Prior to the start of the season, there were some who thought the Los Angeles Clippers were an NBA Finals threat after they acquired Chris Paul.And although they’ve been in contention for a top-four Western Conference seed for most of the season, the Clips have disappointed many preseason prognosticators.
In general, Los Angeles’ other NBA team has looked nothing but average.
Overall the Clippers have a record of 34-23, which would be enough for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs right now.
Against the NBA’s elite teams the Clippers are only 6-8, however. (We consider the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, and Memphis Grizzlies as elite teams.)
Statistically speaking, they have also been average.
The Clippers rank 12th in points per game and field goal percentage, and 13th in three-point field goal percentage. On the defensive side, Los Angeles is 13th in points per game allowed, and 14th in field goal percentage against.
Not terrible. But not nearly as great as everyone expected them to be.
So what’s been the biggest reason behind Los Angeles’ so-so play?
The Clippers have two big problems they haven’t been able to address all season long: they are second-to-last in free throw shooting at 68 per cent and don’t rebound well (ranked 16th in the NBA).
Regulars like Paul, Caron Butler, and Randy Foye are all good free throw shooters (above 80 per cent).
On the other hand, the Clippers’ big men who get the bulk of the minutes are TERRIBLE. Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Kenyon Martin all shoot less than 54 per cent from the line.
Teams are sure to exploit this weakness come playoff time by using bigger lineups and forcing Griffin and Jordan to get their points from the line.
As for the rebounding issue, roughly 50 per cent of the Clippers’ rebounds have come from Griffin, Jordan, and Martin since Martin joined the team mid-season.
Unfortunately for the Clippers there’s no quick fix to their free throw issues.
Like many productive big men before them, Griffin and Jordan simply stink at shooting from the charity strike. That’s a coaching and practice issue that has zero chance of being addressed during this year’s crammed schedule.
Conversely, there is a small change head coach Vinny Del Negro can make to his rotation that would fix the Clippers’ rebounding woes: give more playing time to forward Reggie Evans.
In limited minutes off the bench (14 per game), Evans brings down 5 rebounds per game, which is more than Martin does over a longer period of time (4 rebounds in 21 minutes per game).
In fact, Evans’ rebounding numbers per 36 minutes lead the team, with 12.7. And this is not over a small sample size, either, as Evans has played in 50 game so far.
From watching Clippers games this year we imagine Del Negro doesn’t use Evans as much because he provides little to no value on the offensive end. But with plenty of offence from other sources, Del Negro is hampering the Clippers’ chances of going deep in the playoffs by being so close minded.
If you look at the seven teams we labelled as elite, five of them are better rebounding teams than the Clippers.
The Clippers’ free throw shooting is a concern, but they can still get past some of the NBA’s great teams and go far in the playoffs if they just start rebounding a bit better.
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