Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
> In the never-too-early-to-worry department: What’s up with the Clippers? Missing something? Are they really too soft, do you think?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Maybe the Clippers underestimated all that goes into being Los Angeles’ glamour team. What, they thought the Lakers just showed up, smiled and sprinted all those years, or just let Kobe be Kobe? I’ve talked with a couple of Clippers people and the fact that they still mention last year – the Donald Sterling remarks and how poorly timed that was for a playoff team – suggests they haven’t fully moved on. It’s as if the Clippers still blame Sterling for last spring and feel entitled now that they’ve gotten all their wounds balmed (Ballmer-ed?). Nope, they’re going to have to earn it with way tougher defense and a more orchestrated offense. They’re playing with one eye on the mirror.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes, it is too early to go into a full-blown panic. But I have to say that I’ve never bought into the Clippers as elite level championship contenders. Too soft? At times. Too uncommitted to doing the dirty work? At times. Too distracted by things like fouls against Blake Griffin or chippiness from the Warriors? At times. All in all, they are a collection of individual talent, but less than a sum of their parts. Sure, we’ll see them in the playoffs again, but not likely for long.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Except that it is too early to worry. Don’t confuse lurching start with overall direction. If this continues through, say, Christmas, then the Clippers have a problem. For now, they have an annoyance. The lack of intensity, showing mostly on defense, won’t last. Doc Rivers is a lot of things for this organization. Motivator is one of them. Plus, it’s a good locker room. Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and others are not too soft.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I wonder if the Clippers already feel the burden of a championship-or-bust season. Yes, it is November, and true, this topic needs to be readdressed in April. Still, the reputations of Chris Paul (mainly) and Blake Griffin and to a lesser extent, Doc Rivers, are riding on this team reaching the Finals. Paul is a superstar who hasn’t won anything, Griffin is supposed to be a franchise player and Rivers makes a ton of money for one reason and one reason only. I look at the Clippers and see mental issues, not talent issues.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Even if Blake Griffin has turned himself into a good mid-range shooter, he shouldn’t turn himself into a high-volume mid-range shooter. He’s one of the best finishers in the league, and he’s hurting his team by shooting too many jumpers. The Clippers can get him out in the open floor and to the basket more often by getting more stops, but those are harder to come by when they’re playing J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford together at the wings. That lineup has played only 59 minutes so far, but their starting lineup with those two guys has been abysmal defensively. So, either Matt Barnes needs to start making shots, Reggie Bullock needs to step up as a two-way rotation wing, or they need to make a trade.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Something is missing. The fire. That proverbial chip that is supposed to be permanently implanted in and on the collective shoulder of this team. The air of confidence in each other that should be a part of the equation for an incumbent power with expectations, internal and external. Doc Rivers doesn’t talk the way he has this season to impress us. He’s speaking the truth about his team. Doc is right, they are a bit soft. They don’t play with the edge you’d expect of a team with this many championship components already assembled. Maybe they’ve gotten caught up in the Hollywood aspect of the situation and lost sight of the fact that they’re fighting for respect and a place in the pecking order in a rugged Western Conference that does not suffer impostors. The Clippers have plenty of time to shed this current crustiness. But they don’t have forever.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The rebounding stat is a great truth teller. It reveals discipline, toughness and effort. Anybody can rebound; it’s just about wanting to. As the Clippers improve in those areas, so will their rebounding numbers improve – and with it their chances for contention.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t think they’re soft, I think they’re just still trying to find their footing. Steve Ballmer’s Clippers 2.0 haven’t had the same defensive intensity as last season, and offensively they’ve looked confused and sputtered from time to time. While turning to Jamal Crawford for help in the starting five on the wing should kickstart their offense, I’m not sure how it makes them a better defensive team. Either Matt Barnes needs to get his groove back or Ballmer may have to ready Clippers v. 2.5.
Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: First of all they miss the aggressiveness. A team that wants to make the big step forward has to be more “nasty”, using the term inserted in the NBA life by the one and only Gregg Popovich. I don’t believe that Blake Griffin facing up and shooting the ball from the perimeter is the way to go. They have the depth in the bench, they have the talent and the experience to go all the way. If they get more nasty.
Ole Frerks, NBA.com/Germany: I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re soft, I just think their roster dynamic has taken a hit with Matt Barnes in his shooting funk. He was supposed to be the guy who provides toughness on defense, but if he’s not making open 3s, defenses are able to ignore him and clog the paint against Griffin and Paul. Rivers has answered by inserting Jamal Crawford into their lineup, but he doesn’t defend anybody and makes it tough for the team to survive in that regard. He is also by far the best scorer they have to come off the bench, so inserting him into the starting 5 robs the second unit of their most lethal threat. It’s obviously early, but I think they might need to add a Three-and-D specialist to balance their roster.
Karan Madhok, NBA.com/India: I think that between Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, and new owner Steve Ballmer, the Clippers built unrealistic expectations of their capabilities without actually the body of work to prove that they are indeed capable. This team has never been past the Second Round of the playoffs, remember. But to answer the question in more tangible terms, the Clippers have a major hole in the wing position, with no small forward capable of providing them quality minutes right now. Griffin should get back on track soon but Chris Paul seems to have taken one step past his prime. And yes, I do think that the team as a whole is a bit too soft, lacking the killer instinct to take the jump up from being good to great.
Simon Legg, NBA.com/Australia: There’s a few concerns here on both ends of the floor, but I don’t think these are long-term issues. Offensively, it might sound really simple but they’re just not making shots at the moment. Prior to their win over the Blazers over the weekend, J.J. Redick couldn’t actually buy a three. The crazy thing about the misses is that generally they’ve been wide open looks that they haven’t been able to make. They were 7-for-30 from three against the Oklahoma City Thunder, 12-for-33 against the Los Angeles Lakers and 9-for-31 against the Sacramento Kings. For guys like Redick and Jamal Crawford, those shots will eventually fall but Matt Barnes’ lack of production is concerning. He’s shooting just 31 percent from three and lineups with Barnes in them are really struggling. Defensively, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin paired well last season and took their defense to a decent level. This season, their defensive rating has slipped to 104.7, good enough for 20th in the league and their rebounding rate has dropped significantly from last season, hovering around 30th in the league. Lineups with Crawford and Redick are not working and their lack of depth at the small forward position is concerning.
Orr Ziv, NBA.com/Israel: The Clippers will be fine. Obviously, they have yet to play 48 minutes of solid basketball, but the offense started clicking against the Spurs. Two of their three losses came against the champs and the red-hot Warriors, which are acceptable losses. If they will continue to take care of the ball (only New Orleans is ahead in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio), I’m sure the record will reflect it soon enough.
Marcelo Nogueira, NBA.com/Argentina: A team is truly great, with the means to fight in the championship, when it concludes the process of stabilizing their game. This process will let them gain trust among each other and feel more powerful. I do not see LA Clippers in trouble now, especially this early in the season. They’re in the process. Perhaps it’s a matter of anxiety because they have a new owner who wants fast success, like he had in the business world.
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