NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Coach: Doc Rivers (fifth year)
Last Season: 51–31 (fifth in Western Conference)
Notable Additions: Patrick Beverley (trade), Danilo Gallinari (sign-and-trade), Milos Teodosic (free agency), Lou Williams (trade)
Notable Subtractions: Chris Paul (trade)
Vegas Over/Under: 43.5
Best-Case Scenario: Second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Clippers have had one of the best starting lineups in the league the past few seasons. The eye test proved it. The stats proved it. The playoff record, however, did not. Losing Chris Paul to the Rockets certainly doesn’t make the team better, but you can argue that the long-tortured franchise is a more well-rounded unit without him.
Case in point: the small-forward position. Danilo Gallinari, provided he remains healthy, may finally be the dynamic wing the Clippers have craved for years to round out their starting five. Last season, the first in which he played more than 60 games since 2012–13, Gallinari averaged more than 18 points per game on 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from 3. That last part is key — and not just for Gallinari.
Doc Rivers, speaking before a preseason game last week, said he expects Blake Griffin to “break through” this season with his 3-point shot. Think about that. The guy who came into the NBA as a high-flying dunker is now being asked to space the floor. But Griffin’s development post-Paul doesn’t end there. As The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks outlined, Griffin should be the lead facilitator of the offense now. Provided he stays healthy (notice the theme here), Griffin’s versatility and spacing can unlock this new Clippers team on offense.
In the backcourt, the addition of Patrick Beverley helps offset the loss of Paul on defense; Beverley also showed in the playoffs that he has the potential to shoot from long range. And of course there’s the legend of Milos Teodosic, who has already reached cult-hero status with his passing and flair. Whether Teodosic starts alongside Beverley over the very-average-but-younger Austin Rivers remains a question, but I’d be shocked if Milos’s minutes don’t rise as the season progresses. A pass-first guard with next-level instincts is exactly what Griffin and DeAndre Jordan need to jump-start a free-flowing offense.
The Clippers aren’t going to be great, their defense may be shoddy, and they’re not going to contend for the title. But if things break right, they have the talent to be competitive just below the cream of the crop in the West.
Worst-Case Scenario: They miss the playoffs and Griffin gets hurt again.
The collapse against the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of the 2015 Western Conference semis was the peak of the Clippers’ Greek tragedy. Things have only worsened since because of injuries to Griffin and Paul. Meanwhile, every team around the league seems to feel the same way that Rivers does toward every call.
When Paul was traded to Houston earlier this summer, reports circulated about the team’s discontent with his leadership style and his own toward the Austin-Doc dynamic. Couple that with the franchise’s ugly Donald Sterling era and the inevitable little-brother syndrome in Los Angeles, and you’re probably wondering how a true Clippers fan could ever still exist.
A new roster face-lift and the addition of a handful of fun players may be enough to inject some energy back into this team, maybe even reap success. But the shadow of repeated failure still looms over this franchise. True progress may not be achievable until the Clippers finally earn that long-awaited conference finals berth.
TL;DR: Pray for health, chemistry, and luck. Just not to the Point God.