It’s not that the bench was terrible last season; in fact, it was pretty good after the trade deadline acquisition of Nick Young. But as well as Young, Reggie Evans, Kenyon Martin, Mo Williams and Eric Bledsoe played at times – and they were absolutely huge in the playoff series win over Memphis) – that group never made a lot of sense. The backcourt was full of small guards and the frontcourt was full of bangers who couldn’t make a 15-footer or play facing the basket.
The additions of Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill and Matt Barnes, along with the development of Bledsoe, gives the Clippers one of the deepest benches in the league. In ESPN’s preseason ranking of players, #NBARank, the Clippers had nine players in the top 130 in the league. No other team had more than seven.
Odom gives the Clippers a skilled big man off the bench who can make plays. Crawford gives them a big guard who brings instant offense. Hill and Barnes give them top-notch perimeter defenders. These are all things last season’s team lacked. This team is deep.
3. DeAndre Jordan – now with post moves!
Ever since DeAndre Jordan entered the league four years ago, the Clippers have touted all the offseason work he has done to become a better, more complete player. And every season, Jordan has been a cipher on offense. He can catch almost any lob and is a terrific finisher at the rim. But through his career, successful post moves have been few and far between.
Through four preseason games, however, the hype about Jordan’s offseason improvement actually appears to be true this time. In Shanghai against Miami, the Heat, he was 8-of-8 and did whatever he wanted against the smaller Chris Bosh. He made spin moves, lefthanded jump hooks, righthanded jump hooks – myriad shots never before seen from Jordan.
Unfortunately, Jordan’s free throw shooting, which has been abysmal throughout his career, has gotten even worse. Bob Thate, the Clippers’ new shooting coach, reworked Jordan’s mechanics, and the results have been disastrous so far. It’s not unusual for things to get worse before they get better when you change someone’s shot, so there may be hope. But if his post game continues to improve while his free-throw shooting remains terrible, expect a lot of hack-a-Jordan this season against the Clippers.
4. Eric Bledsoe is an athletic freak
When the Clippers dealt for Paul in December 2011, the one asset they fought hard to keep out of the deal was Bledsoe. Not Eric Gordon. Not Minnesota’s unprotected first-round pick. Bledsoe was the guy they wanted to hang on to. After he recovered from meniscus surgery, it began to become clear why the Clippers were so high on him.
Bledsoe really broke out in last season’s playoffs and is poised for a big year in this his third NBA season. Like Russell Westbrook or even Blake Griffin, Bledsoe has jaw-dropping athleticism – strong, quick, explosive. Among guards, only the 6-4 Dwyane Wade blocked more shots per 36 minutes than the 6-1 Bledsoe. Among players his size, only Kyle Lowry got more rebounds per 36 (and no one came close in offensive rebounding). He was fourth in the entire league in steals per 36.
Bledsoe is a game-changer off the bench who impacts the game in multiple ways, and as his role on the team increases, so will his impact.
5. Blake Griffin signed a big extension
Paul is the engine that makes the Clippers go, but there’s another superstar in town. This summer, the Clippers locked up Blake Griffin with a five-year maximum extension. It’s not news when superstar restricted free agents sign maximum deals; in fact, no RFA on his rookie deal has ever turned down a maximum offer. But given the history of the franchise, that didn’t keep people from speculating about how Griffin might end up elsewhere.
The Clippers took care of Griffin’s extension in a business-as-usual manner without any fanfare or drama, perhaps signaling a new era for the franchise. With Griffin signed long term and Paul taking every opportunity to say how much he loves LA and the Clippers, it seems highly likely that the Clippers will be able to re-sign CP3 when he becomes a free agent after this season. And that will truly be the start of a new era.
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