Where Do the Los Angeles Clippers Go From Here?
The Los Angeles Clippers are coming off a historic collapse, losing three straight games to the Houston Rockets after holding a 3-1 series lead.
In a stacked Western Conference, the Clippers were able to win 56 games, yet Chris Paul and company once again exited the postseason early.
So it begs the question: where do the Clippers go from here?
The Future in Los Angeles
Since Paul joined the Clippers for the 2011-12 season, the Clippers have made the playoffs every year, winning at least 50 games in the past three seasons. “Lob City” showed it could be an offensive juggernaut, ranking in the top five in Offensive Rating all four years.
This year, the team appeared to have put it all together. Following two big wins over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, our power rankings had ranked them second in the NBA and gave them a 20 percent chance of winning the championship.
While Golden State struggled early to put away the Grizzlies, the Clippers won three of four over the Rockets and were anointed by many the hottest team in the NBA.
And yet after an epic collapse in Game 5, the Clippers appeared listless in their next two games, had another epic collapse in Game 6, and became just the ninth team in history to lose a series after taking a 3-1 advantage.
The DeAndre Jordan Dilemma
Jordan’s departure would be a definite loss for the team, but not in the way most people think. After leading the NBA in Defensive Win Shares with 5.4 on the season and earning NBA All-Defensive First Team nods, there is no doubt that Jordan is one of the best defenders in the NBA. He also grabbed a full 32.4 percent of all available defensive rebounds when he was on the court this past season, best in the the NBA.
Even still, his value on defense is hard to discern.
With Jordan off the court this past season, the Clippers held opponents to 1.062 points per possession. With him on the bench, that number went up, but only slightly, to 1.072. Opponents’ average shot distances were about a foot farther back with Jordan on the floor and the Effective Field Goal Percentages were pretty much the same (49.5 percent with him on the floor and 48.8 percent without him).
Jordan may be one of the NBA’s best, but his on-court impact is hard to pinpoint. On offense, that’s not the case.
Contrary to public belief, Jordan is much more valuable to Los Angeles on offense. The Clippers scored at a rate of 1.167 points per possession when he’s on the court, which would put them far and away the best team in the NBA. That number drops to a measly 1.028 with him on the bench, good for 15th best in the league.
With Jordan predominantly playing at the rim (92 percent of his shots come from within three feet), the Clippers shoot much better with him on the floor. Overall, the team shoots a full six percentage points better when he’s playing. The Clippers’ three point shooters connect much better with Jordan requiring defensive attention, converting 39.5 percent of their attempts compared with only 31.4 percent without Jordan.
Jordan has proved to be an iron man in the NBA; he hasn’t missed a game since 2011, starting every game for four straight seasons.
Also, Jordan ranked fifth in our nERD rating system. nERD indicates how many wins above or below .500 a team could expect to finish with a given player as a starter. Jordan posted a nERD of 14.1 in the regular season, highest among all centers and fifth in the NBA.
With or Without Jordan
Undoubtedly, losing him would be huge. While the defense may not suffer as much as many would think, Lob City would no longer be an elite offense without its high flying center. But even with keeping him, the Clippers may still not have enough talent to get much deeper in the playoffs.
With Chris Paul on the wrong side of the 30, the Clippers may not get much better in the coming years. Even with the growth of Blake Griffin and Jordan, the Clippers actually regressed this past season, posting a similar Offensive Rating (112.4 this season compared to 112.1 last year) and a slightly worse Defensive Rating (105.5) than they did last season (104.8). The team’s nERD increased significantly after Paul’s first season (from 59.6 to 70.4) and increased to 73.9 last year. This season, it dropped to 71.7.
Aside from Jordan, the Clippers don’t have many parts that could be on their way out. Hedo Turkoglu, who started just two games for the Clippers all year and averaged 11 minutes in 64 games, may be leaving as well as Glen Davis, who averaged 13.
Jamal Crawford, the potent yet inefficient scorer, will be back for next season as will J.J. Redick, who continues to excel offensively alongside Paul. With the two of them on the court, team averaged 1.186 points per possession, compared to .992 with them on the bench. Redick is locked up for another three years, but like Paul, he’ll be over 30 next year and signs of age may begin to show.
If the Clippers were in the East, we could be looking at a different story. The team won 56 games, but went 19-22 against .500 or better teams in the regular season, including 3-9 against the four teams in the semifinals. The Clippers will likely continue a similar pattern the next couple years, winning 50 games while beating up lottery teams and struggling against playoff opponents.
If DeAndre Jordan leaves and Chris Paul’s age begins to show, then the Clippers could once again be looking at an extended stay in the lottery.