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NBA Team Previews: 2008 Clippers Preview

John Clemeno

John Clemeno

John Clemeno writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
By John Clemeno
RotoWire Writer



STATE OF THE FRANCHISE


If coach Mike Dunleavy likes challenges, heíll love this season. The Clippers lost Corey Maggette and Elton Brand in the offseason, and just four players remain from last seasonís 23-win unit. There will be major changes at three and possibly four positions. The shocking loss of Brand is tough to absorb, but the Clippers rebounded well by snagging Marcus Camby in Denverís salary dump. He and Chris Kaman will be one of the more formidable front court duos in the Western Conference. And the addition of Baron Davis is a major improvement over the Sam Cassell/Dan Dickau point guard combination of last season.


Those are the acquisitions that we know will help. But what do we make of Ricky Davis and Jason Williams? Davis is a talented scorer, but does he block the development of Al Thornton and first-round pick Eric Gordon? Williams is an injury risk on the down side of his career. And where does Cuttino Mobley fit? The three-year starter at shooting guard will have to fend off Davis and Gordon. And does Tim Thomas have a big role this year? With Camby around, Thomas will not see a lot of action at power forward (as was the case last year). Will he steal minutes from Thornton? By know, youíve noticed we have a lot of questions, which should give you sense that itís difficult to read the Clippers this season.


Theyíve added some veteran talent, suggesting the organization feels it could contend for a playoff position, but is that realistic for this team? This season could resemble some of those old Clippers teams: lots of talent running around, but not a whole lot of chemistry. If Dunleavy can mold this talent into a team quickly, the Clippers will be a dangerous opponent. But there are too many new faces to integrate and too many players who need the ball to be effective.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION


With several new faces on the roster, coach Mike Dunleavy will need some time to find the right combinations, so playing time is in flux as we enter the season. And with the new faces comes some established NBA talent. These talents may never come together as a ďteam,Ē but the Clippers will have some depth.


For sure, Baron Davis is starting at point guard. Heís got a lot of mileage on him, but is still under 30 and typically plays over 35 minutes a night when healthy. Jason Williams, when healthy, will back him up. Davis has never been the model of health, so Williams could get more run. Cuttino Mobleyís been the starting shooting guard for the last three years, but faces competition from Ricky Davis and rookie first-round pick Eric Gordon. Some mix of those three players should gobble up the shooting guard minutes.


At small forward, second-year man Al Thornton is poised for a break out year. Ricky Davis can also play the three, but Dunleavy will want to make sure Thornton gets 30-35 minutes a night. The addition of Marcus Camby gives the Clippers a talented front court along with center Chris Kaman. Both players will get well over 30 minutes a night. Tim Thomas returns this year, but not as a starter. He can play the four or the three, but if Dunleavy needs a true four, heíll call on Brian Skinner.


The most volatility appears to be at shooting guard, where the 33-year-old Mobley could find himself with reserve minutes before mid-season. Keep an eye on how Dunleavy uses Ricky Davis and keep Gordon on your reserve roster early on.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS


Center


Chris Kaman: Who didnít see the potential for a monster year from Kaman last season? He was motivated to improve on his sub-par 2006-07, and then the Clippers lost Elton Brand to a torn Achillesí tendon. Kaman responded by having the best season of his career (15.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg) until back and ankle injuries cost him much of the seasonís second half. The Clippers canít be happy Kaman applied for German citizenship to compete for that countryís national basketball team at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. After returning from China, Kaman is looking at a new team. One with a lot of shooters. Baron Davis, Ricky Davis, Jason Williams and Marcus Camby were added to a team that already employed Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas. Cambyís not a scorer, but he should cut into Kamanís rebounding and shot-blocking numbers at the very least. Nonetheless, Kamanís become a decent free-throw shooter since his early days in league and is still the teamís best low-post scorer.


