2017-18 Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

By Darryl Howerton #21

Lob City got a makeover when Chris Paul left town, but the new look on the Clippers super-cut does not look half bad once you get used to their new style. Gone are consummate point guard and Lob City mayor Chris Paul, sharpshooter J.J. Redick, super sixth man Jamal Crawford, not to mention countless role players, bringing the L.A. exodus count to 10 of 15 players gone. However, armed with new money from the aforementioned’s exit, new Clippers management—headed by promoted GM Lawrence Frank and team consultant Jerry West—have made the most of the CP3 loss by acquiring valuable assets in both the Houston trade (Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell) and with the big moves following the bombshell (the Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teosdosic acquisitions). The expectations for the Clippers won’t be as high as recent years past, but it won’t be a huge drop-off.

Clippers 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Austin Rivers Wesley Johnson Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Brice Johnson,
Newcomers Milos Teodosic, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sindarius Thornwell, Jawun Evans Danilo Gallinari, Sam Dekker Montrezl Harrell, Willie Reed, Marshall Plumlee
Gone Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton    J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Paul Pierce, Alan Anderson Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Diamond Stone 
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: In Teodosic, head coach Doc Rivers now has the pride of the EuroLeague and perhaps the best passing point guard in the NBA today. In Gallinari, Rivers has the long wing he has long coveted ever since he took the coach/GM job five years ago (Doc no longer has general manager authority on the team). In Beverley, Williams and Thornwell, Rivers has even more guard versatility, when you consider the additions of a transition specialist (Beverley), a super-sub scorer (Williams) and an all-around offensive threat (Thornwell). Yes, the old Paul-Redick-Crawford trio was quite tremendous for three wily, old vets. But coupled with Teodosic and Austin Rivers, this new guard set is quite compelling in its own right and still in peak form. Place the newbies alongside Gallinari and a deeper bench of wings and bigs, and it’s easy to see how last season’s fourth-rated offense should maintain its top-five status on offense. And if power forward force Blake Griffin, who missed 21 games last year, can play 80-plus games like his post mate DeAndre Jordan, there is little doubt this globally-infused team can expand its horizons, not only winning 50-plus for the fifth straight year, but having a legit shot at battling the Thunder, Spurs and Rockets for rights to challenge the Warriors in the 2018 West Finals.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense: All things defense have begun and ended with Jordan in Clipperland, which is good when everyone is healthy, but bad when fellow All-Stars Griffin and Paul were missing 21 regular season games each last season, especially when you recognize Paul as a nine-time All-Defense performer. The inevitable defensive drop-off resulted in a diminished efficiency rating for the Clippers, where they dropped from sixth-best D in 2015-16 (allowing 100.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) to 13th-best D in 2016-17 (105.8). Thankfully, the three-time All-NBA center Jordan—and two-time All-Defensive player—now has two-time All-Defense guard Beverley replacing perennial All-NBA and All-D point guard Paul, which should soften the loss a bit, especially considering Jordan and Beverley’s fellow starters—and most of their reserves—are each good defenders in their own right. The two players who are subpar in this area, Teodosic and Williams, eventually may be paired up with Beverley (or Thornwell) as often as possible to disguise such flaws. Otherwise, expect the 2017-18 Clippers to perform on D at a high level still, perhaps somewhere between what the 2015-16 and 2016-17 Clippers did.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Upside: Teodosic, a six-time All-EuroLeague guard, should be a strong candidate for 2017-18 NBA Rookie of the Year, even as a 30-year-old man. Anyone who follows international basketball will not be surprised by such a performance. But it is his foreign mystique that still allows him to fly under the radar, even at this date. Also having one of the most hyped up rookie point guards playing in the same city will keep the pressure low for Teodosic. Thornwell is another Clipper who has upside potential that could surprise many, especially since the basketball-savvy guard was not drafted in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, despite leading South Carolina to the NCAA Final Four as a senior.

Durability: Unlike 2016-17, when Griffin’s toe injury ruined L.A.’s postseason, these 2017-18 Clippers have the depth that makes them better prepared to prevent such an ill-fated repeat this postseason as first-round playoff losers. For starters, Gallinari’s ability to play the stretch power forward slot now allows Griffin to get additional rest when needed. Also, additional guard depth should help Doc freely substitute his quarterbacks in ways he was never able to do so before. For example, it would be surprising if any of his guards averaged 30-plus minutes. And while, yes, Beverley, Gallinari and Griffin do have a history of missing 20-or-so regular season games annually, the guard depth and backup support of forwards Wesley Johnson, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell is something Clipper starters are now grateful to have after years of getting by without a good bench.

Synergy: The Clippers will probably get off to a slow start and should be a year or two away from contending for a championship. After all, only Griffin (18,376), Jordan (20,400) and Rivers (4,794) qualify for our 5,000 Minute Rule as longtime Clippers, and you just cannot replace chemistry supplied by Paul, Redick and Crawford overnight. That said, look for L.A. to patiently rise up the standings month-to-month, year-to-year, which could have them topping last season’s 51-win campaign perhaps by next April. After all, the bonds these men already share are apparent. Teodosic and Beverley are already best of buds from a stint the pair shared seven years ago as teammates in Greece (Beverley even used Teodosic’s name as his hotel pseudonym in tribute to his old comrade). Williams too has his connects to his new L.A. brethren from his time as a Laker the past couple seasons. And, of course, the four former Rockets who came over in the CP3 trade (Williams, Beverley, Dekker and Harrell) also have bonds extending from Houston.

Experience: Griffin and Jordan will no longer be able to lean on Paul as their veteran quarterback, with both bigs now entrusted as team leaders of this $2 billion franchise. Thankfully, the All-Star bigs are still complemented with a battle-tested guard in Teodosic, who is a six-time All-EuroLeague point guard and has led Serbia to silver medals in both the 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Cup. Combine that with Griffin and Jordan’s own resumé of playoff exploits—the All-NBA power forward and center rank 51st and 52nd among active players in postseason minutes (1812 and 1779, respectively)—and you can see the cupboard is not bare in Staples Center just because Paul is gone.

Win Frame: 50-55 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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