The Clippers took a big step forward last year, winning a playoff series for just the second time in 36 years. If they want to keep advancing, they'll need Blake Griffin to focus on developing as both a shooter and a defender. The 6'10" All-Star, along with point guard Chris Paul, could anchor an offense strong enough to challenge the Lakers and the Thunder if Griffin augments his power with low-post moves and a reliable midrange game.
But none of it will matter if Griffin and his teammates can't stay on the court. Caron Butler has a history of injuries, and Grant Hill (40 years old), Chauncey Billups (36) and Jamal Crawford (32) all come with a lot of mileage. Another thirtysomething, Lamar Odom, showed up for camp in less-than-great shape after being sent home by the Mavericks last year for indifferent play. Those vulnerabilities—combined with Griffin's history of four knee injuries in five years—mean that another step forward is far from a sure thing.
COACH: Vinny Del Negro (3rd season with Clippers)
2011--12 RECORD: 40--26 (2nd in Pacific)
OFFENSE: 97.5 ppg (14th)
DEFENSE: 95.0 ppg (13th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 27.1 ppg (6th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE CLIPPERS
I'm not sold on Blake Griffin becoming the star who leads this team. Not yet, anyway. He's still too young and immature, and I don't know if he cares yet about winning like Chris Paul does. Griffin gets all his highlights on TV, but he doesn't guard anybody. He looks like he plays hard because he runs the floor, but he doesn't do all the little things—not even close. Sometimes Griffin takes 15-footers that are so ugly that you're thinking, This kid is in the NBA? ... A few years back I would have rated Paul as the Number 1 point guard in the league. Then he got hurt, but since then he has been getting better and better. I really don't know that there is a better leader in the league.... Being back in L.A. will help Lamar Odom, and I love him being with this team. It's a great fit because he's so versatile.... When you consider that Mo Williams was pouting all last year, you have to consider Jamal Crawford to be an upgrade.... DeAndre Jordan is overpaid, like most 7-footers who are decent players. You can pretty much leave Jordan alone outside three feet, and if he ever gets loose going to the basket, you can just foul him because it's not like he's going to make the free throws.
Griffin improves, the elderly big names contribute, and the Clippers become a tough out in the second round of the playoffs.
Worst Case! Injuries lead to a disappointing start, and the future of coach Vinny Del Negro is at issue for the second straight year.
Combined dunks for Blake Griffin (192) and DeAndre Jordan (141) last season, ranking them first and third in the league. Dunks accounted for 34.2% of Griffin's made shots and 68.4% of Jordan's.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (GRIFFIN)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (JORDAN)
GREG NELSON (PAUL)
UNCLIPPED WINGS With Paul running the show, Los Angeles was fourth in the NBA in points per 100 possessions (105.2), up from 23rd in 2010--11.