2013--14 RECORD: 57--25 (1ST IN PACIFIC) COACH: DOC RIVERS (2ND SEASON WITH CLIPPERS)
Depth is a boon to players such as All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, who finished third in the MVP voting last season, and center DeAndre Jordan, who led the NBA in rebounding and field goal percentage. They don't have to rush back if they're hurt, and an off night is less catastrophic when a capable reserve can compensate. Glen Davis and Ryan Hollins, however, did not offer such relief for the Clippers' frontcourt in 2013--14, leaving coach and president Doc Rivers to shore up his big man mix with only salary-cap exceptions to use.
Rivers did well despite those limitations. The additions of Spencer Hawes and Ekpe Udoh, along with the return of Davis, give Los Angeles a flexible rotation. Hawes, 26, who received the mid-level exception of $22.7 million over four years, is a floor stretcher—though hardly a defensive stopper—who can balance the interior work of Griffin or Jordan. (Last season the 7'1" Hawes shot a career-high 41.6% from three-point range while splitting time between the 76ers and the Cavaliers.) The 6'10" Udoh, 27, who has averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes in four seasons, was the best attainable rim protector for the minimum ($981,000). And the 6'9", 289-pound Davis is now spared from difficult matchups against taller, longer players. With the infusion of more skill and size, the Clippers have a deep collection of quality big men befitting a championship contender.
19.1 PPG; 10.7 APG; 2.5 SPG; 46.7 FG%
15.2 PPG; 2.2 APG; 45.5 FG%; 39.5 3FG%
9.9 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 43.8 FG%; 34.3 3FG%
24.1 PPG; 9.5 RPG; 3.9 APG; 52.8 FG%
10.4 PPG; 13.6 RPG; 2.5 BPG; 67.6 FG%
18.6 PPG; 3.2 APG; 41.6 FG%; 36.1 3FG%
13.2 PPG; 8.3 RPG; 45.6 FG%; 41.6 3FG%
New owner Steve Ballmer watches his well-rounded group make the Clippers' first Finals appearance.
The lack of a stopper on the wing catches up with L.A., which fails yet again to get past the second round.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE CLIPPERS
They're in championship mode with a well-balanced roster.... Who concerns a defense more, Chris Paul or Blake Griffin? It's 1A and 1B, but the league is so point guard driven that you start by trying to control Paul. He tends to pick his spots early in games, but when he's assertive, they're a nightmare to defend.... Griffin took a big step last season, and he's not done. He's getting better in the post. He has a great face-up game with the ability to go by defenders left or right with one or two dribbles. He's very good at drawing contact, and his improved free throw percentage gives him more confidence to be aggressive. He will be in the MVP conversation.... DeAndre Jordan is on the short list of top defensive centers. Rebounding, blocking shots, affecting shots without getting the rejection—he does all of those things. He's always communicating with teammates, calling out pick-and-roll coverages.... Spencer Hawes is a shrewd signing as a much-needed third big man. He can play with either Jordan or Griffin and work as a five or a four. With his shooting ability, they have options in how to finish games and match up.... The three spot is a weakness. Matt Barnes is under a lot of pressure to carry the perimeter defense; behind him Chris Douglas-Roberts isn't a difference-maker and Reggie Bullock is unproven.... Jamal Crawford can shoot the heck out of the ball and create his own shot. He's aged so well—he still looks as if he just came out of Michigan, even though he's played 14 seasons.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
Paul presides over a powerful offense.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
MR. RELIABLE Griffin finished third in the MVP voting last season, when he scored at least 20 points in 30 straight games, the longest streak in the team's L.A. era.