After being dominated by the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Clippers have “reloaded” their roster with veteran players. Can this team contend for supremacy in the Western Conference?
Chris Paul made a huge difference last season, turning the Clippers into a 40-win team (realistically, a 49.6-win team in an 82 game season) after they won just 32 games the season before. A big reason they were swept by the Spurs was because Paul struggled (12.8 points per game and 36.8% shooting).
But that was last season. The Clippers have an older new look to them. They will get sharp-shooter Chauncey Billups back, after Billups ruptured his Achilles tendon last season. They added veterans Lamar Odom, who had one helluva season in Dallas last season (not really), Grant Hill, and Jamal Crawford. For Odom, this is where it all began. He was selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Clippers. And for Hill, this is where it might end. At age 39, and many surgeries, Hill is probably in his last year of playing at an NBA-level.
Blake Griffin should be 100% after he had knee surgery back in August that prevented him from playing on the U.S. Men’s Olympic team. I really hope Griffin added some substance to his game. I am sick of all the flashy dunk highlights. It’s been proven that that stuff doesn’t win championships. After signing a huge contract, he needs to prove that he is indeed a franchise player and not just a highlight-reel.
Even though the Los Angeles Lakers stole the summer headlines when they traded for Dwight Howard and signed Steve Nash, I still think the Clippers’ roster is better, overall. Call me crazy, but that’s what I see.
Point guard(s) – Chris Paul: In one season, he has already proven his value to a team that struggled before he came in the trade. Just imagine if he played with an all-around talented power forward, like Kevin Love, instead of Griffin. I think the Clips would be title contenders if you flipped those two players. But nonetheless, Paul will put up solid stats across the board, be in the MVP discussion and lead his team to 50 or more wins this season.
Eric Bledsoe will back up Paul.
Position Grade: A+
Shooting guard(s) – Chauncey Billups: The Clips get a big-time shooter back after his season was cut short due to an injury last season. Billups has been around the block, knows how to play, when to take the big shot, and when to get on his teammates. This “addition” will prove invaluable to the Clips if all of their pieces perform like I think they will. Billups is big time.
Jamal Crawford will back up Billups. Willie Green will also see some back up minutes.
Position Grade: B
Small forward(s) – Caron Butler: To put it nicely, I was extremely disappointed with Butler last season. His numbers were sub-par and he was non-existent in the playoffs. I think he will bounce-back this season or I could see management looking to deal him at the deadline. He is under contract for two more years, but that doesn’t mean he will be around that long.
Matt Barnes will back up Butler.
Position Grade: B-
Power forward(s) – Blake Griffin: We all know he has extreme limitations on the offensive side of the ball, but he is also a below-average defender, something most people don’t notice about him. Yes, he produces cool highlights, but when it’s time to ball, he is a deficiency on the court. He can’t shoot free-throws and you would get fired if you thought you could go to him in crunch-time. If he has worked on his jumper, I suggest he show us.
Lamar Odom will back up Griffin.
Position Grade: B+
Center(s) – DeAndre Jordan: He is the other liability on this team. I think he has only made two baskets outside of the paint in his entire NBA career, but let’s throw $10.5 mil at him for four years (good one, Donald Sterling). He is a solid defender, but that is where the compliments end for Jordan. If you don’t mind, I am going to stop talking about him, too.
Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins will compete for minutes behind Jordan.
Position Grade: C+
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Chris Paul
G: Chauncey Billups
F: Caron Butler
F: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
Starting Lineup Grade: B+
G: Eric Bledsoe
G: Jamal Crawford
F: Grant Hill
F: Lamar Odom
Bench Grade: B-
Coaching Grade: B- (Vinny Del Negro)
This is my surprise pick: Clippers to win the Pacific Division. They will be the 3rd seed in the Western Conference.