TALKING CLIPS WITH KEVIN ARNOVITZ, ESPN.COM
ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz has covered the NBA for the multi-media conglomerate since 2008. He is a writer and editor for ESPN.com’s NBA page as well as the co-founder of ClipperBlog, an affiliate of ESPN’s True Hoop network. Arnovitz sat down with Clippers.com writer Eric Patten during the Las Vegas Summer League to discuss the Clippers, including broad-picture defensive tactics, how the team’s offseason moves fit into the overall plan, first impressions of rookie Reggie Bullock and more. Here is a transcript of the conversation:
Eric Patten, Clippers.com: I wanted to get your impression about what kind of difference Doc Rivers will make as a tactician with the group that they currently have assembled on the roster.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: First, on the defensive side of the ball, what Boston fashioned over the last five to 10 years is one of the most innovative defenses in the league. Tactically, that’s going to be where [Rivers] has the most value added. More than half the league seems to incorporate some element of that strong-side pressure defense designed by [Tom] Thibodeau and Rivers. And Doc has said that he believes that the size and athleticism of [DeAndre] Jordan and [Blake] Griffin will allow him to export it to Los Angeles. That’s the margin for growth for the Clippers. They were already a top five offense, and if they can craft a Top-5 defense, they’ll be playing big basketball games in late May.
And it’s more than just the X’s & O’s. There are a ton of coaches in the league who can devise strategies that work. The big variable is understanding how to sell it to players, how to communicate schemes into action, and Rivers is clearly among the most gifted coaches in the game in this regard.
EP: Is it often underestimated that Jordan and Griffin are still developing as players? Are we hyper-critical of them?
KA: Totally. One of our biggest failings as observers, as analysts, as fans, is a lack of patience. NBA defenses take time. To look at guys who are 23 and 24 years old and wag your finger because they don’t play Kevin Garnett’s brand of defense is unfair. That kind of proficiency requires a certain environment, a certain kind of laboratory. The physical attributes are there, the intelligence is there. These are two guys who know how to communicate, and now they’ll be in an environment that fosters all of that.
EP: What do you make of the offseason moves so far? It seems like they’re geared towards offense, but then again, someone like Jared Dudley, his ability to do kind of the little things, was missing last year at times. Can you talk about the three new guys in general and how they kind of fit what the Clippers want to do on both ends of the floor?
KA: I love the offseason moves, especially on the wings. These are guys who can shoot the ball, make smart decisions, understand their strengths and limitations. They’re also better defenders than people realize. Somewhere along the way, Redick, maybe because he was regarded as a pure shooter, got put in that box as a one-dimensional player. If you watch the way he chased Ray Allen around in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, he was crucial to what Orlando accomplished. He doesn’t make mistakes and to some extent 80 percent of being an NBA defender is not screwing up, not making an error, understanding the element of trust within the confines of the defense, understanding when to bail, understanding when to trail, when to help. Dudley and Redick understand all that.
The Clippers still have the lingering question: Who takes Kevin Durant on a given night? The vast majority of teams in this league are presented with the same problem from night-to-night, and it’ll be a challenge for the Clippers. That’s the great riddle of the season is: can a group of pretty good defenders be transformed into a great team defense? There’s enough evidence that they can. For example, if you look at the Orlando team that Redick was on, other than Dwight Howard, and that’s a big other, the Magic took a team with an undersized point guard in Jameer Nelson, a rookie in Courtney Lee, a player who was considered an atrocious defender in Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, who was someone never known for his defense, and J.J. Redick, a shooter never known for his defense, and they were top three defensively in consecutive years. I think there’s enough evidence to suggest that a great system can turn good defenders into great defenders as a collective. And that’s why I’m really bullish.
Would I love to see the team pick up a rim protector or maybe somebody considered a defensive stopper on the wing? That James Posey, Tony Allen type of guy that Boston always had. That’s the big question, but I tend to be an optimist because systems matter, and Rivers brings an impeccable system with him.
EP: What have you seen from Reggie Bullock in the game and a half you’ve watched?
KA: It’s always tough in Vegas to gauge what a rookie’s learning curve will be when it comes to defense. And that’s pretty much everybody. Ten percent of the guys who come into the league from college who are preternatural defenders. For the other 90 percent it’s about learning curve. In Vegas, the basketball’s pretty erratic and you don’t get a full understanding of how someone is going to operate in a system. But we can already see that Bullock has instincts and clearly has an interest in playing defense. He’s a smart, conservative defender. He understands how to use space, how to use his body, how much separation is too much. I have real hopes that he’s going to be a 3-and-D guy for this team for a long time.
EP: I get the impression you can tell the difference between Bullock’s presence on the court, as an NBA caliber player, compared to most of the guys here (at Summer League). Even some other guys who were first round picks, he seems ahead of them.
KA: With the exception of his ball-handling , but I suspect he would tell you it’s not his strong suit. He’s another player totally aware of his strengths and weaknesses. Awareness of one’s limitations as a basketball player, where you can help your team the most, accentuate your strengths and attenuate your weaknesses -- that’s half the game right there. The other half is having sick talent, and the Clippers have that one covered.