Playoff Capsule: Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers embody many different identities. They’re an explosive bunch — often specified by the popular moniker, Lob City — that ironically thrives when the pace is slowed down. They were a surefire threat in December, going 16-0 and compiling a 17-game winning streak that somehow wasn’t even the second most impressive of the season. After the All-Star break, the Clippers looked disinterested and lost, cobbling their way through the back half of the season. Right now, they’re quietly riding a seven-game streak to the finish line.

More than anything, the Clippers are nothing if not overbearingly simple. They don’t have pet plays. Any misdirection on their part is more of a happy accident than a deliberate attempt to suffocate the defense. The Clippers don’t really run an NBA offense but Chris Paul’s heroics and an uneven dedication to ball movement have somehow managed to garner them 107.6 points per 100 possessions, which is good for fourth in the league, per NBA.com. How, you might ask? Well, the team’s exclusive commitment to the pick and roll oscillates between that of a joyful yet monotonous marriage and a creepy, stalkerish fetish. In other words, the results generally take precedence over the process.

The Clippers run a lot of side pick and roll action, often incorporating some sort of decoy motion before we get to the entrée: Chris Paul and Blake Griffin initiating a pick and roll that generally ends in an open shot in the weak side corner or an easy layup.

The advantage of the Clippers’ dual point-guard line up is that it doesn’t take a concerted effort to sway the focus of the defense. Here, Chauncey Billups dribbles the ball up the paint as the rest of the line up gets into an adjusted HORNS set that has Caron Butler in the corner, Chris Paul on the wing and Blake Griffin and Lamar Odom on each side of the high post. After initiating a pick and roll with Odom, Billups gets the ball in the hands of Griffin who immediately initiates a pick and roll with Paul. Chris Paul, being the basketball savant that he is, gets Butler a wide open three against one of the NBA’s most notorious “we aren’t going to let you shoot from the corners” team.

Unfortunately, plays like that one while supremely effective have become scarce lately as Billups hasn’t been able to stay consistently healthy. The Clippers’ starting line up jumps from a net efficiency rating of 8.5 with Willie Green starting to 11.8 with Billups. If Chauncey can work himself into shape quickly, he could provide a notable advantage against the Grizzlies.

If there’s one thing the Clippers love to do, it’s run. They lead the league in the percentage of their points that come off turnovers and they’re eighth in the league in transition baskets. Often, if they can’t get something along the lines of “and he lobs it for Griffin!” they’ll execute a quick pick and roll with the defense trailing:

The Clips love to use their pick and roll attack to isolate Chris Paul against slower big men. Of course, if they can get a switch right off the bat, this becomes easy.

Against teams that don’t implement Mike D’Antoni’s savvy defensive strategy, one of the things the Clippers occasionally do is initiate a “snug” pick and roll. This is when the ball handler posts up on the block and the screener initiates a pick and roll. Due to Griffin’s close proximity to the rim and his habit of being pretty much devastating in that area, the opposing defense will often switch on the play in hopes of preventing an easy basket.

Chris Paul immediately recognizes the switch in this situation and sizes Ian Mahinmi up. We know how this story ends. Finally, if there’s ever any prominent action that the Clippers run aside from the pick and roll, it’s having their guards curl around screens to try to make something happen within the arc. More often than not, said guard is Jamal Crawford.

This one is tricky. The play itself is relatively simple: Jamal Crawford runs off a either a single or double screen, he gets the ball while the big man rolls and generally, something good happens or the Clippers get an offensive rebound. Crawford is an immensely talented scorer, so he tends to capitalize on any perceivable advantage. The problem is that Jamal, known as one of the friendliest guys in the NBA, has never met a shot he didn’t like. To demonstrate, here are two different examples of the same play:

That was probably the platonic ideal of this play. Crawford gets just enough separation to make his move while Jeff Pendergraph is preoccupied with a rolling Ronny Turiaf. Oh, and-one. As we all know, the simplest plays can be the most effective. However, the execution is where most sets falter.

Instead of a single screen, Griffin and DJ set a double screen. In theory, this creates more separation and thus increases the Clippers’ chance of success but it also carries Crawford out about an extra foot — into the dreadful long two area. Not to mention, the floor spacing is detrimental as Griffin’s man, Pau Gasol, is ready to stop Crawford from getting to the cup.

And there you have it, folks. That’s the Chris Paul offense, err Clippers’ offense. It’s simple, it’s pretty, it’s fun, it’s well executed and effective for the most part but it probably won’t be enough to fire the Clips into championship contention.

Statistical support for this story provided by NBA.com

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