The Clippers have been great the past few seasons, but something has been different this season. The team has turned it up to a new level, registering wins over some of the best teams in the league by large margins. Five of their six wins have come by double digits, with the lone one under ten points coming with a win over the Blazers by eight. The five double-digit wins have come against the Jazz, Suns, Grizzlies, Spurs, and Pistons. The Clippers only loss came at the hands of the Thunder, by just two points. But why are the Clippers playing so well?
The Clippers two All-Stars, arguably three if you want to say DeAndre Jordan is that caliber, and I believe he is, are all playing very well. Chris Paul is leading the team in points, assists, and steals, with 19.3, 8.6, and 3.3 per game respectively while shooting 42% from long range. The biggest statistic that Paul has in his favor is his player efficiency rating, which is an astounding 34 right now. The league average is just 15. Only seven players in NBA history have posted a PER of over 30 in a whole season (Chris Paul fell just outside with his 2008-09 PER of 29.96). Now, the seven games the Clippers have played are small sample size, but they have played some really good teams so I don’t think it’s a fluke. He is playing some of the best basketball of his career at both ends of the floor right now, and making the players around him much better.
Blake Griffin has also played at a very high level this season. He has posted 19.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game so far this season as well as the second-best player efficiency rating on the team at 22.8. He has become a great second playmaker for this team that already has one of the best in the game in Chris Paul. High pick and rolls have become a game changer for this squad, as Griffin can catch and shoot when he fades, as well as drive and draw defenses away from Jordan allowing for flashy alley-oops.
Griffin also has a great ball-handling ability for a power forward. He can lead fast breaks with ease, finding open teammates for shots as well as setting himself up to get the ball back. Griffins ability to drive and finish opens others, letting the offense flow more freely.
DeAndre Jordan might not have any All-Star appearances to his name, but he plays at that caliber, especially on the defensive end. He has averaged a double-double in each of the last three seasons, and will likely do the same this season. Jordan challenges opponents every time they come into the paint and dominates the boards when opponents miss. He’s grabbing just over 30% of available rebounds on the defensive end while he is on the floor, which is an amazing number. He ranks 12th in the league in rebounding rate, with only one player (Hassan Whiteside) playing more minutes per game than him.
The Clippers have stepped up the defensive effort this year, allowing them to play at such a high level. They have allowed less than 90 points per game, which is leading the league by almost 5 points. They have also forced 16.7 turnovers per game, good for 3rd in the league. The biggest stat to look at with the Clippers defense has been their defensive efficiency, which is leading the league at 90.3 points per 100 possessions. Last year, they ranked 4th at just over 100 points per 100 possessions, and the year before were ranked 15th. The upgraded bench has helped them a lot on this end of the floor as well as the development of players already on the team. The Clippers rebounding has been a big advantage for them over opponents so far this year. They rank in the top 10 in defensive rebounding rate as well as total rebounds per game.
The Clippers offense hasn’t been stellar this season, but they are playing solid. The biggest thing that has helped them on this end of the floor is the low number of turnovers. They only give up the ball 11.6 times per game, good for 3rd in the league. This has helped them set up their great defense more often and give opponents less chances for fast breaks. With the offense led by Chris Paul, this team can’t be stopped often.
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It’s obvious to see that defense and rebounding have helped the Clippers win games early in the season. Their greatness on defense has translated to good offense and numbers in the wins column. This team looks like a legitimate title contender the way they are playing, especially in the blowout win over the Spurs. Look for the Clippers to continue their high level of play and make a deep run into the playoffs.