Jan 17, 2013, 9:58 AM EST
The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we look at the maturation of the Los Angeles Clippers.
For years and years, the Los Angeles Clippers were a failure on a systemic level. The on-court talent was faced with the permanent uphill battle of overcoming the ineptness of the franchise’s negligent caretaker and owner, Donald Sterling.
Very rarely did the whole overcoming thing actually happen. It happened so infrequently, actually, that calling the Clippers the worst franchise in professional sports wasn’t mud slinging, but rather an accurate moniker.
When the Clippers acquired Chris Paul last year, he understood the gravity of his decision to adopt the abused franchise as his own. Being great on the court simply wouldn’t be enough — he would have to be the new caretaker, the franchise’s new parent. After all, Sterling sure as hell wasn’t doing it, and for as great as Blake Griffin was, he was still just a kid trying to figure out his own game. The responsibility was squarely on Paul’s shoulders.
Like most new parents, Paul accepted that responsibility with a type of fervor that could be considered, at times, a little overbearing. The Clippers were now an extension of Paul, so everything was watched and controlled with an overly careful eye that only a great point guard can possess.
During their inaugural season together, the Clippers would often stumble through three quarters to teams with less talent, only to hope, or know, that Paul would bail them out in the last few minutes. And more often than not, Paul would play the role of both hero and enabler and come through.
The Clippers had managed to become a very good team throughout that process, but all their hopes stayed completely dependent on Paul’s performance. The rest of the team was generally incapable of any real success without Paul holding their hand, and in some ways, Paul was at least partially responsible for allowing the team to establish such a heavy dependence on his late game offensive heroics.
The playoff sweep at the hands of the Spurs was a reflection of this. With Paul banged up and limited by a defense hellbent on stopping him, the Clippers had little else to fall back on in terms of both experience and scheme. While they had ultimately changed for the better with Paul as a parent during that first season, the Clippers as a whole still had yet to mature.
With the guidance of Paul, the Clippers went into the offseason looking to speed up that maturation process. Their youngest substantial free agent signing was 32-year-old Jamal Crawford. They brought in traveled players like Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes, and secured Chauncey Billups as the first act of business.
Those signings obviously matured the team on paper, but it was Paul who did the actual advancing. Instead of conserving energy for when his heroics would be needed in the fourth quarter like the prior season, Paul changed his approach this year by using his energy right away so the team wouldn’t need him at all — a real “teach a man to fish” move.
Behind Paul’s inspired first quarter play, the Clippers have had a much improved defense (18th in defensive efficiency last year to 4th this season), thanks to the example he’s established. If you flip to a telecast of a Clippers game in the fourth quarter this year, there’s a decent chance Paul will be seated on the bench, watching a suffocating second unit put the bow on another blowout win because Paul did his damage so early.
Playing that hard defensively early on accomplished a few different things for the Clippers. It made them the league’s most dominant defense against opposing point guards, something they can really hang their hat on. It sent the message that he trusted the depth behind him. It emphasized the importance of no player taking possessions off. The Clippers aren’t accomplishing what they are defensively with a scheme like Chicago’s or Boston’s — it’s almost all driven by effort.
A test for the Clippers’ progress defensively came about rather recently when they traveled to Memphis for another game in a long line of slugfests. This time, however, they’d be without their biggest puncher in Paul, who was sidelined with a knee injury.
How did they respond? Well, the Clippers held the Grizzlies to 30 percent shooting and destroyed them in their own house, 99-73. True to form, the game was essentially over in the third quarter.
On the very next night, the Clippers headed to Houston. All the excuses were readily available — they were on a back-to-back, on the road, without Chris Paul, against the league’s fastest team. But they won big again, going up by as much as 20 early in the fourth quarter before cruising the rest of the way.
An interesting narrative popped up after the impressive victories. How could Chris Paul be considered a real MVP candidate if his team was great — maybe even better — without him in the lineup for a few games? It’s a direct hit to the “valuable” part of the equation, isn’t it?
When considering that, I can’t help but be reminded of the conclusion of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher In The Rye.” The “little brother” of Los Angeles is reaching for that ring, and while Paul is still responsible for the Clippers, he’s mature enough to know that his teammates won’t learn anything if he does everything himself. He’s mature enough to know that repeatedly gearing up and saving them in the moment last year didn’t actually save the Clippers from anything at all.
It’s true, the Clippers don’t need Chris Paul in every waking moment anymore. It’s clear that they’ve grown out of that.
And if that’s not a reflection on Paul’s value, I don’t know what it is.
