Trip to China gives Clippers a perfect chance to grow chemistry


Sep 25, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32), guard C.J. Wilcox (30), center Cole Aldrich (45), guard Wesley Johnson (33) and head coach Doc Rivers during media day at the Clipper Training Facility in Playa Vista. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

As the Los Angeles Clippers left for China on Wednesday, they set off for a perfect chance to develop their team chemistry. For a group with so many new players and so many diverse characters, it’s more than just two preseason games against the Charlotte Hornets that will help the Clippers moving forward this year. Their two preseason games have been enough to prove that already, and it’s going to take time and effort to even be able to utilize the new bench together correctly.

Lance Stephenson is shooting 14 percent over his first two games, Jamal Crawford still seems like an odd-man out, Josh Smith needs to find the perfect balance between three positions, and the Clippers’ entire bench needs to figure out the idea of “not trying to do too much”.

It sounds simple, but that’s because it is.

Know your role and stick to it. That’s essentially what the new guys need to do. Whether or not it will get easier as the Clippers progress over the coming weeks, though, is yet to be seen.

However, a lot of this issue comes down to players knowing how their teammates operate. What passes they look for, how playmakers look to create their shots, who’s the primary ball handler in every possible lineup, or, if you aren’t the primary ball handler (talking to you here, Lance), what should you be doing instead. Ideally, these are just simple kinks that the Clippers need to take care of, and a lot of it comes down to good simple chemistry.

So, as they land in China to get a taste of another culture and a new experience, they’ll hopefully have a chance to improve the general bond among the team. Which, as well as giving them some nice vacation time and all, should contribute to the locker room atmosphere and matters on the court.

Since the Clippers’ preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets (which they won 103-96) the expected issues with the new bench have been apparent. From poor mid-range shooting from Stephenson and Smith to the general lack of organized offense that has led to poor passing and too many turnovers, the problems we knew would appear have been totally obvious. In their second game against the Toronto Raptors alone, the Clippers lost 93-73 as the bench committed 18 of the team’s very generous 25 turnovers.

Without trying to make everything about the Clippers sound troubling, though (because that is so far from the truth), the problems faced so far are justified.

Justified, but still urgent.

Oct 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Josh Smith (right) reacts with center DeAndre Jordan (6) and guard Chris Paul (3) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The clear positive that puts the worries surrounding the bench to rest, though, is that the major issues can be fixed over time as chemistry improves. After just four official practice sessions and two preseason games, did anyone really expect a bench featuring so many new faces and ball handlers to mesh well already? Things just aren’t that easy.

The second unit may have be shooting a troubling 32.9 percent from the floor in preseason so far and have a +/- of -12.4, but it’s only two games and that can change. A trip to China to bond with teammates, develop chemistry, and hopefully stronger performances in their next two games, can go a surprisingly long way in improving some of these early struggles.

Rowan Kavner of has reported some of the Clippers’ comments on their trip to China, and what it can do for them as a newly formed team. Chris Paul had the following to say:

"“Fortunately, I’ve been a number of times, so there’s not too much that I haven’t seen,” Paul said. “It’s a singular purpose. For our team, I’m not sure who hasn’t been, it’s always a great opportunity to see part of the world you haven’t seen. But, obviously, we know it’s a business trip. We’re going over there to learn more about our team and hopefully come back with a bigger purpose.”"

Blake Griffin also had something to add:

"“You fly over there, you have to practice, you have to lock in,” Griffin said, “and if you can go through all that with all those distractions, sometimes you can come out on the positive side. We have to be the ones to make that happen.“If we can come out and make it a positive experience and we’re still getting better while we’re over there, I think we’ll come out better for it.”"

Their week in China will be a busy one, including two games against the Hornets — one in Shenzen and the other in Shanghai — which will be more than enough to occupy them as they move around the country each day, wading through the hoards of fans anxiously waiting to catch a glimpse of some NBA superstars.

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More than giving them a busy preseason, though, it’s a week to give the team a chance to bond together and begin developing a championship winning chemistry. It’s an opportunity they haven’t had until now, and if they make the most of it, they should return to L.A. as a stronger unit because of it. At the very least, that improved bond can start making a difference to their approach to the upcoming season, as well as their understanding of one another and their connection on the court.

As Paul said, returning with a bigger purpose is what the Clippers need during the early stages of what could be the best season in franchise history.

It’s a tall order, but it’s time to begin.

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