I invited Steve Perrin to do our first Q&A of the 2013-14 season on Monday, before he knew the L.A. Clippers would drop their opener against the L.A. Lakers and before I knew that the Golden State Warriors would demolish the Lakers the following.
But in a way, that might make this a good reality check for us as the Warriors play their first road game of the season at Staples Center tonight: we probably should entertain the possibility that neither team's performance against the Lakers was an accurate reflection of what may become of their season.
To save time, I will compose your reply about the Warriors for you: "How dare you! Klay Thompson is going to have a 92.1 eFG% every game!"— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) October 31, 2013
The Clippers are still the favorites to win the Pacific - and, perhaps for some, the Western Conference - by most accounts and the Warriors still have some questions about what their rotation might look like when they're actually faced with a challenge.
Would the focus of the questions or tone of the answers change if this was done again today? Possibly. But there's quite a bit that probably wouldn't need to because Steve knows his team. If you want to see Steve's questions for me, head over to Clips Nation (which posted their end yesterday to cure their Lakers hangover).
Q&A with Clips Nation
1. GSoM: Expectations are extremely high for the Clippers this year. What in your opinion is the biggest factor in the team realizing your personal expectations?
Steve Perrin: I just want them all to go out there and have fun, you know? If they do their best, and try their hardest, that's all I can ask.
OK, enough AYSO dad crap.
The Clippers have to improve on several areas from last year's team, and there's a decent chance that they will. They have to defend better, and another year of development from DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin could make a difference on that end, especially with head coach Doc Rivers emphasizing defense and motivating his young bigs. Rivers' presence should also help in the form of better defensive schemes -- let's face it, he's got a slightly better rep than Vinny Del Negro. So the defense needs to be better, and there's a real chance it will be.
They also need for Griffin to take the next step in his development on offense. I think the implementation of a new offense with more movement, along with the addition of some elite outside shooters like J.J. Redick, will make the offense better in general (and it was already pretty good, fourth in the league last year). But while Griffin led the team in scoring, he tended to get his points early, and wasn't a reliable source of offense late in games. When defenses dig in, Rivers' movement is going to be less of a factor, and it often comes down to players making plays. Last year, that responsibility fell almost entirely to Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford -- Griffin needs to be a reliable source of offense late in games for the Clippers to take the next step.
2. GSoM: Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski had an article on Monday about Rivers pulling off the J.J. Redick deal despite the best efforts of owner Donald Sterling to ruin it. Coach Nick had a video last week about how Doc Rivers' offense is an improvement over what Vinny Del Negro did last season. But from what you've seen as a fan, what has you most excited or concerned about Rivers' arrival?
SP: I took Woj's story with a pretty big grain of salt; I think he may have sensationalized it a wee bit. As for Coach Nick's video, I don't get too excited about that sort of thing either. It's way too easy to find individual examples of bad offense from last season and good offense from the pre-season. Give me an hour and I'll show you a video showing great offense under Vinny and bad offense under Doc.
I tend to think that coaches get too much credit when things are good and too much blame when they're bad - the reality is that talent is ultimately what wins or loses games. Having said that, coaches do matter some, and Rivers is a pretty definitive upgrade over Del Negro.
One area where coaches can clearly have an impact is in regards to communicating and motivating, and Rivers is a master communicator -- I mean unbelievably good. He seems to be working from a master plan with this team, and it's a good one. From his first press conference, he has praised Jordan's defensive potential, saying that DJ had a chance to be the Defensive Player of the Year some day. It was an absurd thing to say given the actual defense that Jordan has played in his career, but it's all part of a plan to build Jordan's confidence. Rivers has kept saying it, and maybe some people are starting to believe, first and foremost Jordan himself.
The simple fact is that Jordan is an athletic freak who could be a difference-maker on the defensive end. His combination of length, strength, quickness and athleticism just doesn't happen very often. It's also true that Jordan should focus almost exclusively on defense, which is where he can have the most impact.
Del Negro seemed to do everything he could to tear down Jordan's confidence. Doc is trying to build him up, and so far it's working. He looked great in pre-season (yes, it's just pre-season, but still) and he's certainly saying all the right things.
I love that Rivers is a great communicator, I love that he has a plan, and so far I love how he is executing that plan with Jordan. Time will tell if he gets the results he desires, but he'll need Jordan to be a major factor this season if the Clippers are going to succeed.
3. GSoM: Speaking of Jordan, how do you project the Clippers to finish games this season given Jordan's struggle to hit free throws? Is this something Rivers has addressed directly?
SP: This is actually one of the things I love about the way Doc has handled Jordan since taking over, and is in stark contrast to Vinny.