Dec 10, 2013, 10:16 AM EST
Our own D.J. Foster asked this question in the Extra Pass this morning and he is not the only one: What is the point of the divisions in the NBA anymore? Teams don’t play the other teams in their division more than other teams now — the NBA has a “balanced schedule” where teams play…
Dec 10, 2013, 8:46 AM EST
Rudy who? The shorthanded Kings played well and put on a show in a win over Dallas Monday night. The highlight of that show? Isaiah Thomas on the fast break going off-the-backboard with the pass to Derrick Williams for the finish. Thomas had 24 points and 12 assists, Williams had a career-high 31 points in…
Dec 10, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
Five ideas that could help make the NBA even greater: Offensive Goaltending: Let’s get rid of it. The “in the cylinder” call is routinely one of the toughest for refs to get right on the floor, and we know how the subsequent huddle and review process can suck the life out of a game. If it…
Dec 10, 2013, 3:14 AM EST
Here is our nightly look at some of the noteworthy things around the NBA, the things you missed while glued to a toilet seat at Home Depot. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings. Note to Rudy Gay: Get this guy the ball. Not like you did with Jonas Valanciunas — actually get Cousins the rock. Cousins…
Dec 10, 2013, 12:02 AM EST
Not sure I have ever seen this before. Early in the Clippers eventual easy win over the Sixers Chris Paul puts up a shot and because DeAndre Jordan‘s man had rotated over to help on the drive it left Tony Wroten — all 6’5″, 205 five of him — trying to keep Jordan off the…
Dec 9, 2013, 10:05 PM EST
Al Harrington, who at 33 has been battling knee issues since last season when he has an infection in there, issues that have kept him out since Nov. 12, is now going to be out a while longer. Harrington had knee surgery again on Monday and will be out at least a month, the Wizards…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:24 PM EST
Tyreke Evans drove to attack Kevin Durant off the dribble Friday night — Evans had been very aggressive all game, largely carrying the reserves in the first half — he went up for the shot and when he can down he sprained his ankle. That sprain is going to keep him out a week, maybe…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:20 PM EST
Kobe Bryant is back with the Lakers and frankly that’s just good for the NBA — it’s a star driven league and it needs its elite players on the court. That said Kobe looked rusty and his teammates clearly were not used to playing with him in the Lakers loss to the Raptors Sunday. Kay…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:39 PM EST
The Milwaukee Bucks were already without Larry Sanders, who needed surgery to repair torn ligaments in his hand after a bar fight, and now this. Zaza Pachulia will be out at least four weeks with a broken bone in his foot, coach Larry Drew announced Monday. It is the calcaneus bone, what most of us…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:01 PM EST
As we told you earlier was likely to happen, Stephen Jackson has agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Clippers. For one, Doc Rivers confirmed it to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times. Second, Jackson himself posted this on Instagram. The Clippers need some depth on the wing because J.J. Redick is out with…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:03 PM EST
“I think the last time I had eight months off I was still in the womb.” —Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, talking about the eight months he was forced out of action due to his ruptured Achilese. Bryant, as his his nature, had to work hard to get back on the court 240 days after…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:53 PM EST
The general rule of thumb is 20 games into the season you can start to really trust the stats and the trends — in which case it’s good to be a Portland Trail Blazers fan. They move into the top slot with their recent wins over Indiana and OKC. 1. Trail Blazers (17-4, Last Week…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:08 PM EST
Knicks fans could use a little good news, so we’re here to help out. Tyson Chandler’s return from a broken leg should be here in the next few weeks. Chandler returned to practice on Monday, in a limited role, then told reporters he thought he would be back before New Year’s Day, as tweeted by…
Dec 9, 2013, 3:15 PM EST
Minnesota’s Corey Brewer, you’re the next contestant on “pay some money to NBA Charities for flopping!” The league announced Monday that Brewer has been fined $5,000 for his second flopping offense of the season. His first came against the Knicks earlier in the year, this new one was against the Heat on Saturday, when he…
Dec 9, 2013, 2:39 PM EST
Memphis extended the contract of Quincy Pondexter this summer thinking they had secured a solid outside shooter they desperately needed at a fair price. Now they may have lost him for the season. An MRI Monday revealed a tarsal navicular stress fracture in his right foot, the team announced. That’s a small bone near the…
Dec 9, 2013, 1:59 PM EST
Dwight Howard turned 28 on Sunday. (Maybe that’s why Kobe decided to not play Friday and wait until Sunday… nah.) Howard celebrated by dropping 20 points and grabbing 22 rebounds on his old Orlando Magic team (you knew he’d be up for that game) then the team went out bowling with his Rockets’ teammates —…
Dec 9, 2013, 1:07 PM EST
In case you can’t get enough Kobe Bryant comeback we are here to help. Nike released a Kobe Bryant comeback commercial on the day of his return to the Lakers lineup, which you can see above. In case you didn’t know and it wasn’t already obvious, Nike is a Kobe sponsor and he has his…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:55 PM EST
Tuesday night the Nets could get Paul Pierce and Deron Williams back on the court. Which would be a nice first step toward turning Brooklyn’s tire fire of a season around. Both Pierce and Williams went through practice on Monday, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com. We knew Williams was close to returning, however Pierce…
Dec 9, 2013, 12:01 PM EST
This was easily my favorite highlight of Sunday night. In the fourth quarter of the Lakers loss to the Raptors Sunday, Nick Young got the ball in a transition attempt before the defense set, Young got the ball in the right corner, attacked along the baseline and as he got close to the basket Jonas…
Dec 9, 2013, 11:19 AM EST
Getting Rudy Gay in a trade from Toronto was not a sign the Kings want to make a run at the playoffs right now in the West — they are one of just two teams in a deep conference with no real shot at the postseason (Utah is the other). No, this was about future…
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