Clips’ Hopes Of Contending Depends On Defense Of Jordan, Griffin

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Los Angeles Clippers, a team that won 17 straight games and finished with the league’s fifth-best record last season, made some upgrades this summer in an effort to turn themselves into true title contenders.

On the bench, Vinny Del Negro was replaced by Doc Rivers. And in the starting lineup, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler were replaced by J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

But if the Clippers are to compete for a championship this season, they will need improvement from within, specifically with starting big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who will need to make up for some lost defense on the bench.

L.A.’s bench delivered

One thing that gets overlooked in the Clippers’ rehaul is that they had an excellent second unit last season. Their starters were terrific, but they suffered little drop-off when they went to their bench.

Clippers efficiency, 2012-13

Lineups MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
*Starting lineups 982 91.9 112.8 103.4 +9.5 +181
Other lineups 2,960 94.2 106.0 100.2 +5.8 +348
Total 3,942 93.7 107.7 101.0 +6.7 +529

* Paul, Butler, Griffin, Jordan and either Billups or Green
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The Clippers’ starting unit was ridiculously good offensively, but slightly below average defensively. And though their bench struggled to score (it basically depended on Jamal Crawford‘s one-on-one ability), it still built on leads because it was so good on D.

In general, bench units are going to be better defensively than starting units because they’re going against other reserves. But the Clippers’ second most used lineup in the regular season, comprised of all reserves, was the third-best defensive unit in the league (minimum of 200 minutes played).

Three members of that unit are gone. Eric Bledsoe is in Phoenix, Ronny Turiaf is in Minnesota, and Lamar Odom is in NBA limbo as he deals with whatever off-court issues he has.

The importance of Odom

Here’s the thing about Odom last season. He was a disaster offensively (and was the season before that), but was a big part of the Clippers’ defensive improvement. L.A. went from 20th in defensive efficiency in 2011-12 to ninth last season. Their bench — particularly the big men — provided the strongest D.

In 821 minutes with Odom on the floor with either Turiaf or Ryan Hollins, the Clips allowed less than 91 points per 100 possessions. That’s elite defense no matter who the opponent is. No two-man combination in the league that played at least 450 minutes together had a lower on-court DefRtg than Odom and Turiaf.

On-court efficiency, Clippers big man combinations (min. 100 minutes)

Combination GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Griffin + Jordan 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Griffin + Odom 66 502 105.7 97.9 +7.8 +114
Odom + Turiaf 53 479 100.0 91.0 +9.0 +56
Odom + Hollins 41 343 111.4 90.8 +20.6 +118
Odom + Jordan 34 166 99.3 104.6 -5.3 -16
Turiaf + Hollins 32 148 85.6 104.7 -19.1 -45
Griffin + Hollins 26 133 106.1 111.5 -5.4 -13

Why Jordan, Griffin must improve

The Clippers’ starting lineup — with Willie Green at the two — was one of the best offensive lineups in the league. Although Jordan can’t shoot at all and Griffin’s mid-range jumper still needs work, that unit scored at a rate better than the Heat’s No. 1 offense. No lineup that was on the floor for nearly as much time scored as efficiently, and great offense can make up for mediocre defense, especially in the regular season.

But there are reasons why Griffin and Jordan need to get better defensively …

1. In the postseason, it’s better to be a great defensive team than a great offensive team. Over the last 12 seasons, 23 of the 24 teams that have reached The Finals have ranked in the top 10 defensively and 15 of the 24 have ranked in the top five defensively. Only 17 of the 24 have ranked in the top 10 offensively and only eight of the 24 have ranked in the top five offensively.

2. Odom and Turiaf have been replaced by Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens, two defensive liabilities (to put it lightly). The Clips’ bench won’t be nearly as good defensively as it was last season. If L.A. wants to remain in the top 10 on that end of the floor, the starters must make up for the drop-off.

3. The Clippers were just awful defensively in the playoffs, allowing the Grizzlies — who ranked 18th offensively in the regular season — to score almost 110 points per 100 possessions over six games. The only team that was worse defensively last postseason was the short-handed Lakers, who got trounced by San Antonio.

How Memphis exposed L.A.’s bigs

The problems in that series started with the Clippers’ inability to force turnovers and continued with their inability to keep the Grizzlies off the foul line.

Clippers defense, 2012-13

Season Opp2PT% Rank Opp3PT% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank OppFTA Rate Rank
Reg. sea. 46.8% 6 37.3% 26 73.5% 15 17.2% 1 .306 29
Playoffs 48.5% 9 32.5% 5 73.3% 12 11.3% 15 .451 16

DREB% = Percentage of defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions
OppFTA Rate = Opponent FTA/FGA

Though it was a slow-paced series, the Grizzlies — a team not known for getting to the line — attempted over 34 free throws per game, 13 more than they averaged in the regular season. They shot better than 50 percent from the field in two of their wins, but 38 trips to the line in allowed them to be nearly as efficient in Game 3, when they shot just 39 percent.

