Clippers’ focus on the NBA Draft shows their evolving mindset


Feb 9, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talks with guard Chris Paul (3) and DeAndre Jordan (6) during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers’ focus on the 2015 NBA Draft and aim to acquire a pick may not have resulted in anything yet, but it’s starting to show how their mindset is evolving for the better — their emphasis on star power is moving towards a focus on team.

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It’s no wonder that the Clippers have been a formidable team over the last few seasons when they have the immensely talented and athletic trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan leading the way. They’ve become one of the deadliest combos of superstars in the NBA and have led the Clippers to three straight seasons of at least 56 wins. Essentially, they’ve put the Clips on the map in L.A. — the city that has been dominated by the Lakers for so many decades.

But it still hasn’t resulted in anything more than an elimination in the second round of the playoffs.

The one-two punch of Paul and Griffin accounted for 41 points per game on their own this year, and when you counter in the points that they created with their assists, they were responsible for a ridiculous 72 percent of the Clippers’ entire offense.

That kind of scoring/facilitating duo can’t be found anywhere else in the league. And with Paul and Jordan’s All-Defensive first team caliber play this season, too, the Clippers have the kind of star power that has made a dominant impact at both ends of the floor.

Yet, despite the excellence of their big three, the Clippers have lacked the depth to take them further into the playoffs.

Their stars can carry most of the load, but they can’t do everything by themselves.

oApr 19, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; The Los Angeles Clippers bench looks on during the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Whilst players such as Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford may be streaky (neither shot above 43 percent this season), they can at least deliver on occasion to provide energy off the bench. Crawford uses his electrifying handles and pull-up jumper to leave defenders clueless, and Rivers’ confidence continues to grow after the surprisingly good performances he turned in at times during this year’s playoffs.

Rivers had three games with at least 16 points this postseason (a total he’d reached just three times in 41 regular season games with the Clippers this year) and Crawford made a difference at times while still showing his temperamental nature, as he finished the playoffs with a field goal percentage of only 36 percent (including a mere 24.3 percent from three point range).

However, when looking at the overall picture of the Clippers’ roster, Rivers and Crawford need to be considered for the future. Because regardless of their lack of consistency at times, they’re the best weapons that L.A. has coming off their already weak bench.

And when you look further down the roster, to see who there is to back up Griffin and Jordan, what’s on offer?

Glen Davis and Spencer Hawes.

At least, that’s it for players who receive any noticeable amount of playing time.

Neither of them contributed more than 5.8 points per game this year, and that’s barely the start of it. Hawes is a major liability on defense and Davis hits the Clippers’ offense like a plague whenever he’s on the floor. So, to put it bluntly, L.A.’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) was at least 12 points worse this year when either of them were on the floor. And for the Big Baby himself, their offensive rating plummeted by 18.5 when he was in the game.

With that being the best depth the Clippers have in their front court, something has to change.

It’s not as though a coach like Doc Rivers doesn’t realise the importance of a complete team, but the way his bench let the team down at times during the playoffs was a wake up call.

The postseason is the time of the year when a team’s weaknesses are exposed more than ever. And whilst Rivers knew he still needed to put incredible faith in Paul, Griffin and Jordan if the Clippers were to have any chance of advancing to the Conference Finals, watching his team blow a 3-1 series lead to the Houston Rockets was a vicious reminder that he needs to address his second unit — with far more urgency than he has so far.

They fell short, over a postseason that saw the Clippers defeat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in round one with a Chris Paul buzzer beater in game seven, before they blew their three chances to close out against Houston.

The Clippers could have made the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, and yet they somehow fell short again in the most painful way possible. The main reason why, in addition to an apparent lack of mental toughness, was that they relied too heavily on star power to cover up the flaws of the entire team.

May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) attempts to pass the ball during the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 113-100 to win the series 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Out of this year’s 16 playoff teams, the Clippers have ranked 13th in points per game (25.9), 15th in field goal percentage (39.6), 15th in three point percentage (26.0), 14th in assists (4.1), and dead last in rebounds with 7.5 (per HoopsStats). So, with a bench that does so poorly in so many fundamental aspects of the game, it’s hardly surprising that even the great CP3 couldn’t bail them out.

It needs to change. Which is why the Clippers’ current focus on the draft is so encouraging for their future — even more so because they don’t even have a pick yet.

It shows how determined they seem to be to make something happen in the draft in order to acquire some much needed depth.

They may well only be able to trade for a second round pick or resort to signing undrafted rookies afterwards, but with the amount of work they’ve put into testing prospects, it proves they’ve realised how much they need to address their bench.

May 14, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) falls into the crowd against the Houston Rockets in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers worked out six prospects (three guards and three forwards) this Monday alone, and have worked out several other players over the last week or so. Which, seeing as they don’t have a pick yet, suggests they must be pretty intent on getting their hands on one.

They only have around $5 million in cap space right now, but if they sign Paul Pierce to a minimum deal, they may still be able to acquire a rookie as well.

If they sign Pierce (which is shaping up to be a strong possibility) through free agency on a possible veteran’s minimum contract, and can select any kind of player to help fill out their rotation (ideally a big man who can be relied on at both ends of the floor) the Clippers can finally assemble a team that’s far closer to completion.

Their interest in adding minor talent through the draft is so promising for that reason alone — it shows they’re accepting that they need more than just superstars.

Maybe their bench being exposed this year was the wake up call they needed to prompt them to make an actual challenge. And it looks like this may be the summer we see it happen.

Next: Clippers are eyeing Paul Pierce... again