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It’s been quite the offseason for the Los Angeles Clippers. By re-signing Chris Paul, snatching Doc Rivers away from the Celtics, turning Eric Bledsoe’s potential and Caron Butler’s contract into J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, and retaining Matt Barnes, the Clips have been remolded as a true Western Conference power.
Paul’s presence on the roster essentially guarantees Los Angeles a top-flight offense and should alleviate any cause for concern related to the dreary and unimaginative system Rivers’s Celtics used for the last few years. Over the past six seasons, Paul’s teams have scored 109.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court — good enough to place in the top four in efficiency in any of those seasons. Paul already has wonderful chemistry with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the pick-and-roll, and the dead-eye shooting of Redick (39.0 percent from beyond the arc in his career) and Dudley (40.5 percent) should make that trio even more dangerous by manufacturing more room for Paul and the Clippers’ bigs to operate in the middle of the floor.
The concerns for this Clippers team will come on the defensive end. Griffin, Jordan, and backup center Ryan Hollins are the only players on the current roster taller than 6-foot-7. None of them could be described as a game-changing defender at this point in his career, or even a consistently above-average one. Griffin and Jordan each improved last season, but both still struggled to defend pick-and-rolls and were often a half-step slow or late when called on to rotate behind the play. Any good defensive coach will tell you those half-steps cumulatively make up the difference between a top defense and a middling one, and after a strong start to the season, the Clippers defense could only be described as middling.
Early in the second quarter last night against Milwaukee, veteran backup Mike James slowly walked the ball up the court before getting his Dallas team into its offense. The possession’s first real action didn’t come until about 10 seconds in, a rip screen (angled back screen) by O.J. Mayo to bring Dirk Nowitzki to the back-side block.
When the Mavericks' star forward secured the post-entry pass from James, the shot clock had already dwindled near single digits. A well-timed dig (help defender dropping down to swipe at the ball) on Nowitzki forced a pass out to Mayo at the top of the key. A hasty drive-and-kick series between the two followed, and the big German was eventually forced to launch a tough, contested jumper that came up about 3 feet short of the rim.
When the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title two years ago, they did so with an offense that relied primarily on brilliant half-court execution. A group that combined Nowitzki with two heady Jasons (Kidd and Terry), lob machine Tyson Chandler, and sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic posted an excellent offensive rating of 107.6 in its run to the championship.