NBA AM: The Keys to the Clippers’ Success
Entering the season, if someone told you that one Los Angeles team was on a 17-game winning streak and leading the Western Conference while the other Los Angeles team was sitting at .500 and still reeling after firing their head coach, you would’ve thought history was repeating itself: The Lakers were probably dominating as expected and the Clippers were probably struggling after firing Vinny Del Negro.
However, the Clippers and Lakers have flipped the script this season. These two teams have often been on opposite ends of the spectrum, but rarely have the Clippers been on top while the Lakers have been on the bottom. It’s hard to say which start is more unexpected, the Clippers sitting atop the conference at 25-6 or the Lakers currently out of the playoff picture at 15-15.
Entering the season, the Lakers were the sexy pick to win the NBA championship after adding All-Stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash while retaining Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks turned down larger offers because they wanted to win a championship in Los Angeles. Metta World Peace made headlines when he predicted that the Lakers could win 73 games, breaking the Chicago Bulls’ record for most victories in a single season. All eyes were on the Lakers heading into this year.
Meanwhile, the Clippers had an excellent offseason of their own. While the Lakers added several big-name players, the Clippers added several starting-caliber players to their second unit, turning themselves into one of the deepest teams in the league. Now, in addition to Chris Paul, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, they had an arsenal of new weapons including Jamal Crawford, Chauncey Billups, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Willie Green and Grant Hill. Now that all these new pieces have gotten on the same page, the Clippers have been unbeatable, going undefeated in December.
Right now, it’s hard to imagine the Clippers losing a game, much less a seven-game series. The team just doesn’t have many weaknesses. They’re dominant on both ends of the court, ranking third in defensive efficiency and fourth in offensive efficiency. They have the highest margin of victory in the league, winning games by an average of 10.1 points. They’ve shown that they can win in many different ways. They can blow you out or win at the buzzer. If their starters don’t torch you, their bench will.
Their depth has been one key to the Clippers’ success. When the starters come out, there’s not a huge drop-off in play, which wasn’t always the case last season. Now, Eric Bledsoe has developed into one of the best back-up point guards in the league, Crawford has established himself as the early frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year and Barnes has been playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Another key for the Clippers has been the presence of Paul. Not only is he the best point guard in the league, he’s arguably the NBA’s best leader. Entering this season, many people wondered if Del Negro would finish the season as the Clippers’ head coach. However, he has done exactly what a coach in his position should do: Give Paul unlimited freedom and let him be the coach on the floor. Several of Paul’s teammates recently joked that he’s the team’s second head coach. While Del Negro sometimes barks at his players, he usually doesn’t have to scream too much because Paul has almost always already given his teammates an earful when they’ve made a mistake. He’s also constantly pointing things out and offering advice to teammates. It’s no coincidence that Bledsoe has come along so quickly. Paul’s tutelage and intense offseason workouts are a big reason for the 23-year-old’s progression.
Also, Paul deserves credit for how he has handled his upcoming free agency. It has become a non-story, which is amazing considering the coverage that superstars like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard received during their respective contract years. It hasn’t been discussed because Paul has said all of the right things and made it clear that he loves the city and organization.
The final key for the Clippers has been their surprisingly excellent chemistry. Usually when a team adds so many new players, it takes time to get everybody on the same page, with the Clippers’ co-tenant at Staples Center being a perfect example. However, the Clippers have gotten everybody acclimated very quickly. The group started to bond over the offseason when they took on an us-against-the-world mentality. As everybody praised the Lakers, the Clippers worked harder and grew closer. Stars like Paul, Griffin and Jordan played a large role in the team’s cohesion as well, since they aren’t the type to fill a locker room with cliques but rather make sure everyone feels included. The final piece of the puzzle for the Clippers’ chemistry was the team’s preseason trip to China, which is when all of the players became comfortable with one another and a family atmosphere was established.
As we celebrate the New Year, keep in mind that the Clippers haven’t lost a game since basically Thanksgiving. That’s 35 days without a loss.
It’s not often that the following sentence is written or said with sincerity but here it goes: This could be the year that the Clippers win it all and add a banner of their own to the rafters of Staples Center.
Blatche Having Breakout Season in Brooklyn
After being amnestied by the Washington Wizards over the offseason, Andray Blatche has turned his career around. When the Wizards paid him to go away, he was unable to find a team that was willing to give him a guaranteed deal. Humbled by the experience, the 26-year-old signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Brooklyn Nets, determined to prove that he could contribute when given the opportunity and that he wasn’t the team cancer that he’d been described as with the Wizards.
This season, Blatche has done an excellent job changing the way he’s perceived. He has been one of the Nets’ top reserves, averaging 11.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 20.4 minutes. He has also stepped into the starting lineup in seven games, averaging 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
Blatche, who may win Most Improved Player, recently chatted with HOOPSWORLD:
Vazquez Stepping Up for Hornets
Over the offseason, the New Orleans Hornets felt that they needed a starting point guard so they selected Austin Rivers with the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Rivers had been a shoot-first guard his entire life, but the Hornets felt confident that they could convert him into a point guard.
That hasn’t been the case and Rivers has struggled during his rookie season, but fortunately for the Hornets, another young player has stepped up and thrived as their starting point guard. Greivis Vasquez has exceeded all expectations this season, scoring the ball efficiently and facilitating in New Orleans’ offense. Vasquez has averaged 13.5 points, 8.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds in 30 games with the Hornets.
