CLIPPERS.COM MIDSEASON ROUNDTABLE

1/18/14

As the season reached its halfway point Friday night, Ralph Lawler, Michael Smith, Brian Sieman and Eric Patten, all Clippers media members who have seen all 41 games and eight preseason games so far this year, weighed on where the Clippers stand so far and where they think they are headed.

Where are the Clippers at the halfway point of the season in relation to where you thought they would be back in October? Do you feel encouraged or discouraged?

Ralph Lawler | Clippers television broadcaster

I think they are right about where they should be. It looks like a pace to win 55-60 games and that's pretty much what should have been expected. The second half of the schedule is friendlier than the first and a return to good health could make it a very productive stretch.

Eric Patten | Clippers.com

They are actually a little ahead of expectations. The thing that stood out most for me before the season was the difficulty of the November schedule and two seven-game road trips before the end of January. Considering the Clippers have navigated that stretch with a new coaching staff and injuries to Chris Paul and J.J. Redick with the second best record in franchise history at the halfway point, I would be remiss to say it’s anything but a success.

I’m even more encouraged by where the team is heading. Since Nov. 19 they are one of the league’s best defensive teams statistically, ranking third in defensive efficiency and they cleaned up the two biggest areas of concern from last season, according to Doc Rivers, 3-point defense and defending teams in transition. Offense never concerned me, even back in October, but the swift defensive progress has been the biggest reason to be encouraged.

Brian Sieman | Clippers radio broadcaster

After talking with Doc Rivers about progress of the team in the early part of the preseason I got the impression that there was no “goal” for where a team should be after 10, 20, 41 games. Instead, I learned that it’s an 82-game season and that if you play well in December that doesn’t guarantee you’ll play well in April or May. So, i threw out any ‘expectations’ that I may have had or hoped for record wise for the team. Having said that, my hopes were that the Clips could win games while learning a new system from Doc. I didn’t anticipate having one of the tougher schedules in the first 30 or so games, yet they excelled while battling injuries and up and down play.

We’ve seen every game this year, many haven’t so i can understand a little trepidation about putting the Clippers on the short, short list of contenders. I can say with great confidence that this team will have a great shot in the spring. The defense is solid and getting better, the new additions (most notably: J.J. Redick and Darren Collision) have been huge, and then there’s Blake and DeAndre. Both have made leaps (not steps) this year. Many people tried to quantify what the Clippers could do this year, and most, if not all predictions were based off of last year’s totals. Both Blake and DeAndre were X-factors coming into the year, and now are showing the rest of the league what they can do. We all forget that these two are 24 and 25, respectively and have just begun to understand their powers.

Michael Smith | Clippers television analyst

I am no less encouraged through the halfway point of the season, and I am certainly not discouraged with where the Clippers are with regards to where I thought they would be. There are games that got away, for example: at Portland and at Golden State, where the refs really stole that one from the Clippers by allowing Blake to be thrown out of the game. There are also the games where there was some slippage and loose play and thus, losses, to subpar teams - at Orlando, at Cleveland, and then at Brooklyn (when Brooklyn was in utter disarray). Even when you consider the injury to Chris Paul about two weeks ago in Dallas, I am not discouraged about this team and their chances and their hopes in the postsesason. People keep asking me, can this team win a championship?  I say yes they can… Will they is another question?  I don't know the answer to that one. They certainly must remain healthy the rest of the way, and have Chris Paul come back fresh and better than ever. I honestly believe they are one of the six or seven best teams in the league - and free of injury and with early chemistry might have won 60 games this year - but rest assured, this team is built to win the title sometime, one day, someday, if not this year. The pieces are in place, and all the critical ones are improving and delivering. Blake Griffin is having a monster year. He is way better in almost every facet of his game - certainly his shooting, foul shooting, decision making and passing, but most importantly, his demeanor and on-court mannerisms are what is now making believe that he can be the leader of a championship team. Paul has been his usual amazing self. I can't wait to see him return with fresh legs and his incredible will to win down the regular-season stretch. Redick has been better than I thought. And, well, DeAndre Jordan, thoughts of him lead me to question two.

