STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Clippers severed all ties with Mike Dunleavy last March, bringing in Neil Olshey to handle the general manager duties and Vinnie Del Negro to serve as head coach. The new regime attempted to make a major splash when LeBron James met with Olshey and president Andy Roeser to hear their pitch, but LBJ ultimately chose to take his talents to South Beach. Steve Blake signed with the Lakers, Travis Outlaw joined the Nets, and Drew Gooden was lured away by the Bucks, while Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye and Brian Cook were signed by the Clippers, much to the chagrin of owner Donald Sterling. Blake Griffin’s fractured patella has healed completely, and he has been participating at 100 percent in pickup games with his teammates. The Clippers drafted Al-Farouq Aminu with the eighth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, traded a future first-round pick to Oklahoma City for the rights to Eric Bledsoe, the 18th overall pick, and used their second-round selection to draft Willie Warren. Marques Blakely, out of the University of Vermont, was later signed as an undrafted free agent. Griffin and Eric Gordon are young players with promising careers ahead of them, but the oft-injured Chris Kaman and Baron Davis are hard to rely on as core blocks for a team looking to compete for a playoff spot. The Clippers will likely flounder near the bottom of the Western Conference standings once again, and Del Negro will scratch and claw to keep them competitive with the less than stellar roster he’s been given.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Operating on the assumption that Del Negro continues to dole out minutes in an eight- to nine-man rotation like he often did as the Bulls’ head coach, Clippers starters should each receive between 33-37 minutes per game. That means Davis, Gordon, Griffin, Kaman and probably Gomes should play roughly that amount this season. Gordon played 36 minutes per game in 2009-10 and was the only player on the Clippers’ roster to average over 34 minutes per game, but Del Negro doesn’t have any problem playing his starters big minutes. DeAndre Jordan should get about 22 minutes per night backing up Kaman and Griffin. Rasual Butler will likely find a way to carve out 20 minutes in the rotation between backing up the small forward and shooting guard spots. Randy Foye should see about 20 minutes per game backing up the point guard and shooting guard slots. The remaining minutes should go to Craig Smith on most nights. Del Negro isn’t afraid to play rookies, as we saw with Taj Gibson last year, but he has a short leash with them when they make mental mistakes. Unless, Bledsoe, Aminu, Warren or Blakely play nearly mistake-free basketball, they aren’t likely to see much floor time this season. The Clippers’ talented rookies will be spending most of their time on the bench with veteran Brian Cook and whoever else they decide to keep out of the warm bodies they’re bringing into training camp.
Chris Kaman: After two injury-riddled seasons in which he played a total of 87 games, Kaman displayed remarkable durability by playing in 76 games in 2009-10. He may slip a little in drafts due to a general perception of being injury-prone, but don’t let him fall too far. Kaman will start at center this season and share the frontcourt with Griffin. Marcus Camby isn’t there to block shots anymore, so Kaman will likely be asked to step up in that capacity and take on a more defensive role. His blocks, rebounds and field goal percentage could improve, but it may come at the expense of his totals on the offensive end.
DeAndre Jordan: Jordan remains stuck behind Kaman on the depth chart, and his value will remain limited unless Kaman or Griffin misses time with a significant injury. He has the ability to put up gaudy rebound, block and field goal percentage numbers, but he can also hurt fantasy teams with his poor free throw shooting.
Blake Griffin: The Clippers will only go as far Griffin can take them this season. As the first overall pick of the 2009 NBA Draft, Griffin came into the league amid much fanfare, but his NBA debut had to be put on hold after he fractured his patella in the Clippers’ final preseason game before the start of the 2009-10 season. However, his kneecap has fully healed, and he’ll be ready to go at full speed in the preseason and prowl the paint for the Clippers as their starting power forward. Despite the bluster surrounding Griffin’s out-of-this-world athletic ability, he does possess some deficiencies in his overall game that will limit his impact in fantasy. He doesn’t shoot remarkably well from the free throw line, and he doesn’t block many shots. Virtually all of Griffin’s initial value will come from his scoring and rebounding totals. Managers would do well to temper their expectations for Griffin in his rookie season, and let someone else reach for the ballyhooed young player.
