Los Angeles Clippers Forming New Dynamic Duos, Competing in Western Conference

In late April, Doc Rivers could be seen walking out of the Staples Center for the last time of the 2016-17 NBA season. For the sixth year in a row, the Los Angeles Clippers had been eliminated early from the playoffs.

For most organizations, this run of postseason appearances would be seen as a success, but it was different for Los Angeles. The supposed dynasty had failed to meet the high expectations set for the entirety of the Chris Paul era, and the team had now reached a crossroads. Two franchise icons, Blake Griffin and Paul, were entering free agency, and the front office had to decide if it was going to bring the band back together or blow it up and start a new era of Clippers basketball.

The decision was complicated by the prospect of a new stadium; ownership would like the team to be competitive if it were to enter a different arena. Ultimately, the choice was made to toe the line between the competing path and a rebuilding one. Griffin was re-signed to a five-year maximum contract, but Paul, after expressing his desire to depart, was shipped off for a variety of players and picks.

Losing a top-three point guard will of course dampen a franchise’s outlook, and with the rest of the Western Conference improving so much this off-season, the Clippers looked to be headed in the wrong direction. Public opinion has buried the L.A. squad as a borderline playoff team at best, but the organization has compiled a surprisingly cohesive roster. The motley crew of players assembled in Lob City may be a much different squad than last year, but there is reason to believe it can be nearly as good, thanks to its new group of dynamic duos.

The Dynamic Duos

The biggest addition to the team is Danilo Gallinari. Using NBA Math’s own play-type profiles tool, we learned the forward was the only player in 2016-17 who ranked positively in every play type, both offensively and defensively:

Gallinari has proved he can impact all areas of the game, especially in spot-up situations. But for Los Angeles, his role will be a combination of scoring and shot-creation.

In Clipper Land, he will likely share these jobs with his dynamic-duo partner, Blake Griffin, and there is an obvious way these players will fit together. NBA Math’s own Adam Spinella ranked Blake Griffin as one of the league’s best passing big men, and that skill will make him and Gallinari jell. In Denver, the Italian consistently showed how he can slot right in with any passing big man, especially with that aforementioned spot-up skill:

Mason Plumlee does a great job in Griffin’s role here—getting to the rim and creating for his teammates.

But if you reverse the roles between Gallinari and his new teammate, you can expect similar results. Here, he reads the miscommunication within the pick-and-roll defense and gets Nikola Jokic a layup:

Gallinari would be at his best next to any talented offensive big. But the fit between these two frontcourt players looks like a match made in heaven, and they should surely succeed on offense.

Meanwhile, look out for another dynamic duo on defense.

As part of the package received in return for CP3, Patrick Beverley found a new home with the Clippers. It’s not ideal to lose an All-Defensive First Team player at the point guard position (Paul). But thankfully for L.A., it was able to replace him with the other guard from that same squad.

According to NBA Math’s total points added (TPA), Beverly had 29.7 more defensive points saved (DPS) this season in only 100 minutes more than Paul, and as a result, the Clippers won’t miss a beat on defense. With DeAndre Jordan still manning the middle, the franchise will once again have one of the league’s top defensive pairings.

Watch on this play as Paul fights over a screen to stay with John Wall and force a pass, then Jordan finishes off the possession with a block:

Paul and Jordan successfully shut down all alleyways on this possession. Beverley, thankfully for the Clippers, can play this role just as well. His ability to stay with defenders has made him a notoriously tough matchup around the league. He knows to force guys into the help, and just when his man looks up and reacts to the movement, he snatches away the ball—sly knowhow that culminates in a whopping 2.3 steals per 100 possessions. 

Victor Oladipo is the victim here:

The second Oladipo peeks up at the defenders, he gets stripped.

And Beverley could be even more effective now. Clint Capela is a good rim-protector, but he is not as distracting as Jordan under the basket. Capela is a decent defender at the rim—he was in the 54.1 percentile on post-up defense. But he doesn’t even compare to Jordan, as the incumbent center placed in the 90.5 percentile against post-up attempts and has always been one of the Association’s best rim protectors. The new point guard-center tandem should wreak havoc on opposing offenses and make it very hard for the opponent to score at the hoop.

Deepening Depth

Part of the reason for the Clippers’ postseason demises over the last half-decade was their atrocious bench. Wesley Johnson, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford aren’t exactly world-beaters, and the lack of bench production served as a direct testament. Doc Rivers, in his general manager role, made it a point to improve the reserves after the 2016-17 campaign, and rolling out a second unit of Milos Teodosic, Rivers, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and Willie Reed will be a massive improvement over the last few seasons.

We already know what Rivers brings to the franchise, and he doesn’t necessarily mesh with any other type of player due to his ball-stopping nature and lack of defensive force. The new additions are the focus of this portion, and two of them create another dynamic duo.

Harrell and Dekker already have chemistry from their days in Houston.

Check out how the former sets up the latter for a corner three in this clip by drawing the defense, recognizing the help and making the extra pass:

This chemistry should carry over into L.A. and will be even better in the future, as both players are only 23 years old. They’ll continue to grow together as teammates, and that connection will give Clippers fans something else to be excited about.

And don’t forget about Reed. He may have fallen far in this post, but he should not be forgotten on the court. His fit with the type of player Teodosic is rumored to be—a flashy playmaker with unbelievable court vision—could ensure Lob City lives on a little longer.

Here, Reed screens and rolls after a dribble handoff, reads the miscommunication, gets into space and is able to finish an alley-oop while drawing a foul:

Not only does Reed keep the offense moving, but he also recognizes open space and gets to the rim, where he thrives. Reed ranked in the 70.8 percentile as a roll man, producing a solid 1.13 points per possession. Combine that with the playmaking Teodosic will bring, and Los Angeles’ second unit should be incredibly exciting.

Even with a lot of roster turnover, the Clippers were able to bring together a group of players that fits nicely together.

With quite a few new members on the roster, chemistry could be problematic at the beginning of the season. But once they figure each other out, the results could prove surprising. Bringing in players who specialize on one particular side of the ball will allow Los Angeles to be flexible with lineups and adequately react to any situation. That lineup malleability, mixed with a rotation that features two borderline All-Stars, gives the team a fighting chance to match last season’s performance.

Around 46 to 48 wins seems very plausible for this squad. Losing an All-Star obviously makes them worse, but setting up these new duos guarantees the Clippers will stay afloat in the stacked Western Conference—and maybe even coalesce into a threat to be reckoned with when it matters most.


Follow Tony on Twitter @TEastNBA.

Follow NBA Math on Twitter @NBA_Math and on Facebook.

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from NBA Math, Basketball Reference or NBA.com.