team in assist percentage, assist ratio, assists to turnover ratio and is second in offensive rating. He makes passes that most players wouldn't even dare.
Teodosic already has the cross-court laser pass down.
Tedosic starts the play with a pick and roll with DJ, but once that action is stopped he throws a laser to the opposite corner to C.J Williams. Memphis does a good job recovering, but all Williams needs to do is pump fake, one dribble and it's a wide-open jumper. Teodosic sees the game one play ahead already.
Since Blake has returned from his knee injury, he has looked good. Griffin is averaging 23.5 points and 6.5 assists per game on 48 percent shooting from the field. He has been aggressive getting to the line six times per game since he returned. Like Teodosic, Griffin's passing has been sorely missed. Blake can run the four-five pick and roll with DJ and hit him for a lob, or kick it out to a shooter.
He is the roll guys for Williams or Teodosic, and he gives the Clippers their best post-up option, even though he has struggled with turnovers and finishing around the basket. He is still not 100 percent and not the same athlete, but still very good. Still, Blake is having a great year and is crucial to their offense as he is third on the Clippers in offensive rating. The Clippers invested a lot in him this offseason, and when healthy he delivers. His face-up game is still lethal.
Blake faces up Frank Kaminsky in the mid-post. Hits him with a jab step, crossover and then a spin move so he can finish off the glass. Poor Kaminsky has no chance of stopping this. This is where you see Blake's great combination of skill and strength. Very few defenders in the league can handle him one on one when he faces up.
One of the surprises this year in the NBA has been Austin Rivers, and I'm not sure how many people even notice. Rivers is averaging a career-high 15.8 points and 3.8 assists per game on 40 percent shooting from deep. Did you watch the win at Houston? He looked like Steph Curry out there. Rivers' confidence has never been higher, and he has given the Clippers some much-needed shooting.
While he has improved, Rivers flaws remain the same. For some reason, he still stinks at the free throw line only shooting 64 percent from the stripe, and his defense remains average. However, his biggest asset on the team is his ability to get a shot for himself when things break down. Things break down a lot for the Clippers, especially during the injury spree. This season Rivers ranks in the 85th percentile in isolations with a 45 percent score frequency. His confidence has never been higher.
Teams are used to going under screens for Rivers. This year he is making them pay. Here Jeff Teague going under a Wilson screen and Rivers simply lets it fly from deep, and he nails it. Rivers is shooting well off the dribble, and his pull up three has become a new weapon.
The Supporting Cast
For a long time the Clippers have relied on old veterans to fill their bench, now they have a few intriguing young pups. Let's start with C.J Williams the 27-year-old rookie who has recently entered the starting lineup. Williams has started the past ten games for the Clippers at shooting guard and has held his own. He doesn't do one thing particularly well, but the Clippers seem to play better when he is on the floor.
Williams is second in net rating, even though it's a small sample size. So far he has hit 35 percent of his threes and is second in defensive rating, showing he has potential as a 3-D guy for the Clippers. Fellow rookie Sindarius Thornwell has a long way to go offensively but is showing good defense potential. He is third on the Clippers in defensive rating and ranks in the 70th percentile on defense according to Synergy Sports.
Montrez Harrell brings instant energy off the bench. This guy is a monster and should get more than 12 minutes per game. He can finish off pick and rolls and is a great hustle guy on defense, even though he can get burned now and then. The problem is he is best at back up five and those minutes are going to Willie Reed. Reed too is a solid back up center and is excellent at getting put backs, but he is just an average defender.
As for the rest of the pups keep an eye on Jamil Wilson. The 27-year-old rookie from Marquette like Williams has some 3-D potential. He is hitting 42 percent of his threes and ranks in the 72nd percentile on defense. Finally, there is Jawuan Evans. Evans has struggled mightily on offense but has shown some defensive chops. He is young and not worth consistent minutes, but don't give up on him too quick Clippers fans. The exciting part is all the young guys beside Sam Dekker who can't buy a bucket, have shown some promise. None will be stars, but all are solid rotation players in the NBA.
With some many intriguing young players, combined with veterans the Clippers are in the middle. If they were healthy all season they could have been high as the sixth seed in the west, hell maybe even the fourth if they caught a few breaks. Now, they have a 49 percent shot of making the playoffs. Even if they do make it, they are a first-round sweep for the Warriors.
The Clippers should look to hold on to their young guys as they are cheap and have promise. Blake likely isn't going anywhere, and I doubt the coach’s son is either. Gallinari is too injury prone to trade. That leaves Jordan and Lou Will. Remember the Clippers 2019 first round pick is going to Boston, and they would surely like some more picks. As for contracts, Williams is a free agent this summer. Jordan has two years left, but his trade value diminishes the longer he stays.
Doc Rivers isn't the coach for a rebuilding team. This team doesn't need to rebuild, but it needs to retool. It can build around Blake with the young guys and solid veterans like Teodosic, Rivers, Beverley once he gets back, and Gallinari if he is ever healthy. The Clippers should look to move Jordan and Williams at the deadline in exchange for picks and other young assets to complement Blake.
You can move Jordan to Cleveland for their first-round pick, Tristan Thompson, and Iman Shumpert. Milwaukee and Washington are also interested; you can get a first from Washington and possibly Jabari Parker from Milwaukee. For Williams’s teams like Washington, Detroit and Oklahoma City could use his services. It is better to move him now than lose him for nothing in the summer; contenders will take a flyer on him even as a rental if they want to go all in.
The Clippers don't need to blow it up totally, but they do need to make changes. Trading Jordan and Williams may hurt a little in the short-term, but it is what’s best in the long-term. They can stay competitive without them while being more prepared for the future.
*Stats accurate as of 1/3/2018