The LA Clippers only have two of their starting five returning this year. However, the new five has the potential to be deadly.
The LA Clippers have lost three of the five member of the starting lineup from last year. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have the chance to be just as good. With their off season acquisitions the Clippers have a very different skill set this year. So what will the starters need to do to be just as successful as in previous years? Re-style.
The NBA has changed. Teams are getting faster, shooting better and using ball movement like never before. The prototypical point guard is no longer the half court, “slow things down” player that it has been in previous years. Point guards are now used to push the pace and get the play started. Elite teams like Golden State, Houston, Cleveland and Boston are basically playing position-less basketball. There is little isolation, high team assist numbers, with usually only one dominant ball handler, point guard or not. This is something the Clippers will have to do to make a real impact in next year’s loaded Western Conference.
It won’t be easy for this team to adjust after losing an all-time great point guard like Chris Paul. Very few players have had the same impact that Paul had on the Clippers. There is no doubt he will go down as one of the best, if not the best, players to ever play for the franchise, but he’s gone. The CP3 era in Los Angeles is over. And it’s time to look ahead.
First things first, the Clippers lost three of their five starters in the offseason and must make the important decision of who the starters will be. It’s clear that Griffin and Jordan will remain starters. Gallinari will almost surely start at the 3, but the backcourt is where it gets a little blurry. With Teodosic being the best passing and one of the better 3-point shooting guards on the roster, he will likely start at point guard. Due to Teodosic’s below average defensive capabilities, it would probably be best to pair him up with his Olympiakos teammate and one of the premier perimeter defenders in the league: Patrick Beverley. This backcourt would solid shooting from both players and always have a defender for the opposing teams best guard. This also allows a strong offensive backcourt of Austin Rivers and Lou Williams coming off the bench.
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The Clippers have a chance to completely re-style the way they play. Losing not only Paul, but also Jamal Crawford, the Clippers do not have the same isolation talent that they had in past years. This means that they will have to use ball movement and a fast-paced offense to score the ball. With the starting lineup likely consisting of Teodosic/Beverley/Gallinari/Griffin/Jordan, it would be best if Doc pinpoints the two major strengths of this unit: passing and size/athleticism in the frontcourt, showcased in a fast-paced, rim-running style. With Griffin being one of the premier passing bigs in the league, Teodosic one of the most gifted passers in the world and Jordan and Gallinari solid passers for their position, the Clippers will utilize ball movement in ways they haven’t before.
One reason that the Clippers, in recent years, were never truly able to play consistently fast paced basketball was due to their lack of ball handlers. Looking back at previous years’ starting lineups, the Clippers have never really had more than two ball handlers. This year with Beverley and Gallinari on the wings, they will have players who can push the pace in ways that players like Redick, Barnes, Dudley and Mbah A Moute never really could.
Even though they will be playing faster, don’t expect the Clippers fast-paced style to look anything like that of Boston or Houston. You won’t see high volume three-point shooting or floor spacing at nearly every position. With other teams using their ball movement to play outside-in, expect the Clippers to take a page out of the 2014 San Antonio Spurs playbook by playing inside-out while focussing on interior passing and taking threes when open. In the past couple years, the Clippers ranked in the bottom half of the league in possessions per game. Expect the Clippers to climb up to around 10-12 in that category, using half court sets less frequently.
With the unique skill set of the starters and the unpredictability of how all the new Clippers will play together, it’s hard to predict exactly how they will perform. We don’t know how Teodosic will perform in the NBA and how close the young guys are to becoming real solid NBA players. Of course, there will be obstacles and situations that are impossible to avoid. However, they certainly do not lack talent. The Clippers have the potential (if they play to their strengths) to become one of the premier starting units in the league.