Ryan Gomes: Gomes has never played more than 32 minutes per game over the course of a season, but the Clippers’ three-year commitment to him this offseason might give them the incentive to install him as the team’s unchallenged starter at small forward. Used primarily as a third, fourth or fifth option through most of his career, Gomes has never been known for producing considerable fantasy statistics. As long as the team is healthy, he’ll be no better than the fifth scoring option on the Clippers this year.
Rasual Butler: Butler will do his best to wrest the starting small forward job from Gomes, but he’ll likely be put to use as a backup at the small forward and shooting guard positions. As long as the Clippers are trying to stay competitive, Butler will earn a considerable amount of bench minutes. With that said, he remains at risk of being traded or falling to the end of the bench if they fail to stay in contention for a playoff spot.
Craig Smith: Smith will join Jordan as a primary frontcourt bench player. He won’t earn any significant minutes or value this season unless Kaman or Griffin suffers a considerable injury.
Al-Farouq Aminu: Aminu is the team’s small forward of the future, but his game is too unpolished for him to be asked to play meaningful minutes in the NBA this season. We could see him earn extended minutes in the second half of the season if Del Negro falls out of love with Gomes and the team is struggling to contend for a playoff spot.
Brian Cook: Cook will probably spend the better part of the season at the end of the Clippers’ bench solemnly wishing he still had an end of the bench role with the Lakers. The Clippers’ lack of depth in the frontcourt should earn him decent minutes on nights that the regulars get into foul trouble or are absent due to injury, but his overall use on the team will likely be light in substance.
Marqus Blakely: Blakely has been the talk of the town in Clipperland. The Clippers signed him as undrafted free agent rookie this summer to a two-year, partially guaranteed contract. He played four years at the University of Vermont, where he put up impressive defensive statistics. If Del Negro wanted to take a leap of faith with one of his rookies and insert them into the starting lineup at small forward, Blakely would be the most likely recipient of the honor.
Baron Davis: Davis could average a career high in assists this season if the team is healthy and he stays motivated. Unfortunately, that’s the catch-22 with Davis. He needs to feel the team is successful to maintain his own interest on the floor, and the team needs him focused to be successful. If Del Negro can get those paths to run parallel with each other, the Clippers could shock a lot of people this year, and Davis could put together a strong statistical campaign.
Eric Gordon: Gordon has put together strong statistical seasons in his first two years in the league, but he didn’t taken his game to the next level in his second season as many prognosticators expected. Coming off an impressive gold-medal run with the US National team this summer, Gordon should have all the confidence in the world. He lead the Clippers in minutes last season, and hopefully that translates into him being the team’s leading scorer this season. Griffin’s presence in the post should open up more space for Gordon from the outside.
Randy Foye: Foye was signed to a two-year contract in the offseason, and he’ll serve as the team’s primary backup at point guard and shooting guard. Unless Davis or Gordon falls to an injury, Foye’s minutes and contributions will be limited.
Eric Bledsoe: Bledsoe was drafted for his talent and potential as a future point guard in the NBA, but he isn’t likely to contribute much for the Clippers this season. He’s a great shooter, but he turns the ball over too often and is an unproven facilitator.
Willie Warren: Warren played with Blake Griffin at Oklahoma. He has the size to play shooting guard in the NBA, but he’s behind Gordon, Foye, and Butler on the depth chart, making him unlikely to earn significant minutes in his rookie season.
Marqus Blakely: Blakely could be the Clippers’ version of Tayshaun Prince or Nicolas Batum this season. If he commits to showcasing his already considerable defensive talents, he could nudge Gomes out of the starting small forward spot. Blakely averaged over two steals and two blocks in his final three years of college. With plenty of scoring coming from Davis, Gordon, Griffin, and Kaman, the logical application of Blakely on the Clippers’ roster would be to use him as a defensive stopper in the starting lineup and bring Gomes’ scoring off the bench. It’s not advisable to hedge your bets on a rookie to produce in the NBA, but Blakely is the most likely Clippers rookie to challenge for meaningful minutes this year.
Ryan Gomes: Gomes will likely be picked up by many fledgling fantasy managers this year thinking that he’ll flourish in what appears to be a unchallenged starting spot as the Clippers’ small forward, but his production has never been worth cooing over. Gomes has enjoyed stretches of success in the past, but his thoroughly mediocre play overall isn’t worth keeping on a roster in most standard leagues.