We still haven’t even hit the 20 percent mark of the wild, lockout-abbreviated 2012 Clippers season quite yet, but, by this point, we’ve seen enough to be able to draw a few conclusions here-and-there.
Who’s exceeded expectations? Fallen short? What can we look for as the year progresses?
All of this, and much more on your 8-4 Clippers…right now.
DeAndre Jordan (C): Grade – B+
The Clips signed the former Texas A&M Aggie to a lucrative four-year, $43 million contract during the shortened offseason, and he hasn’t disappointed.
His points and rebound averages are about the same (both in the neighborhood of seven a game), but he’s blocking shots at an incredible rate. His 1.78 blocks per game last season was good for 10th-best in the league, but this year, he’s upped his average to an incredible 3.1. Best in the league.
Jordan is very similar to the Knicks’ Tyson Chandler in that he won’t give you much offensively outside of dunks and close-range, opportunistic shots, but he makes his money occupying the paint on the other side of the floor.
He knows his role, and is a perfect complement to Blake Griffin up front. Speaking of ol’ Blake…
Blake Griffin (PF): Grade – A-
As he was during his exemplary rookie season a year ago, Griffin is a double-double machine. He’s eighth in the league in scoring (21.3) and fourth in rebounding (11.8).
Unfortunately, though, he’s still struggling in the same areas in which he struggled last season. Griffin shot 64 percent from the free-throw line last year, but even that’s plummeted to a miserable 51 percent so far this season. He’s also yet to find the consistent rhythm on his jumper, which seemed to get better and better as last season wore on.
We’re also still waiting on the potentially-devastating CP3-to-Griffin pick-and-roll fest that helped spark the “Lob City” phenomenon right after Paul was acquired. As Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk points out, Griffin has opted for stop-and-pop jumpers rather than roll to the bucket once engaged in the aforementioned CP3 pick-and-roll.
And, of course, defensively, he’s still a bit of a liability.
Fortunately, all of these are areas in which improvement is easy with the right amount of coaching and the right amount of effort. Remember, he’s still just 22 years old.
Caron Butler (SF): Grade – C-
Butler became the first major acquisition L.A. made during the offseason when he inked a three-year deal worth about $24 million after spending most of last season injured with Dallas.
While the scoring numbers have always been there, he has a reputation as a bit of a ball-stopping chucker. When you’re on a team with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, something you don’t want is your random small forward taking contested 20-footers on the wing.
He’s gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, shooting just 41 percent from the floor and a paltry 29 percent from beyond-the-arc. Things hit rock-bottom Wednesday night when he scored just two points on 1-12 shooting against his former team. Fortunately, though, it wasn’t enough to keep the Clippers from winning.
While the offense has been shaky, Butler has provided adequate wing defense on the other side. He may not be the best fit with this current bunch, but his veteran leadership is something that could come in handy as the year progresses.
Chauncey Billups (SG): Grade: C
Billups was amnestied by the Knicks before the season started, and warned teams not to claim him by threatening retirement if claimed.
However, the Clippers threw caution to the wind anyway, and put in their claim at just over $2 million. Once Chris Paul was acquired just a day later, Billups agreed to join the Clippers.
The 35-year-old is shooting just under 35 percent from the field so far, but his three-point percentage is up around 38 percent, which is more than substantial. He’s been particularly good in each of the last two Clippers victories sans CP3, having scored a total of 41 points on 50 percent shooting from beyond-the-arc.
He’s undersized as a two guard, which can provide matchup issues for the Clippers defensively. He’s still quite a capable defender, but bigger guards like Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili could give him some problems.
As Billups continues to get used to the new offensive system, I’d expect that shooting percentage to steadily rise.
Chris Paul (PG): Grade – A
Paul has missed the last three games after suffering a hamstring injury in last Saturday’s win over the Lakers, but, when he’s played, he’s been as advertised.
He carried them offensively in last week’s back-to-back victories over the Heat and Lakers, scoring a total of 60 points with 17 assists, six steals and, best of all, just two turnovers.
As has always been the case with Paul, he’s been solely a distributor at the beginning of games, but slowly finds his rhythm and can be lethal down-the-stretch.
He’s averaging about 18 points and eight assists, and that’s after having essentially zero training camp to adjust to his teammates and learn the ways of the team.
Mo Williams (G): Grade – B+
Williams reportedly wasn’t too pleased when Los Angeles went out and picked up two players that play his position (Paul and Billups), but it didn’t take him long to grasp the role as the sixth man and leader of the second unit.
He’s still playing about 27 minutes per game, and is averaging just over 12 points on tremendous 51 percent shooting.
Williams is a perfect complement and backup to Billups and Paul, and can thrive and succeed playing both guard spots.
Randy Foye (G): Grade – D+
Yep. Another small-ish guard that can play either position. Foye has seen his minutes rise with the recent injuries to Paul and Williams, but his production hasn’t necessarily followed.
He played 41 minutes on MLK day against the Nets and inexplicably shot 17 times, making just six. Foye’s role on this team when at full-strength is still largely undefined, and may be in danger of losing his playing time completely once Eric Bledsoe returns from injury in a couple of weeks.
Brian Cook (F/C): Grade: D
Brian Cook do what Brian Cook do.
He’s a massive body at 6’9″, 250, but his lack of athleticism hurts him defensively. He’s been a very good three-point shooter throughout his career (39 percent), but hasn’t found the touch so far in 2012, having made just four of his 19 attempts from distance.
With Reggie Evans now healthy, Cookie may not see the court too often.
Ryan Gomes (F): Grade: B-
The Clippers tried Ryan Gomes as their starting three last season, where he struggled to find his niche. Throughout his career, he’s been better suited as a reserve power forward.
That’s where he’s playing this season, and, even though his minutes are down, he seems more comfortable in the role.
Gomes is yet another Clipper that has struggled shooting from three-point range so far (18 percent), but he’s done the job defensively when called upon.
Reggie Evans (F): Grade – B+
Evans has a reputation for being a tenacious rebounder and solid post defender, and he hasn’t disappointed.
He’s played in just seven games so far after coming back from injury, but is still averaging seven rebounds a game in just over 17 minutes. He’s almost non-existent on offense, but that’s not what he’s here for.
The fact that the Clippers are 8-4 after 12 games after undergoing such massive roster overhaul in such a short period of time is thrilling. Vinny del Negro has done an admirable job putting the pieces together and helping the train down the track.
There’s obviously still much work to be done, though, and it only gets tougher from here. The Clippers do have some very impressive wins already (Heat, Lakers, Mavericks), but they’ve benefited greatly from a home-heavy schedule. They’ve played eight games at home (7-1) and four on the road (1-3).
With a lengthy six-game road swing coming up at the beginning of February, we’ll check in afterward and see what we can make of the little Clippers then.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.