We’re in that awful limbo of the NBA calendar year at the moment, caught in between the tail-end of free agency and the beginning of training camps and preseason.
So, with ESPN trotting out their second annual “NBA Rank”, ranking every player in the league, I figured I’d go ahead and do the same for the current Clipper roster.
As of today, the team now has 15 players under contract heading into the 2012-13 season. And, since we’ve seen so little in-game action from two of them, Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, I figured I’d just leave them out of the rankings altogether with “incomplete” grades.
This will probably wind up being completely anticlimactic, but what else is there to talk about at this point? Let’s start at No. 14.
13. Ryan Hollins (C)
Hollins was signed this summer to a one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum.
The former UCLA Bruin has played six seasons in the NBA, with career averages of 4.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.5 blocked shots per game. He played last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, even logging meaningful playoff minutes for the latter during their postseason run.
While he has no discernible offensive basketball skills, he’ll have his moments every now-and-then defensively and has been known to get under the skin of his opponents, as well. He’ll likely serve as the primary backup center to DeAndre Jordan.
12. Ronny Turiaf (PF/C)
Turiaf has bounced around the league throughout his seven-year pro career, which began here with the Lakers. He split time last season between the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat, and played in 12 playoffs games for Miami while “helping” them to a championship.
Like Hollins, his impact on the floor is primarily made defensively and on the glass, and he’s more of an energy/hustle guy than anything else at this point.
With the Clippers log-jammed frontcourt consisting of Blake Griffin, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Grant Hill, it’s tough to see where Turiaf will be able to find any minutes for L.A.
11. Willie Green (SG)
Willie Green’s primary function as an NBA player has always been to score the ball.
He’s a bit undersized at shooting guard at just 6’4″, but that hasn’t really ever limited his effectiveness. While he’s just a 33 percent three-point shooter for his career, his percentages have steadily increased in recent years, culminating with a lights-out 44 percent last season with the Hawks. He’s also an above-average on-ball defender for his size.
The problem for Green this season will be finding minutes. The 31-year-old will presumably be left to scoop up whatever minutes remain behind Chauncey Billups, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill.
10. Matt Barnes (SF)
Barnes was just signed late last week after spending the last two seasons across the hall with the Lakers. This will be his second stint in a Clippers uniform, after playing in 38 games with them back in the ’03-’04 season.
The 32-year-old Santa Clara native’s career peaked back in the ’07-’08 year with Phoenix, when he averaged over 10 points, five rebounds and nearly three assists per game while shooting about 34 percent from three-point range.
His role with the Clippers will be picking up the scrap minutes left behind by fellow veterans Caron Butler, Grant Hill and Jamal Crawford. He’s extremely limited offensively, outside of hitting the occasional three.
Barnes does bring a grittiness and toughness needed to the Clippers, a team often dubbed as “faux tough guys” or “soft” throughout last season. Even Barnes himself, while with the Lakers last year, shoved Blake Griffin to the ground during a preseason game.
Even though his minutes may be severely limited, the Clips could use a player with his hard-nosed nature, especially after having lost Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin during the offseason.
9. Eric Bledsoe (PG)
Bledsoe was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team in his first season, but spent a big chunk of his sophomore NBA campaign injured, and he was only able to play in 11 regular season games. However, he was fantastic in those games, and was a huge part of the Clippers’ playoff success, as well.
He’ll enter this season as the No. 1 backup to Chris Paul. His decision-making could still use some work, but he’s still just 22, and has shown flashes of absolute brilliance already.
The first thing you’ll notice about Bledsoe is that his supreme quickness makes him always appear a step-and-a-half ahead of everybody else on the floor. His end-to-end speed is unbelievable, and he’s athletic enough to finish well at the rim, despite being just 6’1″.
His shooting touch will still need some improvement, and he’s still fairly reckless with the ball sometimes, leading to turnovers. Bledsoe is athletic and strong enough to be a very, very tough defender, as well.
8. Caron Butler (SF)
Butler, in his first season with the Clippers last year, started 63 of the Clips’ 66 regular season games, averaging 12 points. He’s out there to score, which he struggled to do with much efficiency, shooting just under 41 percent from the field, but he did shoot a relatively decent 36 percent from three.
He’s an aggressive defender, which is something the Clippers needed sorely last year at his then-thin position on the roster. With the aforementioned Grant Hill and Matt Barnes backing him up, L.A. shouldn’t have to rely so much on him to produce, and the 29 minutes per game he averaged last season should dip a bit, as well.
Butler is only 32, but he’s logged tons of minutes throughout his career, and his days of dropping 20 points on a consistent basis are well behind him.
7. DeAndre Jordan (C)
The Clippers inked Jordan to a massive four-year, $43 million contract prior to last season, but, unfortunately, he didn’t improve much upon his performance from the previous year. In 2011-12, Jordan averaged 7.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and two blocked shots per game. The two blocks was good for fourth in the league, behind Serge Ibaka, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.
Outside of highlight-reel alley-oop dunks, Jordan offers nothing offensively. He’s shown flashes of a post game, but doesn’t have the ball enough to really use it often. Plus, it’s not like the Clippers are exactly dying for additional reliable scorers in the first place. Jordan’s role as a post defender/rebounder is pretty clear and defined.
