The past couple of years, the Los Angeles Clippers have been plenty flashy during the regular season, but have struggled come playoff time, with one series win in those two previous seasons. This year, though, with new coach Doc Rivers, a legitimate big three, and various improvements across the roster, this could be the year the Clips make some more noise.
1. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has been one of the league’s most improved players this season. After averaging 18.0/8.3/3.7 last year, he’s boosted his stats up to 24.0/9.6/3.8, while still shooting almost 53% from the field. Blake’s been one of the best offensive power forwards in basketball, and is ranked fifth at the position according to CornerThree WAR. He has put up career highs in offensive win shares, defensive win shares, total win shares (where he’s fifth in the entire league), and total win shares per 48 minutes according to Basketball-Reference. One of the biggest reasons for this leap is the development of a more consistent mid-range jump shot, which has opened up Blake’s game. Now, when defenders have to respect his jump shot, he can get easier lanes to the rim for his fantastic dunks and ever-improving post moves. Take a look at how Blake’s shot has improved, per NBA Stats:
Last season, Blake was clearly pretty dreadful from mid range, with weak percentages either well below or at least comparable to the league average. His best spot was the left baseline around fifteen feet out, his only spot at least 40%, where he took 79 shots over the course of the season.
Here’s what he’s done so far this year:
There’s still some red in there, but a bunch of it has turned either yellow or green. There are now three mid-range spots where he shoots at least 40% (up from one), including an excellent 47.92% mark in a spot where he shot just above 37% last year. He’s also taking more mid range shots, nearing 100 on the season in multiple places. If he can continue to diversify his offensive game come playoff time, it will bode well for LAC.
2. DeAndre Jordan
Although Blake Griffin has shown marked improvement across the board, DeAndre Jordan has found his stock rise incredibly high this season, and is a strong candidate for both Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year. Under Doc Rivers, Jordan has been revolutionized as a player, especially in the rebounding department, where he’s averaging a ridiculous 13.8 boards per game, where his career average is just 7.9 and his single-season career best is just 8.3. He also has career highs in points (10.4), blocks (2.4), steals (1.0), and assists (0.9). Additionally, he continues to put the ball in the basket at a scarily efficient rate, shooting better than 67% from the field.
Jordan puts huge pressures on the opposing team on both sides of the ball, as his height and athleticism have always given him great raw potential. That potential, however, hadn’t been reached until this season, where he’s become a deadly roll man to the basket, and has been excellent defensively in the pick-and-roll, the post, and on weak side help. This has all added up to him being one of the most effective players in all the NBA, eighth in the entire league in CornerThree War and ninth in the league in win shares. Most people would never think of DeAndre Jordan as a top ten NBA player, but most most statistical accounts, he definitely is. Few players require as much gameplanning by opposing teams on both sides of the ball as Jordan, and the man who might just be the best center in the league could be another big contributor to the Clips making it over the hump come playoff time.
3. Chris Paul
What else can really be said about Chris Paul? Not only is he currently the consensus best point guard in the league, he might be one of the best point guards of all time. He boasts career averages of 18.6 points, 9.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.4 steals, and has been around those numbers, mostly with improvement, this season (18.9/10.8/4.3/2.5). In the advanced stats department, though, Paul is even better. Despite missing almost 20 games this season, he still is somehow third in CornerThree WAR and seventh in win shares. He’s probably been the second-best player in the entire league this season behind Kevin Durant, as he is an excellent floor general, a capable scorer, and an elite on-ball defender at the position where on-ball defense is perhaps most important.
Much has been made of Chris Paul’s lack of success in the playoffs, but this season, he has the best team he’s ever played on. As a Hornet, his next best player was David West, who was very good, but this season, Paul is one of three borderline top ten players on his squad, and has a solid supporting cast outside of those three as well – Jamal Crawford is in line for another Sixth Man of the Year award, JJ Redick is healthy (and maybe the league’s best fifth option, with ability to handle the ball and shoot .394 from downtown), Matt Barnes is finding a way to put in one of the best seasons of his career at the age of 34, Darren Collison has finally found a niche, and players like Danny Granger and Glen Davis can pop up and have a big game on any given night if the defense doesn’t pay attention.
The Clippers finally run LA, and with one of the most accomplished playoff coaches of all time in Doc Rivers running the show, perhaps the best big three in basketball, and depth that would have most NBA teams very jealous, this year could be special.
by Derek Reifer, Northwestern University