Behind Enemy Lines: Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets continue their stretch of under .500 opponents tonight, at STAPLES center. Though we dominated sub .500 teams last year, we've already dropped games to the Bocats and Kings. In my mind, the Clippers are one of the bigger enigmas of the NBA. Lots of firepower on paper, pretty huge mess on the floor thus far. Z-Randolph figures ot make his Clipper debut tonight. Clipper Steve of Clips Nation helps preview the match up after the jump:

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At the Hive: How goes the Baron Davis era thus far?

Clips Nation: Well, if you're a fan of what some people call 'results', it's been a disaster.  He's been injury-prone in his career, so that was a concern going into camp, and he promptly tore a ligament in his finger and missed all but one pre-season game.  Then he took a nasty fall in the second game of the season and missed a game and a half.  There was a concern that his free-wheeling style would not mesh well with the walk-it-up history of coach Mike Dunleavy Sr, and then Baron gave credence to those concerns with some 'the playbook is too big' type comments in a recent Bill Plaschke column.  The off-season concern that he would be so distracted by being home in LA that basketball would be secondary always seemed ludicrous to me, but he's certainly not been playing inspired basketball, and is shooting a dismal 39% from the field.  So, team 2-11, Baron 39%... so far, not so good.

But it's very early.  The injuries may have contributed to the slow start - he's still got his fingers wrapped, after all - but they're not going to linger all season.  And while he did comment on the stylistic disconnect with MDsr, for the most part he's said all the right things about working with the coach and the system.  He's clearly the most talented point guard the franchise has ever had (and the second most talented one the Hornets have ever had!)  I'm still excited about the Baron Davis era, despite a very shaky start.
@tH: To be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge fan of the Zach Randolph move for the Clippers. I think it overloads the front court, underloads the back court, and makes no sense overall. Your take?

CN: "It overloads the front court, underloads the back court, and makes no sense overall."  The Citizens of Clips Nation know that I'm not one to say something in 14 words if I can say it in 500 words, but my take is ... what you said.  You know, it's never a good sign when you acquire a player who caused significant rejoicing in the fan base the last time he LEFT a city.  And the shooting guard position has been an unmitigated disaster in the two games since Cat Mobley left the building; I love Eric Gordon, and I'm happy that he's going to get more minutes, but he's 19, and Ricky Davis is a slow motion train wreck right now.  And no, Mardy Collins is not the answer.  Obviously it's hard to pass judgment before Z-Bo's even put on the uniform, and the simple fact is that the Clippers gave up two guys who didn't figure in their future plans.  But they also gave up 2010 cap space, and that could come back to haunt them.  Zach's a statistical monster, so maybe it's all worth it.  We'll start to find out tonight.

@tH: Al Thornton was one of the rookies that flew severely under the radar last year despite arguably outplaying R.O.Y. Kevin Durant. How has his game changed over the offseason?

CN: I don't know that I would say Al's game has changed a lot - but by the end of last season he was playing really well, so that's a pretty good thing.  He has some areas where he's better, and some where there's still room for improvement.  He's been better defensively this season, both on the ball and on his rotations, which you would expect in his second season.  He still gets pretty tunnel-visioned on the rim and often tries to create shots that just aren't there - which goes hand in hand with a need for improved passing.  He settles for his jump shot too often, and doesn't seem to adjust in game when he's just no hitting from outside.  He's been more active on the boards the last couple of games which is a welcome development, and hopefully he'll sustain that.  The great news is that he's an incredibly hard worker, both in games and by all accounts in practice as well.  So there's every reason to expect he'll keep making incremental improvements.

@tH: The Clippers seem to be one of those terrific "on paper" teams: elite PG in Baron, more than adequate scoring in Ricky Davis, underrated player in Kaman, Defensive Player of the Year in Camby, a really nice young player in Thornton... and on and on. And yet, this team is struggling to win ball games. In your eyes, why hasn't this "paper" translated onto the court?

CN: Going into the season, the Clippers 14 man roster featured nine new players.  With the Randolph trade that number is up to a fairly astounding eleven.  I did some quick research in the off-season to check on year-to-year roster turnover and found that five returning players is not that unusual.  But three... that's just crazy, and almost never happens.  So it was reasonable to expect some issues with 'chemistry' or 'meshing' or whatever you want to call it.  Those issues were exacerbated by a pre-season that saw the two key newcomers miss significant time (Baron played a single pre-season game and Camby didn't play at all), which then carried over into the regular season, scuttling any hopes of a good start.  The difficult early season schedule didn't help any either. 

And now, with Randolph, the whole chemistry experiement gets another very large test tube full of possibly radioactive material. 

Kaman and Thornton have been great - as good as or maybe better than could be expected.  Camby has been Camby since his return.  And the team has gotten some good play from rookie guards Eric Gordon and Mike Taylor - something that was pretty unexpected from 55th pick Taylor.  But Baron has been sub-par, with the aforementioned 39% shooting, and Ricky Davis has been a complete disaster - he's shooting 27% on the season, and is 2 for 14 in two post-Mobley starts. 

There are some signs of life.  Kaman and Camby are both good interior passers, and seem to be developing some rapport.  And as you say, the talent is there (although I remain really concerned about the shooting guard).  But the hole may already be too big this season - it certainly can't get much bigger while the team is trying to figure out how to integrate Z-Bo.  So on the whole, it's been a major disappointment here in Clips Nation.

Thanks again to Clipper Steve. Head over to Clips Nation for the Clippers' take on tonight's game as well as my responses to some of his questions.

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