State of the Franchise: Los Angeles Clippers
March 30, 2011 Leave a comment
Nobody is surprised to hear that the Los Angeles Clippers won’t qualify for the playoffs this season. However, I think more of you will be surprised when I say this:
Alright, maybe my problem is I’m a delusional Mets fan, and I like to see hope in everything (except the Pittsburgh Pirates). But, when looking closely at this roster, there is a lot of room for improvement from the pieces already in place. This team has moved on from players that were holding the future of this team back, including point guard Baron Davis, power forward Drew Gooden and swingman Al Thornton. Though all three of those players posted points per game above 10 in 2009-10, and Baron Davis seemed to be gelling in with the new system under new coach Vinny Del Negro, these players were holding back the youth that needed playing time to improve. This year, Clippers management gave ample time to the young players that needed.
No player has shocked NBA scouts more so than budding mega-star, forward Blake Griffin. The first overall pick in 2009, Griffin missed his first full season due to a ruptured knee cap that required surgery. Many throughout the league were worried that the injury would limit the explosiveness Griffin showcased while starring at Oklahoma.
Uh, I think his knee is fine.
Griffin is a virtual lock to win this year’s Rookie of the Year award, averaging 22.4 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists while playing a smidge under 38 minutes a night. He also averages 2.4 Top Plays on SportsCenter every night, a league-best. Adding to his growing legend, Griffin won the Slam Dunk contest by dunking over a car (sort of), appeared in the Sophomore/Rookie Challenge and became the first rookie to appear in the All-Star game since Yao Ming. Griffin has proven to everybody in the league that he is a piece to build around and establish as your franchise’s foundation.
What many casual NBA fans don’t know about these Clippers: they have pieces around Griffin in which to build.
To the surprise of many, Blake Griffin is not the Clippers’ leading scorer. That title belongs to third-year shooting guard Eric Gordon. A former Mr. Basketball from Indiana and a product of Coach K’s 2010 Team USA World Champion team, Gordon has developed his game to an All-Star level. Though he’s battled his share of injuries this year, resulting in missing 26 games, Gordon has posted 23.2 points (seven better than his previous career-high), 3.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists, shooting 37% from three-point range and 46.1% from the field, all career-highs. His outside shooting and drive to the basket mentality works perfectly with the inside presence of Griffin, crippling opposing defenses from focusing on either of the two elite talents.
Another player to fly under the radar in Los Angeles has been center DeAndre Jordan. A lottery-pick talent that fell into the Clippers lap in the second round of the 2008 draft, Jordan has been slow in his development out of Texas A&M. However, with starting center Chris Kaman missing significant portions of the season due to injury and the likes of Drew Gooden and Marcus Camby moving onto other teams in the off-season, Jordan got his first true exposure to the starting rotation full time. Starting 61 of the 72 games he’s appeared in, Jordan has posted 6.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and shooting 68.4% in 25 minutes of action a night, all career bests. With the aging Kaman serving as a mentor to Jordan, only 22, his game should continue to improve alongside Gordon and Griffin.
The Clippers also imported two players in the first round of last year’s draft. With last year’s eighth overall selection, the team chose foward Al-Farouq Aminu. Though he’s played sporadically throughout the season, Aminu has shown flashes of brilliance and has started 14 games this season. In the long run, Aminu would fit in perfectly at the team’s small forward position as a strong defensive presence. With the 18th overall pick, the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Kentucky point guard Eric Bledsoe, and immediately traded his rights to the Clippers. Bledsoe has had the benefit of learning under the likes of Baron Davis and trade deadline acquisition Mo Williams. The addition of Williams makes Bledsoe’s transition into the NBA all the easier, since Williams can provide an immediate impact on the starting line-up until Bledsoe is completely ready to take over.
The Clippers, dare I say, are heading in the right direction. How long this will last, nobody knows. But, for the first time in maybe the history of the franchise, things seem to be going right for that other NBA team in Los Angeles.