Vasquez has been playing at a high level all season, but only recently started to receive the recognition that he deserved. The 25-year-old point guard was just named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week after he averaged a double-double of 21 points and 10 assists as New Orleans won two of its three games last week. Vazquez may seem out of place on the West’s list of Player of the Week award winners that includes Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan, but that just shows the level at which Vasquez has been performing recently.
Averaging nearly 10 assists per game is always difficult, but it’s even harder when playing with eight new teammates, as Vasquez has done this season. He has managed to be New Orleans’ distributor, even as he’s adjusting to a new supporting cast and learning new players’ tendencies. He’s also playing with plenty of young players, which doesn’t make his job as floor general any easier.
When Vasquez entered the NBA, there were many critics who said that he’d never be a starting-caliber point guard. They pointed to his four seasons at Maryland as evidence, stating that he had always been a high-volume scorer who often looked for his own shot rather than an open teammate. However, Vasquez has matured since entering the NBA and now has the 10th-best assist ratio among point guards.
Vazquez has been a pleasant surprise and exactly what the Hornets needed.
Douglas-Roberts Showing Maturity, Progress
“Why isn’t Chris Douglas-Roberts on an NBA roster?”
This was a common question asked by readers over the last two years, either in chats or emails. The answer was always the same: During Douglas-Roberts’ stints with the New Jersey Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, he developed a bad reputation. He was viewed as selfish and immature. Teams viewed him as a negative presence in the locker room and, despite his potential, weren’t willing to sign him.
Now, with the experience of playing in Italy last season and with his 26th birthday around the corner, it seems that Douglas-Roberts has finally matured. In a recent post on his personal Tumblr, he took accountability for the mistakes he has made in the past and made it clear that he regrets how he behaved when he first entered the NBA. It’s clear that time and a year overseas has humbled Douglas-Roberts and helped him mature. Check out what he wrote about his journey back to the NBA.
When I got back from Italy after the lockout year, I was an unrestricted free agent. Teams were afraid to sign me. Not because I lacked skill, but because I developed a reputation for having a bad attitude. Early in my career I was very immature. I handled a lot of situations the wrong way. I simply didn’t know how to be a professional, but it was never in a harmful way. I was just young. I owned it though. I took responsibility for my past. Because of that, I matured. I could’ve pointed the finger and used excuses as a crutch, but I didn’t. I knew I was an NBA player. I knew I belonged, but I also knew my road back was going to be rocky.
Out of nowhere, the Lakers called. Once I got that call, it was made up in my mind that I’d be a Laker. I knew I was going to go in there and showcase my talent, which I did. The very first day I was one-on-one partners with Kobe. And we were going at it – shit talking, elbows were thrown. To my surprise, after that first practice Kobe went to media and spoke highly of me. Every day I played well and practiced well. Kobe continued to mentor me along the way. The Laker fans embraced me. I just knew I was in. Then I got a call from Leon [Rose] saying they were going to let me go. They told me I played great. The numbers on the business side just wouldn’t work. It was one of the worst phone calls I’ve ever gotten, but I was at peace because I knew I played my ass off. I brought it every day. My motto is ‘control what you can control’ and I did that.
Once it got released that the Lakers let me go, the people thought it was due to my game. People had jokes. People wrote me off. It was embarrassing. However, I took positives away from my month with the Lakers too. I developed a relationship with Kobe Bryant. He showed me how to be a pro. He showed me real work ethic. Playing against him every day made me so much of a better player. He understood me. He understood that there’s a difference in having a bad attitude and being competitive and wanting to win every drill/game. One night after a game and we were in the showers and he told me, ‘You have no other choice. You were put here to be basketball player. You have to fight until you’re one of them boys. You’re too talented. I played behind motherf—ers that I was better than up until my third year but I knew I would be who I am today then. I work too hard not to break through.’ That stuck with me. I appreciate the opportunity the Lakers gave me. I looked at that month with the Lakers as an internship under Bean. I gained knowledge that I couldn’t have gotten any other way. That’s what I took from that situation.
At this point, I had two avenues to take. Go to the D-League, or go overseas. My heart and my dreams were in the NBA. Even though I never thought I’d ever play in the D-League, I felt that was the fastest way back to the NBA. This is where my faith had to outweigh my fear. I turned down seven figures overseas to follow my heart. When you’re passionate about your craft, the money doesn’t matter. I humbled myself and signed with the Dallas Mavericks’ D-League affiliate. Instead of complaining about not being in the NBA, I made up in my mind that I was going to be the best player in the D-League. I played 10 games in the D-League with that singular focus and just like that, I was back where I belonged. I signed with the Dallas Mavericks three days ago. I’m so proud to be a part of Mavs nation.
I know it’s a cliché, but don’t ever give up. Your confidence and faith has to be stronger than your fear and uncertainty. Every success story has failure along the way. Every great man or women has failed at least one time on their journey to greatness. It’s a part of the journey. Every time you fail, it’s a lesson that you’re suppose to take from it. It’s on you though. An excuse is your worst enemy. Excuses are used by incompetent people. Take control of your life.
Read Douglas-Roberts’ entire Tumblr post here.
The past year was great for basketball fans, with plenty of exciting moments and intriguing storylines. Thanks for making 2012 a great year for HOOPSWORLD and we hope everyone has an excellent 2013.