What has been the biggest surprise through the first 41 games?

Lawler

The maturation of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin help this team climb the next rung on the ladder. It has been great seeing them grow up right here in front of us. They have clearly learned how to focus and how to channel their energies toward winning. They are both now far more than the fun-to-watch athletic phenoms they'd been earlier in their careers.

Sieman

A couple for me actually. First it’s D.J.. I hoped he would progress this year, but didn’t know what to expect as far as consistency. He was great in the preseason, but it was the preseason. Here we are at the midway mark of the year and he’s been the most reliable player on the team (in his role). I spoke with Jamal Crawford about D.J. and asked what he thought of his jump and he said “I’m not surprised what he’s doing, just surprised that he’s turned it around so fast from last year.”

From a D.J. to a J.J. Redick is just a joy to watch. We all knew he could shoot, few knew (Doc was one of them) what else he could do. He moves so well without the ball, he’s good off the dribble, and as competitive as anyone on the team. One of the great pick-ups any team had this year.

Patten

My first inclination was to say DeAndre Jordan. However, after talking to him at length this summer, I had a feeling he was bound for great things this season. So, for me, D.J.’s success has not been a complete surprise. J.J. Redick, however, has been off the charts. It was suggested when he was acquired that Redick was more than a shooter, something Rivers reiterated after Redick’s 33-point lightshow against Dallas. But I may have underestimated how much he can mean to everything the Clippers do. He moves so well off the ball. He has handles, including that nifty little ball fake on drives that usually leads to open layups. He is a smart and reliable defender. He can pass. And he’s arguably as tough and competitive as anyone on the roster. He’s a perfect backcourt mate for Chris Paul.

Smith

D.J. has easily been the biggest surprise of the season. I don't know if we all thought he had the capacity to change games and alter plays each time down the floor, but he does. He leads the league in rebounding. How many anticipated that? None. He leads the league in field goal percentage, we might have predicted that or hoped for that, but still, he's third in blocks and the team's most committed and vocal defender. He has bought in. I wish they would throw him the ball in the post once a quarter. I wish they would run a play for him every once in a blue moon, but even if they don't, he still affects the game in a positive way, and his attitude has been supreme. Remember, he's only 25. He's not 29 or 30. I remember one game about four years ago, and Chris Paul was warming up at Staples for the Hornets watching D.J. dunk and rebound and catch lobs before the game - and I heard Chris say, "Dang, why can't we get a guy like that." Well C.P., you have him, and he's been the surprise of the year.

What has been the biggest concern moving forward?

Lawler

Health and bench production top my list. If they have the former, the latter is less important, but they remain thin behind Griffin and Jordan. Hedo Turkoglu could help as he can play both forward positions and he gives the second unit a very different look. This team will be able to score the ball against anyone and I think they will keep improving at the defensive end. I am far more optimistic than concerned.

Sieman

Health aside, my concern is the bigs off the bench. I don’t feel they’ve played to their capabilities or consistently enough this year. The Clips can go small if they want. Doc talked a lot about that early in the year. Perhaps that is the plan going forward if things don’t straighten out off the bench.

Patten

The inability to find a big man off the bench that Rivers trusts. Playing small is one way around it, using Dudley, Barnes, who has struggled to stay healthy and consistent, or newly signed Hedo Turkoglu at the four spot. However, the notion that Rivers seems intent lately on not taking Jordan and Blake Griffin off the court at the same time is a concern. Foul trouble or even a nagging injury to either one of them could be devastating.

Smith

My biggest concern is the following: There have been moments this year when the Clippers have been unable, for whatever reason, to grab a defensive rebound. All great teams own the defensive glass. All championship teams can dig in and get a stop and then grab the rebound when it matters most. The only team I can think of that didn't rely on that trait was the 2011 Mavericks, who truly just caught lightning in a bottle offensively and became unguardable with Dirk Nowitzki making everything in sight, and everyone else on fire from 3-point land. It was crazy to watch. They did have Tyson Chandler grabbing most boards as well. That is my lone concern. They must shoot it well from deep, but that is secondary to owning the defensive glass.