All five L.A. bigs averaged at least six fouls per 48 minutes in the series, with Hollins and Turiaf totaling an incredible 24 fouls in just 96 minutes. Griffin fouled out of Game 1 and committed five fouls in Game 3. Jordan had three fouls in just 17 minutes in that same Game 3.

The combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol is a tough matchup for any frontline. But the Clipper bigs got worked over, especially in the post …



Where Jordan and Griffin can improve

Griffin and Jordan aren’t terrible defenders. They both rank as “very good” on pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports Technology. And when it came to rotations and team defense, Butler was a bigger liability in that starting lineup. L.A. was better defensively with Barnes at small forward with the other starters.

But the bigs aren’t great and their defensive focus and energy comes and goes. When guarding a big who faces up in the post, they often fail to contest his jumper or bite on his pump fake. And though they might contain an initial pick-and-roll, they don’t necessarily bring the second and third efforts needed against an offense that knows how to execute …


Both Odom and Turiaf ranked higher on pick-and-roll D and on post defense, where Griffin and Jordan rated as just “good” by Synergy in the regular season … and “poor” in the playoffs. The Grizzlies scored 69 points on 61 post-ups against the pair over the six games.

Overall, the Griffin-Jordan combo just didn’t measure up defensively to the big man pairings on other Western Conference contenders …

On-court efficiency, starting bigs, West playoff teams

Combination (Team) GP MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Duncan + Splitter (SAS) 60 819 106.0 92.7 +13.3 +208
Randolph + Gasol (MEM) 74 1,923 102.6 95.5 +7.1 +322
Ibaka + Perkins (OKC) 76 1,721 109.8 98.0 +11.8 +349
Faried + Koufos (DEN) 79 1,235 106.7 101.9 +4.8 +126
Bogut + Lee (GSW) 31 720 106.7 103.0 +3.7 +50
Griffin + Jordan (LAC) 80 1,810 112.5 104.2 +8.3 +291
Gasol + Howard (LAL) 46 994 103.5 104.2 -0.7 -19
Patterson + Asik (HOU) 46 797 108.3 104.8 +3.6 +78

The Clippers will again be competing with the Spurs, Thunder and Grizzlies, three teams with bigs they can count on defensively. The Rockets have (a healthier) Dwight Howard and the Warriors could have a healthy Andrew Bogut.

Rivers was the coach of the league’s best defensive team of the last six seasons, and this team will likely be the best offensive one he’s ever led. But he’s not bringing Kevin Garnett with him from Boston.

The tools are there for Griffin and Jordan to improve. They have as much athleticism and mobility as any frontline in the league. But it takes a lot more than that to be an elite defender.

Jordan spoke about being a better communicator earlier this summer, and that’s a step in the right direction. But discipline, focus and sustained effort must also be priorities.

The Clips don’t need either guy to turn into Garnett. But if they’re to be included as one of the West teams that could be in The Finals next June, their starting bigs need to go from good to great defensively … especially since they won’t have as much help from their back-ups.

35 Comments

  1. chiggz says:

    Good coaching is going to help them tremendously. As well as upgrading the defense at both wing positions. Dudley over Butler is A HUGE upgrade.

    The Clips got Doc AND Alvin Gentry. Both are better coaches than Vinny Del Negro. They will have a system finally, where instead of being asked to improvise on the fly defensively, they’ll have some structure about what the overall goal of their defense is designed to do.

    Jordan may be a lost cause. At the moment, he’s just a slightly above average player, and though he has all the tools to be a great NBA player, i feel his instincts are always a split second behind.

    I don’t get Griffin hate at all. Oh wait, yes i do. You ESPN loving idiots take whatever Skip Bayless and Stephen A say as fact. Griffin’s only 3 years in. No, he’s not LeBron or Durant, but if you think “all he does is dunk”, you haven’t watched him play.

    Please stop listening to other people’s opinions and regurgitate them onto these comments. And to do that, first watch some actual basketball games, not just the 30 second clips of highlight play. Discover all the nuances that go into the game of basketball, beyond a boxscore.

  2. justsayin says:

    I am so sick of ignorant people spouting off, parroting the idea that Griffin can only dunk. If they actually WATCHED Clippers games they would see that most of his points come from having great footwork and ability to convert in the post. If his jumper and free throws take another good step forward like last season he could compete for league’s leading scorer.

    That said, he and Jordan really need to work on their rotations, though I have to disagree to a degree with Tucker’s statement above. I think learning to be effectively smarter and faster on rotations and shot contesting will be easier for them with a good defensive-minded coach and his schemes, whereas you can’t just learn to have such elite athleticism and raw talent.

