Analysis of season thus far (13-6)
The Clippers have changed from the perennial laughing stock of the NBA into a title-contending team in just under 20 games. This is a squad that could only manage a 32-50 season last year and is, so far, pacing a season of 44 wins this year with 16 fewer games played. The Chris Paul trade certainly was thought to bring this team back to life, but few believed that it would help the Clips become a Western Conference powerhouse overnight. They have beaten the Heat, Thunder, Mavericks, and Lakers en route to this fantastic start, and all signs are pointing up that their winning ways will continue.
Analysis of season to come
Having already won against the aforementioned elite squads, the Clippers will get little rest against a dominating Western Conference. They go on a 6-game road stand in early February, facing off against tough teams like the Magic, 76ers, and Mavericks. In mid-March they play 3 more in a row on the road against the Pacers, Thunder, and Hornets. The Pacers and Thunder are having great years, and the Hornets game will be Chris Paul’s return to New Orleans. These 3 games could potentially be the difference between a 2 or 3 seed in the West versus a 4 or 5 seed. If the Clippers can get through these two difficult stretches with limited losses then they will be the very rightful owners of a top 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
It’s obvious that this team relies on the performances of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul night in and night out. They both must keep up their pacing of about 20-10 each night (the 10 being rebounds for Griffin and assists for Paul) in order for the Clips to make some more noise this season. From there the Clippers have a solid backcourt manned by Paul, Chauncey Billups, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye, all helping to make the Clippers the 5th highest scoring team in the land this year.
Scoring isn’t a problem for the Clips; height is going to be the downfall of this team if they let it happen. The Clippers are currently 26th in the league in rebounds, a statistic that will absolutely matter as the season progresses and the playoffs begin. Currently, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan make up half of their rebounds every game. Relying on two players, however good they are, to do the whole of your big-man work is not only a flawed concept but one that has already proved to be fatal in games against the Lakers, Bulls, and Spurs. If the Clippers are smart they will use their wealth of talent in the backcourt and trade for help in the frontcourt, perhaps adding a player like Z. Pachulia from the Hawks for Foye.
The Clippers have not achieved so much simply by the presence of Chris Paul on their roster. He has certainly impacted the team for the better, but he is not the sole reason that the Clippers are performing so well this year. The combo of him and Griffin, the emergence of Jordan as an effective big man, and the stellar play of Williams and Billups have all helped make the Clips a force to be reckoned with. The most credit should go to Vinny Del Negro though, as he has taken this team from a group of talented players and turned them into what a team truly embodies. Watching them play on the court you can see this with effective communication and great ball movement. Off the court the team stays together too, routinely going out to eat together and becoming that much closer. These things, however small, are what make a team dangerous come May.
Final standings prediction: 41-25, 3rd in the Western Conference