Jan 17, 2013, 9:58 AM EDT
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.
Aug 1, 2014, 1:35 AM EDT
“Nothing to see here. Move along.”
Aug 1, 2014, 12:05 AM EDT
Bosh was very close to leaving Miami in free agency,
Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver engage in three-point shooting contest at USA Basketball mini-camp (VIDEO)
Jul 31, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver engaged in a shooting contest at USA Basketball mini-camp in Vegas.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:05 PM EDT
Mason Plumlee and DeMarcus Cousins will be on opposing teams in Friday’s exhibition.
Derrick Rose was aggressive in pursuit of free agent Pau Gasol. Recruiting Carmelo Anthony? Not so much.
Jul 31, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT
Tensions reportedly exist between Rose and the Bulls front office.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:01 PM EDT
USA roster has more than enough talent, so it can afford to sacrifice some to get positive attitudes in place.
If traded before World Cup starts could Kevin Love still play for USA? Colangelo said it’s possible.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
Don’t bet on it happening. But it’s not impossible.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
It’s the memory of a lifetime… even if you get embarrassed.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Mark Madsen and Paul Pressey also reportedly candidates for Byron Scott’s staff
Jul 31, 2014, 4:31 PM EDT
Watch this and remember why you love basketball.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Wall raising expectations after Wizards met last season’s playoff goal
Jul 31, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT
Jul 31, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Does China really know what it’s getting here?
Jul 31, 2014, 1:51 PM EDT
As tight as he is with Kidd, do you really think Payton would choose Milwaukee over Los Angeles?
Jul 31, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Milwaukee, with Damien Inglis in limbo, now facing roster crunch
Jul 31, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Like most “feuds,” once two rational people sit down and talk for a minute, everything dissipates.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT
That means he’s signing with the Wizards, right?
Jul 31, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
Barring another move, Toronto down to one roster spot for Lucas Nogueira or DeAndre Daniels
Jul 31, 2014, 10:41 AM EDT
“We think he’s one of the top players in the league and we need for him to be that five that nobody has.” —Mike Krzyzewski on Anthony Davis
Jul 31, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Palmer to marry celebrity hair stylist Tanya Stine
- Bulls owner issues statement refuting rift between Bulls front office, Derrick Rose 4
- If traded before World Cup starts could Kevin Love still play for USA? Colangelo said it’s possible. 2
- Anthony Davis steps into spotlight, is Team USA’s lynchpin 17
- Referee Violet Palmer comes out publicly as gay 45
- Report: Cavaliers last team standing in Kevin Love trade talks 89
- Pat Riley says he didn’t think LeBron was leaving, Heat can turn around quickly 61
- Coach K on Rose: “Derrick’s played great, not good, and hasn’t held anything back” 30
- Report: Anthony Bennett pulled from pro-am by agent, possibly due to his inclusion in Kevin Love trade talks 43