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  3. SYDALE says:

    There’s no reason why both DeAndre and Blake shouldn’t average at least 10 rebpg and 2 blkspg apiece… They have the athletic ability to accomplish that… They just need to build the chemistry to pull it off… They need to study some Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson footage from back in the day…

  4. docstone says:

    All of you expert commentators make my head hurt when I read your words. You think you have all the answers, trade Griffin he’s no good,……blah, blah, blah. Do any of you remember the Clippers of the recent past? Each of the past 3 years they have improved beyond expectation, 17 straight wins, 1st in the Pacific…..who of you would have predicted that? Give them time and they will get there soon, not this coming season but maybe next. Going from the bottom to the top takes time and the Clippers are step by step going to get there despite all the negativity from all you experts. CP3 has 5 years, the Doc hasn’t started his majic yet and Griffin will be one of the greatest within a few years.

  5. Josh says:

    Griffin and Jordan need improving, for sure… But honestly I think a lot of it comes down to Doc, the clippers finally have a good defensive coach, which is what the Clippers need. Vinny was never a defensive minded coach, it was obvious in the play of the team, even CP3 & Matt Barnes suffered defensively under Vinny, (and they are arguably our best 2 man-man defenders). Doc is on another level coaching wise than Vinny was, I think through this season and into next, he can improve both Grinffin & Jordans defense no end…

  6. J says:

    to me it makes no sense why griffin can’t block shots. with his athleticism he should be able to block at least 2 a game. I think he needs to work on blocking more shots. last season he averaged 0.6. that’s bad for a player with the leaping ability of blake griffin, forget about that mid range jumper, work on your defence, mostly shot blocking.

    • Go Thunder says:

      He can’t block because all he does is dunk!
      He needs to forget about dunking and start thinking about defense.
      DeAndre Jordan needs to do the same thing.
      I agree with his athleticism and Jordan’s as well they should be able to have a not only good but great defense.

    • T says:

      Griffin is a freak athlete, but doesn’t seem to have the timing to block shots. More importantly, he has below average standing reach and wingspan for his position.

      He’ll never be a great shot blocker, however he can still become a great defender. He needs to watch defensive video of Karl Malone.

    • Nba says:

      Because Blake griffin is offensive minded. On defense he’s looking to leak out for a fast break dunk

  7. celtics1 says:

    For real Blake Griffin is not a real nba player. He needs to be traded to thed leaque. All this dude does is dunk , basket is more I.q than some useless dunk

    • Crazy thing to say says:

      I hate when people say all Blake do is dunk if he only layed the ball up will you say the only thing he do is lay ups It’s two points regardless

  8. Tucker says:

    They’re gonna be about as good as they were last year. I really don’t see Griffin and Jordan improving on defense OR offense that much. Defense tends to be a thinking man’s skill and I don’t really think Griffin and Jordan are all that intelligent. With their insane athleticism they should be locking people up all night long. So to me that says that there’s a mental aspect that’s missing and it’s a lot harder to become more quick witted than it is to become better at shooting/rebounding etc. Great defenders know when to go for blocks or just put your hands up, how much space to give the player you’re guarding and how to force them out of their comfort zone among other things. Thinking players know how and when to do these things. Thinking players are crafty and have quick reaction times and the ability to recognize things quickly. These two players have just about peaked. Insane athleticism got them this far but they won’t get much further.

    • marty says:

      Very stereotypical say BG and DJ are athletes only. Defense a thinking mans skill. WOW!!!

    • jamesnisky says:

      Defense is not necessarily a thinking man’s game. Ron Artest is a moron yet he was one of the league’s best defenders for a very long time. Steve Nash is one of the smartest players to ever enter the NBA and he is an awful defender.

      Its too early to make a call either way on the Clippers. Obviously the place to upgrade would have been at Center and they stuck with Jordan, so if Jordan doesn’t step up major time they will probably have trouble improving a lot. One the other hand they had the 5th best record in the league last year, and although I personally like Del Negro he did not coach the team in a way that brought out their potential.

      Griffin has made immense improvements in the last 3 seasons. He is now close to 70% from the FT line. He is developing a reliable mid range jumper. His defense is quite good most of the time. He handles people like David Lee and LA very well. Randolph got the best of him, but Randolph gets the best of most people. Blake is doing fine. Jordan is the X factor, if he doesn’t completely elevate every facet of his game the Clips will still be a top 4 West team, but they will really have trouble looking at the Finals. On the other hand, no other teams made significant improvements in their lineup except Houston.

      The Clippers improved the 2 and 3 spot in the starting lineup, and they are the only team who improved their coaching. Del Negro mismanaged the lineups horribly last year, never knowing when to bench an ice cold player, and not knowing when to keep a hot player in the game. Rivers knows how to use everybody for the greatest effect. The West is going to be OKC, LAC, GS, and Houston – and before the season gets going its impossible to tell who will be sitting where.

