(This is another in a series of 30 guest columns that will run in October, when optimism reigns supreme across the NBA. The theme will be “Five Reasons to Feel Positive About … ” We encourage you to follow the authors on Twitter and visit their sites. – CS)
Heading into the 2012-13 season, the Clippers find themselves in unfamiliar territory: coming off a playoff appearance and a first-round series victory, with high expectations. After just five trips to the playoffs in 34 seasons in California, expectations remain a very foreign concept to LA’s other team.
Unfortunately, the last time the Clippers were in this situation, things did not go well. In 2006, coming off a trip to the second round where they were within a play or two of a trip to the Western Conference finals, the Clippers stumbled badly and missed the playoffs entirely.
This season figures to be different, though. Here are five reasons why:
1. Chris Paul is pretty good
In fact, Paul is better than pretty good; he’s the best point guard in the NBA and was deservedly third in MVP voting last season. It is difficult to quantify what he means on a basketball court, and indeed what he means to the Clippers. Leaving aside the raw numbers (19.8 points, 9.1 assists, a league-leading 2.5 steals, the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league, a true shooting percentage of .581) which are impressive enough, Paul is the king of the intangibles. He is an incomparable leader, ultra-competitive, and among the best closers in the NBA.
Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro is often criticized for having an unimaginative offense, but with Paul at the controls, the Clippers were fourth in offensive efficiency last season. And when it’s time for a final play, there’s not much need to draw something up – just give the ball to Paul and let him create. It’s highly unlikely the Clippers will have a dropoff this season, if only because Paul won’t let them.
2. The bench is deeper and better
The Clippers return their entire starting lineup from the beginning of last season, and that will be the starting lineup this season as well once Chauncey Billups – recently cleared for full contact practices – is fully recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon in February. But the Clippers also have seven new faces on the roster. They’ve essentially turned over their entire bench, filling it with a host of starter quality players.