LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
By Nick Freeman
RotoWire Staff Writer
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Los Angeles Clippers shocked the world and finally took a step in the right direction last season. Not only did they make the playoffs, but also won their first round series and stretched the Phoenix Suns to seven games in the second round. One of the most important factors in making that run was the addition of veteran point guard, Sam Cassell. Cassell provided the leadership that this team had been lacking for so long. The Clippers validated Cassell's importance to their success by making it priority number one in the off-season to re-sign him. Another addition that paid large dividends last season was Cuttino Mobley. The veteran shooting guard provided steady minutes, a third scoring option behind Cassell and Elton Brand, and a true threat from behind the arc.
While the veteran additions were making an impact in the backcourt, it was the Clippers frontcourt that raised many eyebrows. Elton Brand continued his steady improvement and emerged last season as a true superstar. He provides a legitimate inside presence offensively and defensively. Chris Kaman had a breakout season at center, and combines with Brand to form a very potent 1-2 punch in the paint. Corey Maggette rounds out the starting lineup by providing superior athletic ability from the three-spot and dynamic scoring. When healthy, Maggette has an uncanny ability to not only get to the basket, but to also draw fouls and get to the free throw line.
The Clippers lost sixth man Vladimir Radmanovic to the rival Lakers, but GM Elgin Baylor offset that loss by signing Tim Thomas away from the Suns. Thomas is a tall, swingman type player who can provide points off the bench and another three-point option. Aaron Williams and Quinton Ross will come off the bench to help provide some much needed defensive toughness. Shaun Livingston can play three positions and is an emerging star and the future point guard for this franchise.
The Clippers enter the 2006-07 season as legitimate contenders in the West, and they're not going to sneak up on anyone as they did last year. They have All-Star caliber players at every position and good depth on the bench. If they can play tougher defensively and stay healthy, the rest of the West will need to take notice.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Chris Kaman will log around 35 minutes per game at the center position. If healthy, Zeljko Rebraca will be counted on to be Kaman's backup seeing around 10-15 minutes per game. Elton Brand will play 40 minutes per game at power forward. His primary backup will be Aaron Williams who should see around 15 minutes per game and could help out at center if needed. Corey Maggette should be back in the starting lineup this year and will see the majority of his minutes at small forward. Maggette will log around 30-35 minutes per game and will be relieved by Tim Thomas who should see 15-20 minutes. Cuttino Mobley will chew up most of the minutes at the two-guard position with around 40 minutes per game. Sam Cassell usually logs around 35 minutes per game, however, he is 37 years old now and that number could decrease this year. Livingston will push for more time this year and should see somewhere in the range of 20-25 minutes per game. Quinton Ross comes off the bench and usually chews up around 20 minutes. Daniel Ewing and James Singleton will see 5-10 minutes per game. Yaroslav Korolev, Boniface Ndong and rookie Paul Davis will see limited action in spot duty only.
Chris Kaman: Kaman made a nice leap in 2005-06, adding nearly three points and three rebounds per game while shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and 77 percent from the free-throw line, becoming a top-10 producer at the position. He has limited range offensively, but puts himself in position to score around the basket. The Clippers return the nucleus of last season's team, so we expect similar things from Kaman this season. The Clippers and Kaman are far apart on an extension of his rookie deal, so we could see him making a push for his next contract.
Zeljko Rebraca: Rebraca is a player that the Clippers would like to see more from. He could be a strong backup center behind Kaman if he can stay healthy, but he has dealt with an irregular heartbeat and it is not certain how much he can be counted on this season.
Paul Davis: Davis is a rookie with good size and instincts whose playing time will be directly affected by Rebraca's health. His toughness was questioned while he was at Michigan State, and that is a question he will have to answer early on in training camp and the preseason.
Elton Brand: Brand had by far the best season of his career last year, and at 27 years old, should just now be entering into his prime. Brand averaged 24.7 ppg last season, shattering his old career-high by almost five points, while also pulling down 10 rebounds, blocking 2.5 shots, shooting 53% from the field and 78% from the line, dishing 2.6 assists, and grabbing 1.0 steals per game. Brand has always put up good numbers, but with a strong team keeping opposing defenses from focusing solely on him, he was able to take his game to the next level. Brand may be only 6-8, but he is very strong and quick, and has extremely long arms that combine to allow him to have his way in the post, block shots and either out-muscle or out-quick his opponents. Brand became one of the elite fantasy producers in the NBA last season, and there's no reason he shouldn't solidify that rarified status this year.