Marcus Camby: The Clippers acquired Camby for virtually nothing during the offseason, and his presence should ease the sting of losing Elton Brand to free agency. Camby is one of the leagueís most intimidating defenders, having averaged 12.4 rebounds and 3.46 blocks per game in the last two seasons. His scoring and field-goal attempts dipped in Denver over that span, but having Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson on the same team will do that to a guy. Camby doesnít need the ball to be effective, which is good because thereís no shortage of shooters on the Clippers. Heís more of an effective scorer in the open court, which should come in handy with Baron Davis running the show. The biggest knock on Camby is that heís brittle. He missed significant chunks of basketball between 2000
and 2006 and continues to battle nagging injuries, but has played in 149 games the last two seasons. Heíll be 34 this year, and it would be foolish to think heís no longer a significant risk Ė so have some
other options at the ready if you draft him.


Paul Davis: Davis is coming off a knee injury and is playing behind Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman. Davis has a little offensive game with range, but isnít the defensive presence you seek from the position. If coach Mike Dunleavy is looking for a third big man to bang inside, Brian Skinner will be a better choice.


DeAndre Jordan: Jordan is very raw, but has some explosiveness and is athletic enough to intrigue a team. Right now, he needs a point guard to make him an effective scorer, so heíll spend a year in the D-League enhancing and refining his low-post game.


Forward


Al Thornton: Thornton entered last season as one of the most NBA-ready players of his draft class. He didnít disappoint, taking advantage of the absence of Elton Brand to post 12.7 ppg and 4.5 rebounds in 27.3 mpg on his way to NBA All-Rookie 1st team honors. Thornton has a strong 6-8, 220 pound physique and explosive leaping ability, and with Brand and Corey Maggette gone this offseason he should get
plenty of opportunities as a sophomore to build upon his strong rookie year. Having a top-tier point guard in Baron Davis around wonít hurt, either.


Tim Thomas: Thereís a lot of minutes available at both forward spots with the departure of free agents Corey Maggette and Elton Brand. Thomas, who filled in at power forward while Brand was out last season, can also operate out on the wings. Heís a versatile scorer with 3-point range and could find a steady 25 minutes a night coach Mike Duleavyís rotation, playing with a point guard like Baron Davis. Heís been a bit one dimensional as a fantasy producer, but he averaged a career-high 5.1 rebounds and could find himself in a position to duplicate that.


Ricky Davis: An unrestricted free agent this summer, Davis signed a multi-year contract with the Clippers. Heíll most likely be used at small forward, but heíll have to battle second-year man Al Thornton for minutes there. Of course, Thornton might see some time at the four, but only when Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman arenít on the floor at the same time. And Tim Thomas is still in the frontcourt mix, too.
Davis might also see some minutes at shooting guard, but veteran Cuttino Mobley and rookie Eric Gordon are the primary options in that spot. In short, Davis will carve out a role, but the size and extent of it is unclear at this point. Davis was one of very few players in Miami to last the full season last year. He appeared in all 82 games Ė 47 starts Ė and posted an average of 13.8 points, 4.3 boards and 3.4 assists in just over 36 minutes per game. Heís always been able to score, and heís athletic and skilled enough to fill the box score. But Davisí spotty defense and lack of on-court chemistry with teammates have kept him from becoming a big-time player.


Steve Novak: Novak is an elite perimeter shooter, who connected on 34-of-71 from beyond the 3-point line for the Rockets last season and averages 42.7 percent for his career. He doesnít play a lot of defense, which usually limits a guyís playing time, but Novak could get more minutes with the Clippers than he did with the Rockets. Los Angeles was next-to-last in the league in 3-point percentage, so thereís a need for the skill he brings.


Brian Skinner: Skinner is an active banger who rebounds, defends and blocks shots. Heíll be the alternative when coach Mike Dunleavy isnít looking for a shooter off the bench in the front court.