  9. Tucker says:

    They’re gonna be about as good as they were last year. I really don’t see Griffin and Jordan improving on defense OR offense that much. Defense tends to be a thinking man’s skill and I don’t really think Griffin and Jordan are all that intelligent. With their insane athleticism they should be locking people up all night long. So to me that says that there’s a mental aspect that’s missing and it’s a lot harder to become more quick witted than it is to become better at shooting/rebounding etc. Great defenders know when to go for blocks or just put your hands up, how much space to give a t

  10. Bird33 says:

    As a lifelong Doc fan, I’ll be cheering for Doc to succeed. However – lets not forget that Doc wasn’t having a good time in Boston until KG and Ray Ray showed up (along with Posey and a few other key role players).

    I agree with the people above – the talent better step up (Jordan for sure and Griffin to some degree) or they’ll face an early playoffs exit. Doc’s good….but he needs some talent and effort to work with, I really hope he finds it.

  11. Uncle Drew says:

    People are forgetting the importance of Doc Rivers… The man coached the best defensive team in the Celtics a few years ago. Expect him to preach defense in LA like Mark Jackson did in GS. Griffin hasn’t had a very good coach so far in his career. Maybe Doc can teach him a thing or two about defense.

  12. kody1021 says:

    I’m not a Clippers fan. But I have to admit they are incredible. No team wins over 50 games being average. Can they contend? Yes. Will they win it. No. Not because they can’t. But because the starting line up lacks the maturity needed to win. It does fall on Blake. Blake’s incredible and a work horse. I have seen up close scratched up from face to chest — more than once. If I was him I wouldn’t be able to contain it.

    BUT he lacks maturity. He’s the biggest freak on the basketball court. But when he is unhappy with his play he loses it. And the team loses it with him. I hope Doc can get into his head. Being the most talented doesn’t mean besting the best. If he can calm down the clips have a better than 50% chance to win it. If he plays like last year they will sputter out again. Possibly 1st round.

  13. Unkle Daddy says:

    I just thought it was hilarious when NBA TV compared Griffin to Dominique Wilkins, his game isn’t even close.

  14. Clipp Paul says:

    I really don’t think the Clippers are a Championship team.
    Having Doc as the head coach will help, but there are way better teams who are contending for the title… (Heat, Thunder, Brooklyn, Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Pacers, Warriors and even Memphis.
    They will make the playoffs but wont probably go farther than the semi-finals.
    It also depends on how Blake and Jordan can improve their defense.

  15. matthew mathis says:

    the lakers better be pursuing fab melo

  16. chop says:

    They need to trade Blake Griffin or teach him how to score in the post in a grind it out series. When you have a PF (and center) who is neither a good jump shooter (Love, LA) nor a good post player (Duncan, Z-bo) and who’s only real offense is dunks that creates a serious problem in the play offs. If I were the Clippers I would trade Griffin for LaMarcus Alderige. LA is a silky smooth forward who can hit the mid range jumper who would go much better with Paul and Jordan than Griffin.

  17. Common Sense says:

    Griffin and Jordan are ridiculously athletic, Paul needs to keep them moving. They are a pic and roll team, not a post and repost team. They simply lack the defensive knowledge. They can jump higher and recover quicker than any other duo in the NBA, the only question is, do they know when to jump and where to recover to? I have faith The Doc has a Cure

  18. Lakers-Warriors-Suns says:

    They do need more talent. I bet if they were a team on the Eastern Conference they would go deeper into the playoffs…

    • Smooth says:

      I beg to differ. They’ll most likely get bumped in the second round, just as they did in the 2012 playoffs. Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Nets, are all teams (if healthy) that would expose the Clippers and they’re lack of defense in the interior.

      • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

        I would even give the Knicks the upper hand in a series with the Clips… Clippers in the east would be fighting for the 5th spot with the Knicks, and probly end up 6th in the east

    • LBJKIN6JAMES says:

      Not this year kid … East is a Beast ! Clippers are just not a winning team, but a lot of talent, kind of like the Knicks … in the east they would be 6th seed

  19. OKC2014 says:

    My comment was never posted but you said it better than I did and got right to the point.

  20. Akeem Asante says:

    I am not sold on the Clippers at all. They don’t have enough talent, only one super-star and one all-star. Just not gonna cut it. They are out again in the first round as a 6 or 5 seed.

    On Mon, Sep 2, 2013 at 11:37 AM, Hang Time Blog | NBA.com wrote:

    > ** > John Schuhmann posted: ” [nba-video > vid=channels/nba_tv/2013/07/23/20130723-usab-deandre-jordan.nba] . HANG > TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Clippers, a team that won 17 straight > games and finished with the league’s fifth-best record last season, made > some upgr”