Still, there’s room for plenty of improvement. Too often, Jordan would be overzealous defensively, leaving his feet on pump fakes and committing silly fouls. It seemed like Jordan was a lock for two quick fouls and a trip to the bench earlier than expected in the first quarter last season. With Ryan Hollins behind him, this can’t happen anymore.
Fortunately, Jordan is still just 24-years-old, and will be entering his fifth season in the league.
6. Chauncey Billups (SG/PG)
Billups’ 2011-12 season was cut significantly short after he ruptured his Achilles in the 20th game of the season. In those 20 games, he averaged about 15 points per game while shooting 38 percent from three-point range as Chris Paul’s starting backcourt partner. The two were still getting used to each other and their respective roles at the time of Chauncey’s injury.
Billups has value to the Clippers as a veteran leader as much as anything he actually does on the basketball court. He was a big part of the Clippers’ success last season, even after going down with the injury, as a helpful additional voice on the bench.
He’ll be 36 going into this season, but, with the depth the team has added this summer, shouldn’t have to be relied upon to play huge minutes, as he has in the past. That should help to keep those heavy-mileaged legs fresh and healthy throughout the year.
5. Grant Hill (SF)
Grant Hill’s career was completely revived after spending the last five years in Phoenix. He will turn 40 on October 5th, but appears as healthy as ever, which is shocking, considering his athletic prime was ravaged by injury-after-injury.
In all likelihood, Hill will serve as the primary backup to Caron Butler at the 3. He averaged about 30 minutes per game during his years with the Suns, but should see that dwindle to somewhere between 20-25 a night in his new role with the Clippers. Like with Billups, that should help him as the season progresses.
He’s another guy that brings toughness on defense, and can offer the occasional scoring touch, as well.
4. Jamal Crawford (SG)
Crawford endured what may have been the worst season of his career last year with the Blazers, going for nearly 14 points per game while shooting a dreadful 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. Then again, pretty much everyone had an awful year last year with the Blazers.
He’s a ball-handling combo guard that will likely split time between both guard spots off-the-bench.
He’s never been the most efficient scorer, but scoring is what he does, nevertheless. He’ll step into Mo Williams’ vacated role of L.A.’s go-to scoring option off-the-bench.
One thing you’re not expecting Crawford to provide is defense. He’s rail-thin, and doesn’t exactly seem too eager to stop guys from getting around him and penetrating into the lane. This is where you come in, DeAndre.
I’m fully expecting a solid rebound year for Crawford with Los Clips.
3. Lamar Odom (SF/PF)
Speaking of rebound years, nobody is in more dire need of a rebound year than former Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom.
Odom was never a fit last season with Dallas, where he wound up after an offseason trade from the Lakers. He was coming off of a tumultuous personal offseason, and it showed with his lack of production on-the-floor, where he averaged a career-worst 6.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, before he and the Mavs mutually agreed to part ways prior to the postseason.
Now, he’s back in Los Angeles for his second stint with the Clippers; the team that drafted him in the first round back in 1999. Now that he’s back “home” and a year removed from his personal woes, Odom should be able to focus all of his energy on basketball, once again.
He’ll be coming off-the-bench once again, likely serving as Griffin’s backup at the four for the majority of the time. Like with Crawford, though, his versatility should give the Clippers’ opponents plenty of matchup issues.
Odom is fully capable of averaging a double-double, as he’s done in the past. He’ll be a huge part of the Clippers’ success in 2012-13.
2. Blake Griffin (PF)
Blake went for nearly 21 points and 10 rebounds per game in his second “official” NBA season last year, and, for the second straight year, started every single game.
Griffin’s insane athleticism and overall tenacity leads to tons of easy buckets, and he often just overpowers opposing defenders on the low block. He still struggles mightily defensively, but did make a few strides last season in comparison to his rookie year, even blocking a shot every now-and-then. During his rookie year, he’d (curiously) rarely leave his feet defensively. Overall defense is clearly still a work-in-progress for Griffin.
His jump shot continues to improve, as well, and, once he can start hitting that with extreme regularity, the sky is the limit for him offensively. Oh, and there’s the small matter of free-throw shooting, which actually plummeted from 64 percent as a rookie to a dismal 52 percent last year.
That is an area in which Griffin MUST improve. L.A. can’t afford to have its most dangerous offensive weapon riding the pine at the end of games just because he can’t be counted upon to convert from the foul line.
Like with Jordan, though, Griffin is still extremely young, and won’t turn 24 until March.
1. Chris Paul (PG)
Paul’s acquisition just prior to last season instantly injected life into the Clipper franchise, and transformed them into a playoff team from day one. His court vision is unmatched, and the way he took over and assumed leadership of such a young team last year was remarkable.
He’ll only be better this season, with a revamped support group and another year to grow accustomed to Vinny del Negro and his offense. He had thumb surgery last month, but is expected to be ready for camp, which gets going in a couple of weeks.
There really isn’t much to say about CP3 that isn’t already known. The Clippers go as he goes, and, as long as he and Griffin can stay healthy, they should be poised for a run deep into the postseason.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.