We all could use a little tune up before the season gets underway on October 31st. So, with that in mind Steve Perrin from Clips Nation joined me for a little question-and-answer session about his Los Angeles Clippers. The familiar faces are still in L.A., but the team has also undergone a pretty major face-lift too. An old face lift? Let's get started ...
1.) What do you expect the Clippers starting lineup to be this season? Who do you see vying to be key contributors off the bench? (How is, our guy, Chauncey Billups?!?) Any chemistry issues with all the new faces?
Steve Perrin: The starting lineup, assuming a healthy and productive Chauncey Billups, is Chris Paul, Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The top four reserves figure to give the Clippers one of the best benches in the NBA -- Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom. That's two recent Sixth Man award winners, an up-and-coming athletic freak, and a seven time All NBA player who is still a great perimeter defender even at 40. And you still have Matt Barnes, Willie Green, Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins after that, so yeah, the team is deep.
Billups is not going to be completely recovered from his Achilles surgery for the start of the season, so there's an open question of who will start in his absence. Crawford would be an obvious choice, but he's had such success as a sixth man in the NBA that coach Vinny Del Negro may choose to continue bringing him off the bench. In a similar situation last season, Randy Foye leap frogged from spot minutes to starter when Billups was injured, leaving Mo Williams as the bench scorer. VDN might choose to do the same with Willie Green this year. Hill and Barnes are also options as big guards in the starting lineup. My gut tells me that VDN will start Green just because it feels like the Foye situation to me.
You never know with chemistry, but the new guys are all veterans who have played for several teams. They've been through the process of learning a new playbook several times before. Guys like Hill and Odom have high basketball IQs and should be able to blend together pretty quickly. It seems like a group that is going to mesh well.
Billups hasn't been cleared for contact drills yet. I've watched him running through non-contact drills and he looks fine -- he doesn't seem limited, he's just building up strength right now. The team leaves for a trip to China next week and Billups won't be going with them, but he may be cleared for contact soon after they return. Returning from a ruptured achilles at 35 won't be easy, but he's definitely the starter if he's anything close to his old self.
2.) How is Blake Griffin doing coming off his injury from the Olympics? What has he added to his game this summer or what does he need to improve on?
SP: The Clippers played an intra-squad scrimmage Wednesday and I feel comfortable saying that Griffin is completely back from his meniscus surgery with no loss of athleticism or explosiveness. He had several moves Wednesday that were jaw-dropping -- those plays where you just marvel at the guy. He's fine physically.
Obviously Blake needs to develop a perimeter game in order to take the next step. If he can consistently make mid-range jumpers, it will force defenses to play him honest and open up the rest of his game. The Clippers hired shooting coach Bob Thate this summer and he's been working with Griffin on his mechanics. The shot looks better -- smoother, no hitch, better release point and timing -- but we'll have to see what happens when we start playing games. Obviously free throw shooting goes hand in hand with the mid-range game and is even more important -- after all, he can always choose to bypass the jump shot and force his way to the basket, but he can't really avoid the free throw line with Timofey Mozgov around. Again, the mechanics there look better, but we'll see how it goes when the games start. Blake's FT woes last year were mostly in his head, not in his form. After all, he shot 64% as a rookie and fell to 52% in his second season.
Blake also needs to be a better defender, but that's going to come with time and focus. He's a superior athlete, a hard worker and has a high basketball IQ -- if he commits to it he'll get better defensively as he gains experience.
3.) What are the expectations from Clips Nation on the team this season? - Regular season and playoffs.
SP: No team in franchise history has ever won 50 games -- the high water mark is 49 wins in the 70s in Buffalo. (Think about that for a minute -- the Spurs have won 50 or more 13 straight seasons and the Clippers have NEVER done it. Wow. Now I'm sad.) So a 50 win season is goal one, and should be pretty much a given.
They should also be striving for home court in the first round of the playoffs. Last season they finished fifth and had to go on the road to beat Memphis in the first round. Top four is very realistic this year.
After that it gets tough. They would obviously love to advance further in the playoffs, but getting past the second round in the West probably means beating either the Thunder or the Lakers -- and while I believe the Clippers will be better this season than they were last season, those are two great teams. So while reaching the Western Conference Finals would be a great goal, it wouldn't mean the season is a failure if it doesn't happen.
A big thanks to Steve for taking the time to drop some Clippers knowledge on us. If things play out the way many think they could - the Nuggets and Clippers should be battling for playoff position out West all season long.
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