Expectations sky-high for Clippers
The 2012-13 edition of the LA Clippers is the most talented in franchise history.
The returning nucleus - led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin - are good enough to propel any team deep into the playoffs. DeAndre Jordan, entering his fifth season with the Clippers, is emerging as a star in his own right. Eric Bledsoe is a growing into a high-quality backup point guard that provides athleticism and energy off the bench. Caron Butler is a solid small forward that can go for big numbers on any given night. And at some point, Chauncey Billups will return and provide veteran leadership.
Not a bad core. But for the Clippers to make a run in the the Western Conference, it will be up to the new additions to their roster to contribute. Last year, the bench was a major problem for LA, but having added the likes of Lamar Odom, Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, the Clippers should boast a strong supporting staff, while adding role players Willie Green, Ronnie Turioff and Ryan Hollins will add depth and contribute to some wins during the grueling NBA schedule.
But the Clippers success begins and ends with Paul and Griffin. Paul is an annual MVP candidate and Griffin - with his improved jump shot - is already one of the best power forwards in the league and has the potential to be the best.
CP3 averaged 19.8 points and 9.1 assists and was voted the best point guard and the best leader in the NBA by the recent 2012 GM survey. From the moment that he stepped on the floor at Staples, he re-invented the franchise's attitude and direction. Just about every big game that is close, he has the ball in his hands - Paul's fourth quarters last year were something to watch.
Griffin's shortcomings were covered up by his freakish athleticism, averaging a double-double last year with 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds to lead the team in both categories. This year he is sporting a much-improved jump shot and foul shot and looks much more comfortable in his role as a superstar.
Jordan has emerged this preseason as the third star of this team. The Clippers have had to be patient - this is his fifth year - but it appears the wait has been worth every second. This preseason he averaged 13.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.17 blocks in 26 minutes. He is doing all the things that great centers do, learning to take advantage of all the attention Paul and Chris receive every night and is playing with force and conviction on both ends of the court.
Very soon teams will have to game plan for Jordan and this will change the dynamic for the whole Clippers team - especially for Paul and Griffin. When you have that third star that is as talented as Jordan absorbing some of the attention previously directed solely at Paul and Griffin, then the whole rest of the court opens up. Neither star can be guarded one-on-one, so the job of the opponent's defense becomes that much harder.
Griffin, Paul and Jordan will need help and among the new additions, a few players stand out:
-Odom will make an impact, because he is a matchup nightmare. It may take a while for him to integrate fully, but he knows what he has to do during the playoff run.
-Crawford is going to supply much-needed shooting throughout the year - he can play point guard and is one of the best streak shooters in the league. As the game slows and the court shrinks during the playoffs, his outside shooting will be vital.
- Barnes is a great all-around energy player and provides much-needed toughness- again vital during a deep playoff run.The Clippers got very lucky when the Lakers did not re-sign Barnes.
Confidence and expectations are high around the Clippers this year, but the true test for this team will come during the playoffs.
And with the combination of stars and savvy veterans, the Clippers should be making noise in June this season.