Predicting the NBA awards during the offseason is always tough to get right, but everyone loves whacking together a few bold predictions to see how wrong they are this time next year.
The Los Angeles Clippers apprehensively watched Chris Paul take his talents to Houston in a trade which saw the all-star guard team up with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni.
This signalled an abrupt end to an era characterised by the famous ‘lob city’ name and, depending on who you asked, put the Clippers out of the playoff conversation in the Western Conference.
But all is well in L.A. Aside from the Lakers slowly returning to relevance (it didn’t take long), the Clippers had an effective offseason despite losing one of the NBA’s premier point guards.
Along with Paul, the Clippers said goodbye to the sharp-shooting J.J Reddick, who is a career 42 per cent three point shooter. Reddick spent four seasons with the Clippers, and became famous (or infamous, depends how you look at it), for his first and third-quarter scoring. He scored 9.4 of his 15 points in the first and third quarters.
Along with Reddick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marreese Speights and Raymond Felton exited. Mbah a Moute was a starter for 76 regular season games in the 2016-17 season, and 61 the season prior. The Clippers will not regret his absence, however, as they have finally filled the small forward position with an elite player in Danilo Gallinari.
Known as a defensive specialist who possesses little-to-no offensive game, Mbah a Moute is a reliable veteran, but an upgrade was pivotal to Los Angeles’ offseason success.
In the Paul-to-Houston trade, the Clippers acquired a plethora of players and picks. Most notably, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell will suit up in a Clippers uniform in the upcoming season.
Williams is an elite scorer off the bench, and a winner of the Sixth Man of the Year Award. While his defence is not terrific, the work he does at the offensive end more than covers it.
Patrick Beverley, however, will bring a defensive intensity to the team. Not opposed to getting in the grill of opposing guards, Beverley energises a second unit but has a solid offensive game to match. He is consistent from three point range and can run a pick-and-roll.
The Clippers projected starting point guard is Milos Teodosic, who was formerly regarded as the best basketball player in the world not in the NBA. Teodosic signed on a two-year deal worth $12.3 million, the second year a player option.
Teodosic is a flashy ball handler who will enjoy playing with the high-flying DeAndre Jordan, although, as is the case with Williams, is a liability on the defensive end of the court.
Perhaps the biggest addition for the Clippers this offseason is that of Danilo Gallinari, a career 15.3 point scorer. Gallinari provides L.A with floor spacing, a savvy offensive talent and a late-game closer, something the team relied far too heavily on Chris Paul to do over the past few seasons.
The only issue is his health, considering he has only played 70+ games in a season twice in his ten year career.
Starters: Milos Teodosic, Austin Rivers, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Bench: Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed
Reserves: Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell, DeAndre Liggins, Tyron Wallace, Jamil Wilson, Wesley Johnson, Brice Johnson
Much has been made of the Clippers struggles over the past few seasons when Chris Paul has exited the game. Paul possessed the NBA’s second highest real plus/minus in the 2016-17 season, behind only LeBron James.
However, coach Doc Rivers is known for not staggering the minutes of his starters, meaning that when Paul is on the floor, so are Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Likewise, when Paul sits, so do Griffin and Jordan.
Because of this, the Clippers two most common line-ups when Paul was on the bench last season were Felton-Rivers-Crawford-Johnson-Speights and Felton-Rivers-Crawford-Bass-Speights, both recipes for disaster.
Because of this, the Clippers reliance on Paul was slightly exaggerated, and should Griffin remain healthy, L.A has the supporting cast on both ends of the court to be a good team this season.
Whether that translates to 42 wins or 51 depends on how long their chemistry takes to develop and the potency of the other teams in the west. Don’t be surprised to see them competing for a top-six seed, though.