Corey Maggette: Maggette suffered though an injury-plagued season in 2006, playing only 32 games due to a strained left foot. He should be 100 percent for the start of training camp this year and will be a guy that can help in multiple categories. A fearless penetrator, Maggette gets to the basket at will and can single handedly help carry your team in FT% when healthy. In 2005, he played 66 games and went to the line an average of 10 times a game, making 82.8% of his free throws. To put that in perspective, perennial mass free throw shooters like Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson averaged 10.5 attempts and 10.1 attempts, respectively in 2005. Maggette's value goes beyond his free throw shooing as he can also score (17.8 points last year) and rebound (5.3 rbg last year). Look for Maggette to have a bounce-back year and establish himself as the Clips No. 2 guy behind Elton Brand.
Tim Thomas: Thomas joins the Clippers this season as the main replacement for Vladimir Radmanovic. He is a quality scoring option with a reliable three point shot. He has averaged 11.9 PPG and a .371 shooting percentage over his career from behind the arc.
Aaron Williams: The Clippers needed to add toughness down in the paint and that is what Williams will provide. Williams will provide solid minutes off the bench at both the power forward and center positions.
James Singleton: Singleton saw his playing time increase as the season wore on last year. He should see an increase in minutes this year, but not by much. He does have the range to hit the deep ball, as he hit 10-20 from behind the arc last year.
Boniface Ndong: Don't expect anything more than garbage-time minutes out of Ndong this season.
Yaroslav Korolev: The Clippers still have high hopes for Korolev, their 2005 first round pick. At only 19 years old, he still has plenty of time to develop. It appears as though he will have a bigger impact in the 2007-08 season. Therefore, don't expect huge minutes from him this year unless it is out of necessity.
Sam Cassell: Acquiring Cassell paid huge dividends for the Clippers last season, as the cagey veteran led the Clips to the best season in franchise history: 47 wins, the six seed in the Western Conference, a playoff series victory over Denver; all the way to game seven of the conference semifinals against the powerful Phoenix Suns. The season, in turn, paid huge dividends for Sam Cassell - he was rewarded with a two-year, $13 million contract in the offseason, even though he turns 37 this November. It seems reasonable to assume that Cassell will open the season as the starter, as the Clippers attempt to build on last year's success. But over time, look for a gradual changing of the guard (pun intended), as Shaun Livingston is just too talented to keep on the bench for much longer.
Cuttino Mobley: Mobley has always been a natural scorer that also has some playmaking ability, and he showed last season that when he gets minutes he is still capable of producing with averages of 14.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.2 spg, and 1.1 three-pointers per game in a starting role for the Clippers. Unfortunately, the Clippers have developed a bit of a logjam on the perimeter now that Corey Maggette is healthy, 6-7, guard-of-the-future Shaun Livingston is entering his third season out of high school and Sam Cassell is signed to a new two-year extension. This could cut into Mobley's minutes and shots this season, which is a concern considering that scoring is the only area in which he is potentially a difference-maker. He's still worth drafting, but his days scoring in the high-teens with two threes per game may be over.
Shaun Livingston: Livingston is being hailed as the future point guard of the franchise, and when you watch him play you know exactly why. He is tall (6'7"), sleek and fast, an excellent ball handler, tremendous passer and above-average scorer. His minutes should increase this season as he can play three positions. He may still be a year away from becoming a major fantasy producer, but he is worth keeping an eye on.
Quinton Ross: Ross does the dirty work for the Clippers. He will help chew up minutes off the bench and is an excellent perimeter defender. He doesn't score very often though.
Daniel Ewing: Ewing really struggled to get his bearings during his rookie season. He didn't shot nearly as well as his four years at Duke and had trouble adjusting defensively to the NBA. He should see a few minutes in a reserve role, but won't produce much statistically.
Shaun Livingston: Livingston is as smooth a player as you will find in the league. He entered the NBA directly from high school and is still very young with plenty of time to develop. His potential is through the roof and he is just beginning to scratch the surface. The biggest thing holding him back is playing time. Tagging him as a sleeper may be a year early, but if something were to happen that would allow his playing time to significantly increase, expect big things from Livingston.
Tim Thomas: This has nothing to do with what he has to offer talent-wise. This tag is more a result of who is in front of him. This should be strong bounce-back season for Corey Maggette and that will keep Thomas' minutes in check and, in turn, his production as well.
Article first appeared on 10/4/06