New Clippers showed glimpses of their potential vs. Nuggets


Oct 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Josh Smith (left) drives against Denver Nuggets forward Joffrey Lauvergne (77) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers may be overloaded with talent, depth and versatility right now, but to create championship winning chemistry and the right play style among their bench, time is needed. No matter how good a team looks on paper, you can’t bring in more than five new players and expect for there to be a seamless transition into the next season. We saw that for ourselves when the Clippers began their preseason with a 103-96 win against the Denver Nuggets, as Doc Rivers showcased his new dynamic second unit for the first time.

With a host of players coming off the bench who can handle the ball, the potential for the Clippers’ league best offense to become even more effective is something that should make opponents nervous. With Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, their new bench has a group of players who can handle the ball and tear away on a fast break in an instant.

At times, that combination could be impossible to stop. At others, that group of players who all try and take over in multiple ways or try and do too much with the ball in their hands could lead to chaos.

Smith proved how he can destroy opponents with his powerful finishing ability at the rim, but equally he showed that he can still stray away from the basket with too many jump shots that leave much to be desired. Stephenson also has the problem of trying to do too much at times, Rivers is still a developing point guard, and Crawford won’t be getting as many minutes to create some instant offense as he’s grown accustomed to.

In short, the Clippers have so many weapons they need to figure out how to manage them effectively so they don’t shoot themselves in the foot.

Oct 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) dunks against the Denver Nuggets during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

To begin Doc Rivers’ experimentation with his new players, though, the Clippers were still able to put up 103 points with plenty of highlights to get fans excited for the opening night of the NBA Preseason. Thankfully DeAndre Jordan was in attendance to dominate with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 26 minutes of action.

Even against a Nuggets team that are hardly pushing for the playoffs this season, it was at least a chance for the Clippers to further what they’ve been developing in training camp and trial their new depth and possible lineups in a competitive situation.

After all, that’s mainly what preseason is for anyway; especially for a team whose bench looks entirely different than it did just a few months ago.

The shooting from Stephenson and Smith was atrocious at times, as banking shots off the bottom of the glass hardly creates premonitions of the Clippers leaving the second round. Chemistry and early stage of the season excuses aside, that kind of shooting can’t be excused. It will improve as they develop into the offense and make the most of their finishing at the rim, but mid-range shooting is something they both need to work on.

Here’s an example from Smith, who shot just 38.5 percent from 10-16 feet out and a mere 22 percent from further than 16 feet out with the Houston Rockets last season:

It’s not exactly the prettiest of shots. On top of that, it’s clear that Rivers’ basketball IQ and pass-first instincts still need to be heightened now that he has more teammates off the bench to help him.

To attack the rim while Stephenson is trailing and expecting a quick pass to make an easy layup isn’t a smart decision. As Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders pointed out, you can even hear Lance’s frustration as Rivers picks himself up off the floor:

That kind of play in transition is a poor example in comparison to many excellent fast break buckets, though, and the connection that needs to develop between the Clippers’ second unit backcourt of Rivers and Stephenson has only just begun. It will take time and there’s obviously no reason for doubts yet.

Let’s not get carried away like many fans do far too easily; it’s only one preseason game.

Shooting troubles can (ideally) improve, and quite frankly, after only one game, can we really expect that much unity in a competitive situation from a team with so many new faces? Furthermore, did anyone honestly think that a group of offensive minded, excitable, ball dominant players like Stephenson and Smith would look in perfect sync with the rest of the Clippers in their first game? Probably not.

However, while this article may have been painting the picture that things weren’t too promising, that’s far from the truth. Yes, there were problems which were expected and there’s plenty of work to be done, but there were also glimpses of the potential for this new Clippers squad. Even if they weren’t as consistent as their fans would like, there were exciting and explosiveness glimpses of real potential.

Just take this Josh Smith throw-down over Nikola Jokic, for example:

His baseline cut as Stephenson brought the ball up the court is exactly how the Clippers can score on opponents before they can even prepare themselves, and Smith’s dunk is just one of many to come. Quick passes are easy for Lance and that kind of explosiveness is why Smith made 66.9 percent of his shots within three feet last season — it’s going to be difficult for any team to slow him down when he’s on the court next to Blake Griffin and Jordan.

Wesley Johnson got in the action as well, and proved how he can be yet another asset to the Clippers’ ability to kill opponents in transition. It may have come off a Chris Paul steal at half-court, but his speed and length will propel Johnson to the rim in plenty of situations during his role as the starting small forward or backup after Paul Pierce.

As the bench proved at times, they already have the tools to turn the Clippers into a team with the kind of depth to compete for a championship. Of course there were moments where things were out of sync and players didn’t seem to know their offensive roles, yet the potential is still something that can’t be ignored at all.

Smith may be the most versatile player that the Clippers added this summer, and despite his bad moments, he still finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds. Stephenson may have missed plenty of shots, but he also showcased some playmaking and ball handling that can evolve as a serious weapon off the bench — the 2013-14 triple double machine in Lance isn’t dead.

So, try not to focus too heavily on the ugly jump shots (at least for the time being).

Rowan Kavner of has reported what Paul feels about the Clippers’ new group of talent, and he gave a perfect response to summarize the team’s current situation with their new players:

"“I think they’re still feeling each other out,” said Chris Paul, who finished with 12 points and nine assists. “Obviously our unit, we’ve been together a while, it’s like clockwork… Those guys are going to continue to play with one another, figure each other out. They’re just so talented, they can play so many different ways.”"

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Precisely as Paul said, they can play in so many different ways. Last night, that was a problem at times when long jump shots clanged off the rim or passes missed their intended target. However, in other instances, that diversity appeared in flashes to give a glimpse of what this second unit can achieve after they’ve had time to find their rhythm with one another.

Whether it’s a fluid small-ball lineup, completing the correct passes as players come off screens or cut backdoor to the basket, the chemistry will come in time. With Rivers, Smith, Stephenson and Johnson all being thrown into the action by playing at least 20 minutes each against the Nuggets, there were bound to be issues over how they fit together.

The possibilities for the Clippers new second unit are endless, now it’s just a matter of discovering which ones work best.

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