Rivers has said, in no uncertain terms, that Jordan will be on the floor at the end of games. When reporters ask "What if the other team starts fouling?" he says "Then DeAndre will go to the line and shoot free throws and he'll probably miss a bunch of them." He says flat out that he's not worried about it and that he wants his best defender on the floor -- he likes to point out that plenty of dominant NBA centers (Shaw, Wilt, Russell) were poor free throw shooters.
I HATED it last season when the Clippers went into panic mode as the other team started fouling -- it happened a couple times against the Warriors. Either leave Jordan in the game or take him out, but don't act like a bunch of idiots when the intentional fouls start coming. DJ running away from the foul was just embarrassing, and couldn't have been putting him in the right mindset to try to make free throws. You only have to make 1 of 2 to make the hack strategy a bad bet for the opposition. So take ownership of the situation and shoot your damn free throws if you're out there. That's always been my position on it, and it seems like Doc feels the same way.
We'll see what really happens when the games count, but he insists that Jordan is going to play in the fourth. (Of course, his other options are Mullens or Jamison or Hollins, so Jordan may simply be the least bad of several not great options.)
4. GSoM: Having watched the team in preseason and gotten a sense for rotations and combinations, which new addition excites you most?
SP: Redick spent most of the pre-season resting a slight quad tear and only played the final two pre-season games. He didn't shoot particularly well in either of those, but it's tough not to be excited about what he brings to the equation. I've long thought the NBA undervalued shooting -- as you guys know up in Oakland, it doesn't matter what else your team can do, if they can shoot, they're always going to have a chance.
I think the Warriors' success last season started a rush among the other teams toward more shooting, and certainly that was the top priority for the Clippers this off-season, who added Redick and Jared Dudley and Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison. Redick is one of those shooters who you expect to make everything he puts up -- he's not Steph Curry, but then again no one is, and J.J.'s in the top group of shooters-not-named-Steph-Curry in the entire league.
Rivers was always able to get Ray Allen good looks in Boston, running his defender off multiple screens all over the floor, and Redick is almost as good without the ball as Allen. With CP3 getting into the lane and collapsing the defense, and Griffin commanding attention in the post, Redick is going to get plenty of open looks. Even in limited pre-season action, although he missed a lot of shots, Redick was getting wide open looks. Heck, Willie Green made 71 threes and shot 43% from out there playing with these guys last season -- what is Redick going to do in that role? I feel like he's going to be an incredible weapon for the Clippers.
5. GSoM: The Warriors and Clippers had a sort of wild regular season series last year. What new addition to the Clippers do you think could make the biggest difference in this year's matchup?
SP: That was crazy last year, wasn't it? If you throw out the first game where I don't think the Clippers took the Warriors seriously enough, the next three were the kinds of games where the winner was so freaking good, I don't think it would have mattered what the other team did. When Steph went for 54 against the Knicks in February and the whole country started to figure out how good he was, I felt like "Welcome to the party, pal". He'd already had two unbelievable games against the Clippers by that time (31 points on 16 shots and 28 points on 14 shots).
So unless Darren Collison or Jared Dudley can come in and shut Curry down when he's in the zone (hint: they can't), I sort of get the impression that it won't matter much what the Clippers do, or what difference one of the new guys might make. If the Warriors (especially Steph) shoot like normal human beings, I like the Clippers chances. If they go into NBA 2K13 mode and start making everything, then forget it.
6. GSoM: The Clippers are generally considered the favorite to win the Pacific Division - and, of course, the entire Western Conference in the opinion of some - but how close do you see the competition between the Clippers and Warriors (and, for the fun of it, Lakers?) being for the division title?
SP: It's a two-team race -- you can forget the Lakers. I think Kobe's going to be smart with the Achilles and take the time to make sure it's healed; they're probably not good enough to be a factor with him, and they're certainly not going to be one without him. Heck, I might even pick Sacto for third in the Pacific.
I think the Clippers will probably win the division for the simple reason that their game plan is a little less volatile. With CP3 driving the train, the Clippers should be able to consistently take care of business against the teams they're supposed to beat. On the other hand, the Warriors are going to lose some games when they're not hitting jump shots. If both teams are on their game, it's a toss-up -- and that will again make the Dubs an incredibly dangerous playoff team -- but I see the Clippers as the more consistent regular season team.
The Clippers won the division by nine games last year and I think both teams got better this summer. The Dubs will improve more than the Clippers in terms of wins and losses -- partly because it's easier to find more wins in 35 losses than it is to find them in 26 losses and partly because they now believe that they're a good team whereas last year they weren't always sure -- but I figure the Clippers still win the Pacific fairly comfortably, five or six games.
Don't hate me.
We won't, Steve.