After adding a championship coach to the sidelines, the Los Angeles Clippers set a new franchise record for wins in a regular season. However, they again failed to make a deep run in playoffs and will need to tweak their roster in the offseason if they stand a chance at making it further next season.
In recent years, the Los Angeles Clippers have completely reinvented themselves, going from perennial losers to genuine title contenders in the space of three seasons.
This season, the Clippers resurgence into relevance took another step forward as they entered the year with genuine title aspirations.
Since drafting Blake Griffin and trading for Chris Paul, the Clips have gone from strength to strength, returning to the playoffs and reinvigorating interest in the franchise, but this season was the first in the Lob City era that the Finals were a legitimate goal in Los Angeles.
After bringing in former Boston Celtics championship head coach Doc Rivers in the offseason, the Clippers looked to have finally put all of those years of mediocrity behind them and established a winning culture.
By season’s end, LA held a 57-25 record, eclipsing their franchise-record-setting mark from the year before by one win, and qualified for the playoffs with home court advantage for the second consecutive season – the first time in franchise history.
The Clippers entered the postseason as the third seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference and faced the Golden State Warriors in the first round.
The dislike between the two Pacific Division rivals has been palpable in recent years and Los Angeles was pushed to the full seven games before advancing to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in round two.
Ultimately, the Thunder proved too much for LA, eliminating the Clippers 4-2 and condemning them to their second second-round exit in three years.
Early postseason exit aside, the Clippers played magnificently throughout the season, firmly establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Association.
In his first season at the helm, Rivers had Los Angeles not only playing exceptional offence – the Clippers finished the season first in points per game (107.9) and offensive efficiency (112.1) in the league – but he also transformed them into an excellent defensive unit.
While their pure statistical numbers say that their defence regressed, falling from fourth in points allowed (94.6) a season ago to 14th (101.0) this season, and dropping from eighth in defensive rating (103.6) to ninth (104.8), much of that can be attributed tot the faster pace Rivers had his team playing– up to seventh in the league (95.9) from 19th (91.1) – put simply, more possessions equals more opportunities to score for both teams.
Regardless, Los Angeles clearly embraced Rivers’ defensive philosophy, guarding teams more intelligently and sophisticatedly (running opponents off the three-point line – first in the league for three-point percentage against – and encouraging contested twos) than they had in seasons past and were definitely a better defensive team than they ever were under Vinny Del Negro.
Rivers presence also accelerated the progression of DeAndre Jordan, who developed from an athletic shot blocker into a serious defensive presence around the rim, finishing third in Defensive Player of the Year voting and narrowly missing All-Defensive Second Team selection.
Jordan finished the season averaging 10.4 points at 67.6% from the floor (first in the league), 13.6 rebounds (first) and 2.5 blocks (third) per game.
Most notably, Jordan was able to increase his minutes per game from 24.5 a season ago to 35.0 this season, which was a massive bonus for Rivers and helped hide the Clippers lack of frontcourt depth.
Meanwhile, Jamal Crawford, who was voted Sixth Man of the Year, gave the Clippers an excellent scoring option for their second unit, averaging 18.6 points per game for the season.
Likewise, the hustle and all-around game of Matt Barnes (9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds), solid backup point guard play of Darren Collison (11.4 points and 3.7 assists) and early-season sharpshooting of JJ Redick (15.2 points, 39.5% 3FG) were crucial parts to Los Angeles’ dynamic offence.
Some of their midseason acquisitions (Hedo Turkoglu, Stephen Jackson and Sasha Vujacic) didn’t quite pan out, but Danny Granger and Glen “Big Baby” Davis provided some veteran depth down the stretch.
Most Valuable Player
The NBA has developed into a point guard’s league.
Every successful team has an elite offensive coordinator running the point and as far as elite point guards come, they don’t get much better than Paul.
The former New Orleans Hornet had another fantastic season, averaging 19.1 points, 10.7 assists (first in Association), 2.5 steals (first) and 4.3 rebound per game and recorded the sixth-best Player Efficiency Rating in the league (25.9).
Paul’s standout play did not go unnoticed, earning his seventh All-Star selection and All-NBA First Team and All-Defensive First Team honours in his third season as a Clipper.
Not many players have so dramatically turned around the fortunes of a struggling franchise. While the high-flying frontcourt presence of Griffin and Jordan might catch the eye of the casual fan, Paul’s veteran leadership and composure running Los Angeles’ offence is what gave the team the legitimacy it had been lacking for years.
