NEW GUYS, GET IN LINE
In hopes of improving his much-maligned bench this summer, Doc Rivers rolled the dice by acquiring two of the NBA's most polarizing players: 6'5" guard Lance Stephenson and 6'9" forward Josh Smith. In so doing, Rivers bet not only on their talent but also on his ability to harness it.
While Stephenson, 25, and Smith, 29, both bring defensive versatility and experience, Rivers must demand greater restraint when it comes to their freelancing and firing up. Stephenson shot 17.1% on three-pointers last season, the worst mark ever for a player with at least 100 attempts. Instead of emerging as the face of the Hornets, he was a rotation castoff by season's end. Smith's bricklaying, meanwhile, has long been a shortcoming; in 2014--15 he hit 31.6% from deep and 31.0% on long two-pointers. The Pistons paid him $26 million before last season just to go away.
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are a potent trio, but there's a limit to how much self-inflicted damage Los Angeles can overcome in the West. The Warriors and the Spurs, two pass-heavy juggernauts loaded with unselfish role players, punish opponents that overrely on low-percentage hoists and ill-advised one-on-one forays.
Because both Stephenson (in Indiana) and Smith (in Houston) have advanced to the conference finals—while Paul & Co. haven't—Rivers may need to hard-sell the newcomers on his team-first vision. If Stephenson and Smith don't accept the importance of reining in their me-first tendencies, the Clippers are headed for another date with frustration.
A rival scout sizes up Los Angeles
Their roster is something to be excited about, but I'm not sold at all on the fits—they have a lot of ball-stoppers. The only guy who is great off the ball on this team is J.J. Redick.... They already had personality conflicts, and now they add wild cards in Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. That could get ugly.... One thing to watch is whether Doc Rivers limits Chris Paul's minutes to save him for the playoffs. Paul doesn't like to sit out, but he should consider it at his age  and with his injury history.... Blake Griffin isn't getting enough credit for improving as an all-around player. He has improved his jumper and really grinds on the boards. He used to dribble coast to coast in high school, and now he's doing that effectively in the NBA too.... Defensively, DeAndre Jordan is the whole show inside for them. What opened my eyes was how he handled Dwight Howard in the playoffs. They should try to get him more involved on offense, but there just aren't enough touches. Jordan said he wanted more this summer, and he might wind up with fewer. That's a problem.... Redick will never get the credit he deserves. Defenses have to lock into him when he comes off pin-downs, and that lets everyone else play one-on-one against their guys.... Paul Pierce brings experience and swagger, but I wouldn't want him starting at the three in the West. They'll miss Matt Barnes more than they think they will.... Stephenson, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford have eerily similar games. There's not an obvious way to fit them together on the second unit so that they complement each other.
COACH DOC RIVERS
(3rd season with Clippers)
2014--15 RECORD 56--26
(2nd in Pacific)
PG CHRIS PAUL
19.1 PPG; 10.2 APG; 48.5 FG%; 39.8 3FG%
SG J.J. REDICK
16.4 PPG; 2.1 RPG; 47.7 FG%; 43.7 3FG%
SF PAUL PIERCE*
11.9 PPG; 4.0 RPG; 44.7 FG%; 38.9 3FG%
PF BLAKE GRIFFIN
21.9 PPG; 7.6 RPG; 5.3 APG; 50.2 FG%
C DEANDRE JORDAN
11.5 PPG; 15.0 RPG; 2.2 BPG; 71.0 FG%
SG JAMAL CRAWFORD
15.8 PPG; 2.5 APG; 39.6 FG%; 32.7 3FG%
PF JOSH SMITH*
12.4 PPG; 6.4 RPG; 1.4 BPG; 41.9 FG%
SF WESLEY JOHNSON*
9.9 PPG; 4.2 RPG; 41.4 FG%; 35.1 3FG%
Times that Chris Paul has led the league in assists, as he did last season (10.2 per game). Only five players—Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash—have won more assist titles.
ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES