Welcome to my new bi-weekly column, Stretch Six, where I take a break from the Wizards and look at the rest of the NBA as a whole.
I almost dedicated this first piece to Kobe’s retirement, but the truth is, the announcement comes to the surprise of no one and he still has sixty-six games until his season is over. Instead I prefer to look at his intra-city rival, the Los Angeles Clippers, because in the end, they are infinitely more interesting than this mess of a Lakers team. We can talk about Kobe when he’s actually gone.
I bring up the Clippers because they are off to a disappointing start considering the expectations, and for whatever reason, nobody seems to like them. They are my brother’s favorite team because he is a Blake Griffin fan, but they are also my favorite Western Conference team. I know, of all the teams in the West, I like the easily hated Clippers, and if you ask me why I like them, I can’t give you a quick answer, so let’s figure that out now.
Why do I root for the Clippers?
Well, their top four can hang with the top four of any other team. If they can find a solid replacement at small forward, then you can extend that to top five. But Chris Paul until recently (Steph Curry) has been the best point guard in the league for the last few years. Not Westbrook. Not Rose. Not Irving. Not even my guy, Wall. Steph Curry gets the nod now, because he gets the nod over everyone these days.
JJ Redick is an interesting character. He’s basketball smart, a career 40% shooter form three, including a career high 44% this year. In a league where good shooting guards are at a premium, JJ Redick is severely underrated. The idea the he is in the backcourt with Chris Paul is already incredibly appealing to me as a basketball fan.
Blake Griffin came into the league a year late because of a knee injury, swiped Rookie of the Year from John Wall, won a dunk contest and immediately fell into the realm of “overrated.” The commercials followed, the backlash of “all he does is dunk,” or “he’s soft” seemed to define him after that. As a result, we might be at a point where Blake Griffin is underrated. Let’s play the blind comparisons game. Below are six of the better / marquee power forwards in the game right now.
Per 36 minutes, via basketball-reference.com
Player A: 17.8 points / 10.9 rebounds / 2.0 assists / 42.7% from the field
Player B: 13.7 points / 8.7 rebounds / 7.6 assists / 48.3 % from the field
Player C: 19.8 points / 11.8 rebounds / 2.4 assists / 46% from the field
Player D: 17.5 points / 9.0 rebounds / 1.9 assists / 43% from the field
Player E: 26.5 points / 9.0 rebounds / 5.0 assists / 54.8% from the field
Player F: 24.9 points / 10.9 rebounds / 1.7 assists / 50% from the field.
All of them are rebounding the ball well, as a power forward should, and all are scoring in double digits while shooting above 42%. Not bad, especially in an era where power forwards are moving farther and farther away from the rim.
What sticks out in this batch of data is that one player is managing to outscore his peers and is doing it at a better rate than his counter parts. Player E is also putting up the second most assists while still averaging 9 boards a game. You’ve probably figured it out by now, but Player E is Blake Griffin. He’s doing some real damage this season, and yet someone will still tell you he is overrated. The rest? In order: Lamarcus Aldridge, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh, & Anthony Davis (we’ll talk about him later this season). So three above average starters + Deandre Jordan (who doesn’t need much analysis), what’s not to like?
Now, don’t get me wrong, as good as these individual players, they do have legitimate issues as a team. Last year’s collapse in the Western Conference semi-finals was absolutely ridiculous, and despite their lack of depth, you can make a really good case as to why they would’ve put up a better fight against the Warriors than the Rockets did. The worst part about that collapse was that it happened just as the Capitals had their own second round collapse after going up 3-1, and before each of their series began, I wrote this in which I compared the legacies of Alex Ovechkin and Chris Paul. I take partial blame.
The nepotism at the guard position doesn’t help their team, and this trend of resigning ex-Celtics after their prime isn’t something anyone should applaud. They somehow turned Spencer Hawes into a bad player and got rid of Matt Barnes for another head case in Lance Stephenson. Doc Rivers is certainly not a likeable coach from a referee stand point, and the stat guys hate Josh Smith. At what point does someone on the Clippers say something to Doc the GM?
Now we’re back where we started. Why do I like this Clippers team so much? Why do I root for them with some western version of my Wizards passion?
Sometimes you just want the team that isn’t supposed to succeed to prove everyone wrong. In a day where fans will hate anyone for any reason at all, sometimes you like to see those “haters” get a little “salty” as the kids say these days. I know Knicks and Lakers fans who drooled over the prospect of Chris Paul playing for them… only to bash him the moment he was throwing lobs to Blake Griffin. I know Laker fans in general claiming that the Clippers will never be the Lakers, and I mean, c’mon, does anybody want to be the Lakers? They are the NBA equivalent to the Dallas Cowboys, except the Cowboys, as backwards as they are, are much better than the Lakers. A part of me wants to see the Clippers bury the Lakers by winning a championship. The rivalry between the Warriors and the Clippers is a very real rivalry, one that didn’t need to media to manufacture it, and if the Clippers win a championship this year… doesn’t that rivalry become all the more beautiful? Statistically, Chris Paul may be the greatest point guard of all time (until Steph gets a couple more years under his belt). If I’m the Wizards GM, I’m not hoping to sign Kevin Durant this year, I’m secretly trying to lure Blake Griffin to the Eastern Conference. Maybe I just want to see great players validated for being great despite the negativity surrounding them.
The truth is, just as was the case for Miami a few years ago, a successful Clippers team is good the NBA. If you’re a fan of the game, maybe you should be rooting for them, too.