NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #4 Los Angeles Clippers
This NBA offseason has been very eventful and the preseason is now in full swing. To help hoops junkies with the transition from the lull of summer back to competitive basketball, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 4th-ranked Los Angeles Clippers!
In the first year with Doc Rivers leading the show, the Clippers had their best season in franchise history. Their 57 wins were the most ever for the franchise, as was their 69.5% win percentage. The Clippers' offense - led by the dynamic duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin - not only scored the most points per game in the league last year, but posted the highest offensive rating in the history of the franchise. Los Angeles also won their second division title in the past two years, a feat which the franchise had never accomplished prior to 2013.
As good as the Clippers were last season, they still could not make it past the more experienced Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs. With another year of experience under the belts' of Griffin and fellow big man DeAndre Jordan, Lob City has as high expectations as any team in the league this season. What are their chances of breaking through and winning a title? Let's see what our algorithms have to say.
Projected Record: 51-30
Western Conference Rank: 3rd
NBA Rank: 4th
Playoff Chances: 88.41%
Championship Chances: 10.69%
Considering how loaded the Western Conference is, our algorithms actually have the Clippers slightly regressing from last season. We project Los Angeles to finish the season with a 51-30 record, ranking third in the West and fourth in the NBA. However, we do project them to win the Pacific Conference, which would give them their third conference championship in as many years.
Los Angeles returns their entire starting lineup the majority of their core players from a year ago. This is spectacular news if you are a Clippers fan considering last year's team was the greatest squad in franchise history. With Paul and Griffin leading the way, Los Angeles should once again be an elite offensive unit but will look to improve on last season's average defensive numbers. The Clippers were only a few wins away from the Western Conference finals despite battling through the controversy surrounding their former owner Donald Sterling. With new ownership in place and a team loaded with talent, the Clippers will look to push for the franchise's first ever NBA title this season.
As I already mentioned, the Clippers return their entire starting lineup from a year ago, but did have some shake ups on their bench. The biggest blow was losing their backup point guard and fifth-highest scorer, Darren Collison, to the Kings in free agency. The reigning Pacific Division champs also traded Jared Dudley, who surprisingly played the seventh-most minutes on the team last season, and a first round pick to the Bucks for Carlos Delfino (who they later cut) and prospect Miroslav Raduljica (who will play in China this season).
The big offseason move for Los Angeles was to bring in Spencer Hawes to play behind Jordan at center. Hawes brings seven years of experience and much needed depth to a Clippers' frontcourt that was very thin behind Griffin and Jordan last season. Additionally, Hawes is extremely versatile. He will be used to stretch the floor and knock down jumpers when on the floor together with DJ and can act as the anchor of the defense when on the floor with Blake.
In order to fill the role of CP3's backup that Collison left behind, the Clippers also brought in veteran Jordan Farmar, who won't even need to move houses after playing for the Lakers last season. The former Laker will act as the pass-first point guard to compliment Jamal Crawford on the Clippers' second unit. Farmar also adds invaluable championship pedigree and playoff experience.
Three Burning Questions
Can DeAndre Jordan solidify the Clippers' proverbial "Big Three"?
Chris Paul has been a superstar for years and Blake Griffin had a true breakout season last year, but the Clippers' player that I'm most intrigued about is DeAndre Jordan. In his sixth year in the league, Jordan had by far the best year of his career last season - setting career highs in minutes (35 per game), points (10.4), rebounds (13.6 per game), assists (0.9 per game) and blocks (2.5 per game). Jordan also finished tenth in the league in nERD - a stat that measures the value a player adds to his team over the course of the entire season.
At six-foot, 11-inches tall and 250 with a seven-foot, six-inch wingspan and 30.5-inch vertical leap, Jordan is an absolute physical freak. The Clippers' big man leveraged his size and athleticism to become one of the best defensive players in the league last season. DJ led the league in rebounds, finished third in blocks per game, eighth in defensive rating (98.4) and third in defensive win shares (5.8).
But as great as he was on defense last season, there is still a great deal of room for improvement in Jordan's overall game. The Clippers' center was dominant at times, but also had games where he would simply disappear on the offensive end. If the Clippers are going to compete for a title, DJ will have to expand his offensive game.
Although Jordan did finish fifth in the league in offensive rating at 120.8 and led the league in field goal percentage at 67.6%, those numbers are so spectacular largely in part to the fact that 53.6% of the field goals he made were dunks. That is the highest percentage of the league by a wide margin. If DJ is able to become more than just a dunker on the offensive end, he could make a Clippers' offense which already scored the most points per game in the league even stronger.
Jordan emerging as a superstar alongside Paul and Griffin will give Los Angeles their own edition of the big three. Will that be enough to lead them over the likes of the Thunder and Spurs in the playoffs? That is not something I can guarantee, but I can promise you that it will make them an incredibly dangerous team even in the stacked Western Conference.
Will the Clippers' second unit be strong enough after the departure of Darren Collison?
After accounting for a whopping 25% of the 3,638 points scored by players outside of the Clippers' starting five of Paul, Griffin, Jordan, Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick, Collison signed a three-year, $16-million contract to be the Kings' starting point guard. The good news for the Clippers' is that they still have Crawford who accounted for more than 35% of Los Angeles' points from non-starters, but replacing Collison's 11.4 points and 3.7 assists - as well as Jared Dudley and Danny Granger's combined 14.9 points per game - will be no easy task.
