Clippers have taken athleticism to a whole new level


May 27, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) drives to the basket as Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) and center Andrew Bogut (12) defend during the third quarter in game five of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? They’ve turned the Los Angeles Clippers into Lob City and one of the NBA’s previously unprosperous franchises into a never-ending highlight reel. Now, with the offseason acquisitions of Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, Branden Dawson and Wesley Johnson, the Clippers have taken their already athletic lineup and turned it into an all-out explosive force.

There are plenty of teams featuring potent athleticism. The Oklahoma City Thunder have Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. The Minnesota Timberwolves have Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. The Toronto Raptors have DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. Yet it’s very difficult for any team to make the case that they have the same explosiveness (from their starting lineup and throughout their bench) as the Clippers do right now.

After leading the league in offensive rating this year with 109.8 points per 100 possessions, the Clippers topped the might of the Golden State Warriors and the wizardry of Stephen Curry to take the NBA’s crown of best offensive team. With Chris Paul to lead the way, their ferocious pick-and-rolls to Griffin and Jordan have often set a tempo that few teams can keep up with.

Even with Griffin’s vastly improved post-game and shooting range, he still soars over his opponents whenever he gets the chance. Just ask Aron Baynes exactly what that feels like.

Then there’s Jordan. A two-time league leader in field goal percentage (after shooting 71 percent this season) due to his devastating ability to dunk on anyone. 53.2 percent of his field goal attempts this year were dunks, and whilst that can be used to display his lack of offensive skill and a post-up game, it speaks volumes about his athleticism. His pick-and-roll jams and offensive put-backs gave him the opportunity to destroy his opponents in the paint this year.

It’s no surprise then that both Griffin and Jordan made more than 71 percent of their shots from within three feet this season. As a result, the Clippers not only have an explosive interior presence from both members of their frontcourt, but an efficient one as well.

Now, they’ve added even more firepower to support their hyper athletic duo.

Nov 23, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Wesley Johnson (11) dunks over Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (8) in the second half of the game at Staples Center. Nuggets won 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Even though soon-to-be 38 year old Paul Pierce may not be the most athletic addition the Clippers have made this offseason, they’ve still revamped their roster in multiple ways. Obviously The Truth’s 38.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc, ability to close out games and veteran leadership are priceless qualities for the Clippers, but they’ve added far more punch to their second unit as well.

Jamal Crawford is lightning fast with the ball in his hands and can cross-up anyone who gets in his way, yet he’s been on an island in the Clippers’ second unit until now. Austin Rivers makes a difference in occasional bursts, but that was pretty much the extent of positive energy from their bench.

Until now.

Stephenson has a lot to offer with his passing, rebounding and ball handling ability, and if he can return to his form from his Indiana Pacers days, he can take a lot of the burden off Crawford. At times, he can be a master of getting to the rim — either by blowing past opponents or finishing through traffic (where he has a 65.6 career shooting percentage within three feet).

His versatile playmaking and ability to attack the rim could really energize the Clippers’ bench, and he’s only just the start of their elevated athleticism.

Next it’s, Wesley Johnson.

He should see at least 20 minutes per game this year in order to help save Pierce for the playoffs, and can make his mark as a three-and-D player (essentially what Matt Barnes was this season). Johnson made 35.1 percent of his three pointers this year, whilst also raising the rebound percentage, steal percentage and block percentage of the Los Angeles Lakers whenever he was on the floor.

Oh, and he can also makes plays like this in transition (Chris Paul, you have a new alley-oop partner):

It’s not just the Clippers’ wing rotation that’s gained some firepower, though. With two elite athletes adding depth at power forward in the form of Branden Dawson and most recently Josh Smith, Lob City now features more high-flying talent than ever before.

The 6’7″ defensive specialist from Michigan State made up for his somewhat undersized frame in a few ways: his 6’11” wingspan, his 34.5 inch vertical and his constant aggressive attitude. With those physical attributes and the right mindset to put them into practice, Dawson led the Big Ten Conference in rebounds per game (9.1), total rebound percentage (17.9) and defensive rating (91.1), whilst also ranking 4th in blocks per game with 1.7.

As well as his defensive presence, he’s a terror in transition. And if he gradually develops into a role where he can play alongside Smith, they can terrorize the court in the only way they know how: with emphatic rejections and finishes.

Smith averaged 8.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes with the Houston Rockets, and with his versatility to play (and defend) multiple positions, he should be able to make far more impact off the bench than Glen Davis ever did.

In terms of the Clippers’ overwhelming athleticism now, Smith can be an excellent fit. Not just for their up-tempo, pick-and-roll, fast-break-dunking style, but for what they need. Smith doesn’t only bring his powerful finishing in transition or when cutting to the basket, he also brings the same kind of explosiveness on defense when protecting the rim.

And now that the Clippers have so many interchangeable pieces to use from their bench, their are numerous different lineups available to them. Meaning that if they decide to play Smith at the 3, Griffin at the 4 and Jordan at the 5, they have three terrorizing players for CP3 to distribute to.

The thought of Smith and Griffin streaking up the court on a fast break, ready for Paul to launch the ball for a dunk, is just far too exciting. And with Jordan in the mix as well, the aerial assault the Clippers can launch over their opponents will be hard for anyone to stop.

May 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) faces against Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) in the first quarter in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimately, it isn’t just about offensive demolition for this deep, hyper athletic Clippers’ roster, though. Of course Lance can make plays to add even more flash to L.A., and Johnson, Smith and Dawson can all be a nightmare for other teams offensively, but there’s more than Lob City style that these new additions have to offer.

After ranking just 15th in defensive efficiency, some authoritative defense is what the Clippers need. Dawson and Smith possess the kind of speed to break out for dunks with ease, yet their explosiveness is equally, if not more, important on the defensive end.

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This Clippers’ team were too fast and furious for most teams to handle before this summer even got under way. Their immense pace and physicality was one of the main reasons they beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Yet now they have even more weapons at their disposal.

They’ve not just added athleticism to put on a show, they’ve added athleticism to improve their defense. As a result, they have more high flying players that are hard to stop, more interchangeable lineups to use and more presence at the rim — at both ends of the floor.

The Clippers are deeper and more explosive than ever, and it’s going to be a nightmare for anyone to keep up with them.

Next: Signing Paul Pierce may be Doc Rivers' best move for Clippers