Baron Davis may have been just as capable to lob balls to Griffin and Jordan, but he couldn’t orchestrate an offence capable of winning 57 games in the Western Conference.
The year before CP3 arrived in Lob City, the Clippers won 32 games, in his first season with the team that total increased to 40 and the team made the playoffs for the only the second time in 15 years, year two LA won a franchise-record 56 games and this season that total was bumped to 57.
So, the improvement Paul has brought with him is obvious.
The next goal will be to make a deeper playoff run – the Clippers have experienced two first-round eliminations and a second-round exit during Paul’s tenure with the franchise – but Los Angeles definitely has the pieces to hit that target.
And at the forefront of it all will be their star point guard.
Paul might be the captain of the ship in Los Angeles, but the development of Griffin has been crucial to the Clippers climbing the standings.
The high-flying former Sooner has been a 20-point, 10-rebound machine since day one, but has often been criticised as a one-dimensional player that has benefited from the situation he found himself in.
However, this season, Griffin has put those critics to the sword as he has enjoyed his most well-rounded and successful season of his young career, making his fourth consecutive All-Star appearance, earning All-NBA Second Team honours and finishing third in MVP voting – Griffin and Steph Curry were the only players other than eventual MVP Kevin Durant to earn Player of the Month honours in the Western Conference.
Throughout the season, Griffin showcased a better rounded offensive arsenal, showing off his slick ball handling, improved jump shooting and averaging a career-high 24.1 points per game (sixth in the league).
Defences found it harder to key in on Griffin, as he developed a reliable midrange jumper.
This season, Griffin shot 41.5% from 10-16 feet (up from 35.8% last season) and 37.5% from 16 feet to the three-point line (34.0%). Meanwhile, BG’s often criticized free throw shooting – a career 64.0% shooter from the line – improved to 71.5% this season, allowing him to be a valuable late-game contributor for the first time in his career.
Along with his elite points production, Griffin averaged 3.9 assists (third amongst power forwards) and 9.5 rebounds (16th in the Association), shot 52.8% from the floor (16th) and finished with a Player Efficiency Rating of 23.9 (ninth – better than the likes of Dirk Nowitzki and James Harden) for the season.
Meanwhile, he continued to embarrass defenders on the daily with his ridiculous athleticism.
Griffin also proved he was capable of leading his team on his own, carrying the Clippers to a 12-6 record with Paul on the sidelines, upping his scoring to 27.5 per game during that stretch.
The scariest part of it all is that Griffin is still just 25 years old.
This year, Griffin was also added to Team USA’s 2014-16 roster. The prospect of the former dunk champ training, mingling and learning from the game’s elite should have Clippers fans salivating at the level Griffin might be able to push his game to next season.
The Clippers had only one pick in the upcoming draft, selecting Washington senior, CJ Wilcox, 28th overall. Wilcox is an excellent shooter, averaging 39.1% from deep to go with 18.3 points a night in his final year with the Huskies, but the Clippers are already well stocked at the two guard, so it was a somewhat unusual selection – all signs point to a trade involving one of their guards.
Los Angeles already have a playoff-ready team, but they could stand to make some key veteran additions to turn them into a championship-ready team.
All of last season, the lack of frontcourt depth in LA was clear. So much so that Big Baby was a key contributor down the stretch.
Next season, the Clippers are already over the projected salary cap of $63 million to the tune of $9 million.
Regardless, this offseason, a defensive-minded backup centre should be at the top of the Clippers shopping list. The likes of Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Andersen will be on the market and should come a relative bargain price.
Meanwhile, the Donald Sterling saga looks to finally be reaching a conclusion, with former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer forking out $2 billion to take over control of the franchise.
Ballmer has deep pockets, but don’t expect him to splash him wealth on a multitude of signings just yet. This season, Los Angeles will need to pay the luxury tax for the first time and Ballmer would be smart to shed some salary, rather than take on more, so as to avoid the repeater tax penalty in coming seasons.
However, some savvy front office moves – like moving the salary of Jared Dudley and maybe even Matt Barnes or Reggie Bullock – would free up space to add some depth to their roster.
There is no need for the Clippers to make any majors moves this offseason. They already have their star point guard, a burgeoning superstar forward and an explosive rim protector. The San Antonio Spurs showed the league that winning a title revolves as much around building a complete team as it does about accumulating superstars. Los Angeles would be wise to follow a similar structure and bring in as many professionals that will buy into Rivers’ system as they can and build from there.
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