As I mentioned earlier, Hawes was the Clippers' biggest offseason addition. He will be tasked with filling much of the void left behind by Collison, Dudley and Granger. Hawes has averaged double figures in points each of the past two years and four of his last six. He's also averaged more than seven rebounds and two assists per game each of the past three years. I don't necessarily expect the Clippers' new center to put up numbers quite that big considering he put up those numbers as a starter and he will assume the role of backup in L.A., but Hawes' 15.3 points per 36 minutes was only 0.6 less than Collison's 15.9 so he should be able to fill in admirably, albeit in a different role.
Adding Farmar to the roster should be a huge addition to the Clippers' bench as well. Farmar has averaged double-digit points in each of the past two years and has put up more than three assists per game each of the past three years, including 4.9 last season. CP3's new backup should bring a skill-set that better compliments the pieces around him than Collison and Dudley did. Although Farmar doesn't score at quite the same rate that Collison did he brings more of a pass-first mentality to the Clippers, something they could use alongside Hawes and Crawford, who has never seen a shot he didn't like.
While the additions of Hawes and Farmar should replace the lost production, the rest of the Clippers' supporting cast will have to improve in order for the team to reach it's championship aspirations. Outside of Crawford, Hawes and Farmar, Glen Davis is the player on Los Angeles' bench who averaged the most points per game last season at just 4.2 per game and his role is set to diminish with the addition of Hawes. Unless guys like Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ekpe Udoh, Hedo Turkoglu and rookie C.J. Wilcox step up and take some of the pressure off of their starting unit it will be incredibly difficult for the Clippers to contend with the Western Conference's elite come playoff time.
Can the Clippers' defense improve enough to win an NBA title?
The Clippers' defense was pretty good last season. As a team, they ranked ninth in the league in defensive rating at 104.8 and 14th in opposing points per game at 101. Those rankings are certainly not bad by any means, but they aren't spectacular either. When you have the number one scoring offense in the NBA it is easy to mask some of your defensive deficiencies, but if the Clippers' want to push for that elusive championship they will have to show some improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
Only two teams - the 2009 Lakers and the 2006 Heat - have won an NBA title while finishing outside of the top 10 in opposing points per game. The Lakers finished 13th in the league allowing 99.3 points per game and the Heat finished 14th, giving up 96 points per game. The last team to hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy after allowing opponents to score more than 100 points per game was the 1995 Houston Rockets nearly two decades ago. This means that while it is possible for the Clippers' to win a championship without improving their defense it is certainly unlikely.
Although, as I mentioned earlier, DeAndre Jordan was among the league's best defensive players last season, Los Angeles relied too heavily on him on the defensive end last season. Jordan was the only Clipper who played more than 10 minutes on the season to post a defensive rating under 100. That means other than DJ, every player on the Clippers who played more than 10 minutes last season allowed their opponent to score more than 100 points per every 100 possessions. That is not very good. Additionally, Hawes has only posted a defensive rating less than 100 once in his career and Farmar has never accomplished that feat.
If the defending Pacific Division champs are able to show some defensive improvement on an individual level, specifically on the perimeter, Jordan will be forced to help off of his man less often. This will take some of the pressure off of the Clippers' center and help him grow as both an offensive player and one-on-one defender. Los Angeles is already a good defensive team, but tightening up their one-on-one defense could make them a get them under that 100-points against mark. Allowing two points less per game may seem insignificant, but those two points could make the difference between a second round playoff exit and an NBA title.
Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch
PG/SG Jamal Crawford (Yahoo O-Rank: 107)
Crawford played a major role in the Clippers' offense last season and should have just as big, if not a bigger role this season with Collison gone. Additionally, his value should only increase now that he will be paired with the Clippers' new pass-first backup point guard, Farmar. The Clippers' sixth man is a pure scorer who can give you 30 points on any given night and can be a huge plus-player in all scoring categories, but provides little else for your fantasy team. Despite not contributing much in assists, rebounds and defensive categories, Crawford still managed to finish as the 72nd-ranked player in standard scoring formats.
I've seen the Clippers' guard fall as far as the 9th or even 10th round in many drafts and even selected outside of the top-100 overall players. There is little reason to believe that Crawford will produce lesser numbers than he did last season and there is a strong chance that he has an even better season than last year. In fact, we have him projected as 62nd overall fantasy option this season. Crawford is a steal in the eight or ninth round of drafts if you need to add some offense into your lineup.
SF Matt Barnes (Yahoo O-Rank: 118)
(108 in nF rankings) Here's another under-rated fantasy option who can bring you a ton of value on draft day. Barnes is a stat-sheet filler who contributes in all facets of the game. The Clippers' forward is not a volume scorer, but is an efficient offensive player who crashes the boards and shares the ball. He's also a strong defender who contributes steals and blocks as well, which means that by drafting Barnes you are not really punting on any specific category. What also makes Barnes an interesting draft target to me is the lack of depth behind him. With Reggie Bullock, Douglas-Roberts and Turkoglu as the only other true wing players on the Clippers' roster, Barnes could be forced into an increase in minutes this season which can only mean even greater fantasy value. Barnes makes a great late-round glue guy who will rarely disappoint.