CLIPPERS.COM MONTHLY MAILBAG, AUGUST 2013

Clippers Insider Eric Patten answers your questions about the Clippers and the NBA in the inaugural edition of the Clippers.com Mailbag. Submit your question here or use the hashtag #LACMailBag to do so on Twitter.

Note: We reserve the right to edit your question for the sake of brevity or clarity.

Erik ‏(@riveratruestory12s): I noticed D.J. (DeAndre Jordan) started really good last year. Do you know if he improved this offseason?

I was fortunate enough to see D.J. in person at the Team USA white-blue scrimmage in late July. He looked great, revived. The improvements that will be noticeable during training camp and the start of the regular season will likely be both subtle and obvious. I expect you’ll see a new mental approach. After the four-day minicamp in Las Vegas with Team USA, he said he learned a lot about leadership and about not letting negative plays get to him. He said he was focused on playing more effective team defense, which will be a must. That will be one of the more noticeable improvements, his recognition and activity on defense. Offensively, expect him to be a better free throw shooter, which could correlate to more fourth-quarter playing time. Last season, during the great start that you referenced, Erik, D.J. played in 12 fourth quarters before Dec. 1 and averaged almost five minutes per game in those appearances. In the final four and a half months, he appeared in just 18 games after the third quarter. I expect that to be different, or improved if you will, as well. 

Playnificent (‏@Mr__kennedy3m): What will be three main things we will see out of this team with the coaching change?

Good question. Here are three things that come to mind:

  1. Small-ball. With Matt Barnes back as a key reserve I would not be surprised to see him play more minutes at power forward with Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan next to him. I’m not saying he’s going to start there or even play significant time per game, but it will be more than the 117 minutes he played at the 4 spot last year. If Barnes or Jared Dudley slide up it could mean J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford on the floor together or Barnes and Dudley with one of the shooting guards and Chris Paul or Darren Collison. No matter, I think there will be more instances of lineups having fewer defined positions.
  2. Defensive mentality. The Clippers could be the highest scoring offense in the NBA next season. They were fourth in offensive efficiency and ninth in scoring last year, but were a middle of the pack 3-point shooting team. That will increase. Plus there will be more open looks than ever before, theoretically. But I thought this was about defense? It is. While the national lens will zoom in on the Clippers as an offensive juggernaut, they will likely make the most significant strides defensively. There was an emphasis on it in Summer League practices. And without giving away any trade secrets, I can comfortably say that will be tenfold come training camp.
  3. Championship pedigree. This one is not necessarily something you’ll be able to “see” but the fact that Doc Rivers is one of just four current coaches with an NBA title will carry a lot of weight. How so? That remains to be seen exactly.

Ivan Lopez (‏@28Rock37m): By season’s end, do you think Reggie Bullock will have any sort of impact in his rookie year?

It’s going to be tough for Reggie to see the floor for significant playing time, if only because the Clippers are so deep on the wings. That being said, after watching him play in Summer League and hearing what the coaching staff had to say about him, I would not be shocked at all if he played a role in a few wins. We all know he is statistically a great shooter. He is made for the spot-up, catch-and-shoot game. But beyond that, two attributes really stood out this summer. First, he adapts quickly. There were games he wasn’t happy with the way he played defensively and made adjustments the next game. In games four and five of the summer, when teams inched a little closer to him on the perimeter he made more plays off the dribble. Second, he knows how to help. It sounds simple, but he understands his limitations as a player and is confident in his strengths.

With his willingness to compete on defense and flat-out ability to shoot, those other attributes are proof he is likely more prepared to contribute right away than other rookies. It will just be a matter of finding minutes for him.

Jonathan Eng ‏(@jon_eng417m): Will Doc Rivers focus on denying the middle on drives and how will he ensure the offense does not break down into iso ball so often?

Two staples of Doc Rivers coached teams in the past have been playing defense on a string and ball movement on offense. I think it’s safe to say, Jonathan, that this year’s Clippers will be no different in that way.

Let’s start on the defensive end. Boston defended shots at the rim among the best in modern league history during their 2010 run to the Finals. So, I’d definitely say a point of emphasis will be about stopping penetration. Other than Kevin Garnett, the Celtics did not possess a lot of terrific shot blockers, but they made life difficult for opponents in the paint. The same will be expected of Jordan and Griffin and, frankly, everyone else. One key to a great defense is trust and it will be worth watching how the Clippers gel as they get more familiar with their positioning, recognition and where their teammates are located on the floor.

Doc has assembled a great staff, led by Alvin Gentry, who will definitely have a say in the offense. Consider what Gentry did in Phoenix, particularly in 2010, implementing elements of Mike D’Antoni’s system with Steve Nash, spreading the floor for pick-and-roll action with Amar’e Stoudemire. But it is probably more interesting to see how things operated with the reserve unit that season in Phoenix. Dudley was a part of that group and they moved the ball about as well as anyone in the playoffs and still played at an above average pace. Or take the 2012-13 Celtics without Rondo. The first eight games after Rondo went down with a torn ACL, the Celtics averaged nearly two assists more per game. Some element of that was coincidence, but there is something to be said about Rivers finding a way to get something out of an offense missing its most dynamic player. I think that bodes well for what you could expect in terms of encouraging ball movement from a group as talented as the Clippers should be offensively.

Anurag Khandavalli ‏(@Sonu_31935m): Any idea how the rotation will work with so many guards?

There is definitely a windfall of depth at the guard position. Right now, the Clippers have three true point guards in Chris Paul, Darren Collison and Maalik Wayns. At the 2-spot they would run out J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Willie Green and could even slide Reggie Bullock or Jared Dudley to that spot if necessary. It is still too early to tell, considering camp is still several weeks away, but I would presume that the rotation might look very similar to last year in form. Paul and Redick (in place of Chauncey Billups) starting with Collison (in place of Eric Bledsoe) and Crawford in reserve. Crawford and Redick are both capable of handling the ball. They could also be used together in small-ball groups.

What makes it interesting is that all five players from last season’s most efficient lineup are back (Paul, Crawford, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan), so there is somewhat of an argument that Crawford will see the floor more than Redick regardless of who starts. If you thought the Clippers were deep last year, they effectively have nine starters (counting Byron Mullens, who was full-time starter in Charlotte last season). I guess the wild card in all of that is Green. He is often forgotten, but he started 60 games for the Clippers last year and wound up shooting 42.8 percent from 3-point range (tenth in the NBA). That’s not a bad third option at shooting guard.

Kyle Cham (@kylec32): Do you believe the coaching duo of Doc Rivers and Alvin Gentry can bring the already dynamic duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to new heights?

I touched on what Rivers and Gentry will bring a few questions ago, but they will also be big for CP3 and Blake. There is no question that both of them are excited about the addition of Rivers. Blake said he expects to be more of a playmaker from the elbow. I’ve read a lot about Blake needing to be more like other players. If he could just be like KG defensively or Karl Malone in the pick-and-roll or Amar’e when he played for Gentry. How about, Blake is entering his fourth season in the league and could be someone entirely his own. The work ethic, athleticism, year-to-year improvement, etc. is all there. The biggest thing I think CP and Blake will get from the coaching staff is an ultimate understanding of what takes to win and how best to do it together. The camaraderie between the two has already been on display this offseason. They went to China on a promotional tour for Jordan Brand and attended the Clippers’ Summer League opener together in Vegas. I think both guys would say the only way they truly get to “new heights” is by winning and Rivers and Gentry and the rest of the staff will put them in a great position to do that.