LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS PREVIEW 2011
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Clippers came out the winners of the Chris Paul sweepstakes this offseason, which automatically makes them a championship contender. Last season, Los Angeles finished 32-50 in what should be considered a transition year. We all witnessed the breakout of young phenom Blake Griffin, one of the most electrifying players in the league. He will be the centerpiece of this franchise to build itself around. Add the leagueís most talented point guard into the equation, and you have one of the more talented 1-2 punches in the league. The problem with last yearís Clippers was aging vets who didnít contribute much to the teamís success. Baron Davis came in overweight and uninspired, and it showed by his career-low 12.8 ppg with the Clippers before he was traded to Cleveland. Also, the oft-injured Chris Kaman played in a career-low 32 games. Now that Davis and Kaman are gone, the Clippers have a much younger core of talented players. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan make up one of the most athletic frontcourts in all of the NBA; both players are likely to average double-digit rebounds this season. Caron Butler was brought in to end the revolving door the Clippers have had at the small-forward position. With Paul in town, the recently acquired Chauncey Billups will slide over to the two-guard, with Mo Williams being the first man off the bench. The starting lineup of Paul, Billups, Butler, Griffin, and Jordan has the looks of not only a team that could make the playoffs, but one that could actually be a serious contender.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
With Chris Kaman gone, DeAndre Jordan will likely see 32-35 minutes at the center position. Blake Griffin will see the majority of time at the power-forward spot, averaging close to 40 minutes per game, with Brian Cook and rookie Trey Thompkins fighting for the leftover minutes. The Clippers will probably want to limit Caron Butlerís minutes to around 27-30 a game at small forward, given his poor injury history, with Ryan Gomes seeing around 15-20 minutes off the bench. Billups will play alongside Chris Paul, logging around 27-30 minutes per game, and sliding over to the point when Mo Williams (20-25 minutes) comes off the bench. The newly acquired Paul will see similar minutes to the playing time he received in New Orleans (35-40 mpg). When Eric Bledsoe returns from injury, he will likely be delegated to a smaller role than he took on last season, seeing no more than 12-15 minutes when all three veteran point guards are healthy.
DeAndre Jordan: The defensive-minded Jordan will be an interesting fantasy player this year. At the young age of 23, Jordan showcased his athletic ability when Chris Kaman went down last season. He averaged 7.1 points, 7.2 boards, and 1.8 blocks in 25.6 minutes per game, and will likely improve on those numbers in 2011-12. Jordan isnít much of an offensive player, and doesnít need to be one on this team. He will provide a high field-goal percentage because he takes a low number of low-risk shots around the rim. His atrocious 41.4% career free-throw shooting makes Dwight Howard look like Steve Nash at the line. But even with his offensive inefficiencies, Jordan will still average a double-double and upwards of two blocks a game. With the departure of Kaman, Jordan should receive a boost in this yearís drafts.
Blake Griffin: The physically gifted Griffin did it all in his rookie season last year, becoming an All-Star, winning the Rookie of the Year award, and even jumping over a car in the dunk contest. This season he will look to improve on his impressive 22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 3.8 apg from a year ago. He isnít likely to improve too much in the points and rebound categories, as those are already at superstar levels. Where he can improve upon this season is his blocks (0.5 per game), steals (0.8 per game), and free-throw percentage (64.2%). If he does that, then he will undoubtedly become a first-round fantasy talent for years to come. Let the Blake Show continue.
Trey Thompkins: Thompkins is one of the more talented power forwards coming out of the draft. He will have some kinks to work through, but if he can impress coaches during training camp, then he can earn whatever minutes Blake Griffin doesnít use up.
Brian Cook: Cook is nothing more than a veteran reserve player. And with Trey Thompkins joining the team, he will likely see an even more reduced role this season.
Caron Butler: The oft-injured Butler only played in 29 games with the Mavericks last season due to a knee injury, but says that he is 100% healthy and ready to play for the Clippers in 2011-12. He will immediately be their most talented wingman, with the ability to contribute offensively, grab a few boards, and contribute some steals. When healthy, he is undoubtedly a dynamic scorer, but we wouldnít count on a full season from Butler.
Ryan Gomes: Gomes was a fringe fantasy option before Caron Butler arrived; now that he is guaranteed a bench role, he will assuredly be waiver-wire fodder in most fantasy leagues.
Chauncey Billups: After the Knicks used the amnesty clause on Billups, he vowed not to report to any team that claimed him. He must have had a change of heart after looking at the Clippers talented young roster, because he reported to Clippersí camp. We imagine the addition of Chris Paul helped sway Billups, who will start alongside Paul this season. And while he is no spring chicken, Billups makes up for what he no longer has in agility with playmaking ability and leadership. With most of the opposing defenseís attention focused on Blake Griffin and Paul, Billups will be left open to sink some shots, leading to an increase in points and field-goal percentage. But with the move to off-guard, a decrease in assists is expected. If he comes in with the right attitude, he can be useful in fantasy leagues as a backup point guard.
Randy Foye: Foye has developed into a bench player who never quite delivered on his hype. He showed some flashes last season after Eric Gordon went down with an injury. But with the addition of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, Foye will have a hard time getting significant minutes.
Travis Leslie: Leslie is an athletic guard with a wide wingspan. He draws comparisons to Landry Fields of the New York Knicks. But with a crowded backcourt in Los Angeles, Leslie will serve a reserve role in his rookie season.
Chris Paul: It took a few attempts, but Paul finally came over to the Clippers in the biggest trade of the offseason. Playing alongside a group of talented scorers such as Blake Griffin, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, and Mo Williams should result in an uptick in assists this season. For that same reason, his scoring may take a slight hit, but not by much. We should expect to see Paul atop the point-guard rankings for yet another season.
Maurice Williams: With the newly acquired Chauncey Billups in town, Williams will likely be coming off the bench this season. Heíll still see 24-27 minutes per game, given his ability to play the two, and provide decent scoring, assists, and treys.
Eric Bledsoe: This off-season wasnít kind to the young Bledsoe. First, he had surgery on a torn meniscus in his knee, and will miss the beginning of the season. And now he has not just one, but two veteran guards in front of him on the depth chart. Unless injury strikes, or either Chauncey Billups or Mo Williams gets traded, then there is no reason to draft Bledsoe in 2011-12.
DeAndre Jordan: Those who drafted Jordan late, prior to the Chris Paul trade, have been rewarded rather nicely. While his ADP will surely rise with Chris Kaman out of the picture, Jordan will still provide value for where he is being drafted. His career per-36 numbers project to 10.3 points, 10.6 boards, and 2.5 blocks; that is a poor manís Serge Ibaka, who is being drafted a few rounds earlier. And at the young age of 23, Jordan has plenty of room to grow.
Caron Butler: It would be obvious to point out the serious injury that Butler sustained last season makes him a risky pick, but that isnít the only thing working against him this year. On a team with a couple of superstars (Blake Griffin and Chris Paul), and veterans who will demand offensive opportunities such as Chauncey Billups and Mo Williams, Butler may have a hard time getting the necessary looks to be the offensive player everyone is used to.