Typically an NBA club would be ecstatic over a 5-2 start that includes a big win over the San Antonio Spurs. The Los Angeles Clippers find themselves in that position, leading the Pacific Division six games in. Unfortunately for Clippers fans those two losses are head scratchers, both at home to Golden State and Cleveland.
This proves that once again the Clippers are nothing but consistent in their lack of consistency. Even with that lack of consistency the Clips are in a solid position in the Pacific division, especially with the heavily favored Lakers occupying last place in the Pacific.
Of course it’s that lack of consistency that puzzles Clippers fans as well as a handful of other lingering questions marks like:
The Coaching Situation: Like his former Staples Center colleague Mike Brown, Vinny Del Negro is the target of constant criticism and bemusement from the pundits. A large part of the Clippers inconsistency is a perceived lack of effort at times and some real ups and downs on the defensive end. Any time a team with the sheer athleticism of the Clippers struggles as much as they do on the defensive boards and defending the basket (opponents shooting 60% at the rim) the coach is going to receive some heat. The Clippers can likely coast to a fifty-win season based on their sheer depth and athleticism inside. Unfortunately it’s during playoff basketball that you become exposed, exhibit A being the San Antonio Spurs series last season. Until the Clippers make a deep playoff run and beat a team like San Antonio the question marks regarding Del Negro’s coaching ability will remain.
Effort: Of course a lack of success on the defensive end can only partially be blamed on the scheme and head coach. The Clippers are consistently being outrebounded even though they boast arguably two of the top ten most athletic post players in basketball in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. As Dennis Rodman and Kevin Love have shown rebounding is about a lot more than athletic ability, a huge part of it is hustle and desire. If the Lob City went after defensive boards like they did Chris Paul lob passes they wouldn’t be in a negative rebounding margin.
The Rotation: Beyond the defensive end another area where critics of Del Negro are constantly scratching their heads is his rotation. A prime example this year is the disparity in minutes between Willie Greene and Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has been one of the Clippers bright spots with his energy and ability to push the basketball, but for some reason his minutes have been half of those of Willie Green, with Bledsoe nearly doubling Greene in PER.
Admittedly it’s way too early to rip the rotation. This early in the season teams are typically trying to find out what their ideal rotation is. Still the construction of the Clippers roster can be a bit head-scratching at times. There are three guys whose best position is small forward in Matt Barnes, Grant Hill, and Caron Butler. Combine those three with two guys who also can play the three in Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom and you have quite a glut at the swingman spot. At the point guard spot Chris Paul is clearly the team leader and top three NBA point guard—but behind Paul are two others guys that need minutes in Eric Bledsoe and Chauncey Billups (when he returns). It’s clear that Del Negro will have his work cut out for him in finding a consistent winning rotation while keeping everyone happy.
Question marks aside the Clippers are still 5-2 and in a great position. If they can overcome the occasional off-nights against poor clubs they are a real threat to win the Pacific Conference. Considering their still very much a young team it’s important they gain one of the top four seeds out west and avoid an early matchup against a team like San Antonio or Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers proved they have what it takes to make a playoff run last season. Now they need to prove they can make a deep run into the playoffs.