Going into 2014 and ’15, many were waiting on the LA Clippers to take the next step. After all, they have the right mix of stars and role players to make a championship run. But here we are in 2016, and the Clippers still have yet to make the conference finals with a core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford.
So it’s little surprise that after last season’s first-round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, LA didn’t generate much championship talk heading into 2016.
But after a 13-2 start — the best record in the NBA — it’s worth wondering if the Clippers can finally turn the corner this season. And the thought that LA is the NBA’s top team comes from more than just their record. It comes from the fact that they are playing great on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
Regarding offense, LA has five players averaging double digits, with Blake Griffin pacing the effort at 21.9 PPG. The team is playing very efficiently, with a 46.1% shooting percentage (seventh in NBA) and a 37.4% mark from the three-point line (fourth). They’re also leading the league in free throw attempts with nearly 30 a game.
Of course, the NBA is all about putting the ball in the hoop, and there are many talented scorers who can do so. This is where the Clippers are separating themselves from other high-scoring teams because they can also hold opponents to low scores.
They’re especially adept at preventing second-chance opportunities thanks to their strong defensive rebounding efforts. This squad is second in the league in defensive rebounds at 35 per game, anchored by Jordan (9.2 defensive rebounds) and Griffin (7.3).
The Clippers defense is also bolstered by how they’re sixth in the league in blocks (5.0) while leading the NBA in steals (10.6). Jordan leads the block party at 1.6 BPG, and Paul is leading the league with 2.93 SPG.
More important numbers for Doc Rivers’ team include limiting opponents to 93.8 PPG (first in NBA), holding opposing teams to 41.5% shooting, and maintaining the league’s top defensive rating at 96.7.
Can The Clippers Really Win the 2016 NBA Championship?
Based on numbers alone, this LA team looks like a legitimate championship contender. This is especially the case with their defensive rating because, while shots may drop and bounce out, a consistent defensive effort can never be ignored.
But while this has helped LA attain a 13-2 record so far, we’re not even one-fourth of the way through this season.
This is quite possibly the best that we’ve seen this unit play, but the NBA regular season has a way of separating the contenders from pretenders. This certainly isn’t to say that LA is a pretender since they boast a lot of talent and veteran leadership. However, as the Blake Griffin fiasco proved last season, anything can happen to derail a promising season.
Barring any major injuries or bizarre equipment manager run-ins, this team seems well-suited to give the Golden State Warriors a good battle. The Warriors are heavily favored to win the title after picking up Kevin Durant in free agency, while the San Antonio Spurs are expected to challenge for the Western Conference crown.
At this point, it looks like a 3-team race in the West, which is something that many didn’t foresee after a disappointing year for LA in 2015.
Another consideration is the Cleveland Cavaliers, who won the title last season and are favored to make it out of the East again. Even if the Clippers are able to get past the Warriors and/or Spurs in the West, they could face one more giant before winning.
Odds are, though, that LA isn’t thinking this far just yet. They still have to keep playing the same type of hard-nosed ball that they are right now and get a high playoff seed. If they can do this, then they have the type of players who can give San Antonio, Golden State, and Cleveland fits in the postseason.