Guard


Baron Davis: Baron Davisí return to the ranks of the fantasy elite was brought on by two major factors: health and happiness. Health: After playing in an average of 54 games per season between 2002 and 2006, Davisí games played total jumped to 63 in 2006-07 and, stunningly, to 82 in 2007-08. As far as happiness is concerned, itís hard to imagine a better match between coach and player than do-everything talent Baron Davis and offensive mastermind Don Nelson. But Davis opted out of his contract this summer, taking less money to play for his hometown Clippers alongside their rehabbing superstar, Elton Brand. But then Brand surprised many by jumping ship for an offer closer to his home town, and will suit up this season for the Sixers. So instead of playing with one of the gameís elite post scorers, Davis will run the point for a team that Ė on paper Ė seems somewhat similar to the team he left: a lot of wing players with potential and a couple of bigs that arenít really offensive-minded. Whether that will keep Davis happy is hard to say. As for health, thatís impossible to predict, but we certainly wouldnít expect him to play all 82 again.


Cuttino Mobley: Mobley has adjusted well to the role of second/third/fourth option for the Clippers, supplying a steadying veteran presence and reliable outside shooting from the two and three spots. This year he might need to adjust to more time on the bench than heíd prefer. It seems the Clippers are reacting to the loss of Elton Brand by loading up on perimeter scorers; this season, Baron Davis, Ricky Davis, Jason Williams and rookie Eric Gordon will all be competing for playing time and shots with Mobley. Itís hard to envision another 35 minute-per-game season from Mobley with all those other mouths to feed, so project accordingly.


Jason Williams: Williams has missed 60 games over the last three seasons because of various injuries, including a recurring knee. He and Jason Hart will combine to back up Baron Davis at point guard. Heíll be capable when healthy, but there wonít be enough playing time. If Davis gets hurt and Williams is running the show, heíll be a good source of assists and steals, but beware the field-goal percentage, which has dipped below 40 percent for his career.


Eric Gordon: The short-to-medium term plan for seventh-overall pick Gordon is to serve as an apprentice under Cuttino Mobley and Ricky Davis until heís ready to step into the starting backcourt. A 6-4 guard with an outstanding outside shot and the strength to pinball his way through the lane, Gordon was the leading scorer in the Big Ten last season despite playing through a wrist injury and seemed very badly affected by the controversy surrounding coach Kelvin Sampsonís departure. Before the draft, several teams were reportedly considering Gordon as a potential point guard. No danger of that with the Clippers, who have Baron Davis and now Jason Williams to run the show. That will free Gordon to play his more natural off-guard position, which should speed his development.


Jason Hart: Hartís a good playmaker who keeps the turnovers down and plays some defense, but will be the third point guard off the bench in Los Angeles. With an injury risk like Jason Williams ahead of him, Hart could gain a bigger role with the team.


Mike Taylor: Taylor bombed out of Iowa State and played in the D-League last season. He impressed team officials in the pre-draft workouts in Orlando and snuck into the second round, largely based on his offensive skills, quickness and leaping ability. He can shoot the NBA 3-pointer, but is undersized at the two and needs to improve his handle to be considered a combo guard.

Sleeper:


Al Thornton: Thorntonís all bust-out potential in 2008-09 after a rookie season in which he got plenty of playing time because of Elton Brandís injury. After the All-Star break, Thornton averaged 16.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 32 games. Heís the starting small forward to start the season, should get more than 30 minutes of run a night, and will have a top-flight point guard this season in Baron Davis.

Bust:


Cuttino Mobley: Looking at the turnover on the Clippersí roster during the offseason, you can see this is team looking toward its future. And thatís a future with first-round draft pick Eric Gordon, whoíll probably come off the bench to begin the season. Mobley may beat out Ricky Davis to start at the two, but this doesnít look like a team that will be competing for anything special, so donít expect the organization to waste valuable development time playing Mobley or Davis.


Article first appeared on 9/30/08

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