Are The Clippers Title Contenders?
The Los Angeles Clippers are currently riding a franchise best 14 game winning streak, and currently stand as the #1 team in the Western Conference and NBA with a 22-6 record. There is no question that the Clippers are a very good team. Their record and winning streak speak for itself on that account. But are they a championship contender? Are they that good of a team? That question is a little bit tougher to answer since it still stands to reason that the Oklahoma City Thunder are the class of the West and that the Miami Heat are the best team in the NBA coming off their championship run. If one is to say the Clippers are title contenders, then one has to agree that they have what it takes to knock off the Thunder and Heat in a 7 game series. Upon analyzing their team, from my perspective anyway, it seems that they do indeed have what it takes to eliminate the Thunder and the Heat in a 7 game series because they have the stars, the depth, the scoring, and the defense to do it.
A huge asset for the Clippers is having the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul, who is the ultimate floor general. He is able to get everybody on his team involved as well as being able to take over a game if needed. In order to win a championship, you need to have a guy that can take over a game, deliver in the clutch, and close out a game. No doubt Chris Paul is capable of doing all three things and is on a very short list of players who can do that on a nightly basis. Having that guy on their team alone makes them contenders. Then, you look down low and you have Blake Griffin, who is the most exciting young power forward in basketball. Blake Griffin has a similar ability of taking over the game due to his freakish athleticism and explosive play down in the post. Plus, he’s getting more and more comfortable hitting that 15-18 foot jumper, a sign of his game becoming more polished. We’ve seen point guard/power forward combos compete for titles in the past, with John Stockton and Karl Malone in Utah, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in San Antonio, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in Seattle, and Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley in Phoenix. All of those combos either won a championship or at least went to the NBA Finals. No reason to not believe that a Chris Paul/Blake Griffin combo could take a team to the Finals.
In addition to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers also have one of the strongest supporting casts and deepest benches in the NBA. Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, and Chauncey Billups are all guys that can put the ball in the hole and get hot. Especially Jamal Crawford, who can frequently get hot for long stretches of time, and in the process change the game. Some nights, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will be off their game, and they’ll need somebody to lift them while they are in a funk. Jamal Crawford is a guy who can help them out while they are struggling by scoring and keeping the team afloat while they are down. They also have Lamar Odom, who is able to score, defend, rebound, and play both the small forward and power forward positions, if healthy and in shape. In addition to that, the Clippers have guys with championship experience (Billups, Odom, Butler, and Ronny Turiaf), which should serve them well come playoff time. It is no secret that one of the keys to a championship season in the NBA is having a strong bench and supporting cast, and the Clippers have that thanks to the explosive scoring and championship experience surrounding Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Not only do the Clippers look good on paper, but they also look good on the stat sheet as well. They rank 8th in the NBA in scoring (101.3 points per game), 3rd in field goal percentage (48%), 4th in points allowed (92.44 points allowed per game), 4th in opponents field goal percentage (42.6%), 3rd in assists (23.16 assists per game), 7th in blocks per game (6.24), and #1 in steals per game (10.56). The only real weakness on this team is their lack of rebounding, which ranks 20th in the NBA (41.2 rebounds per game). But aside from that, they look really good. They shoot and score efficiently, defend really well, and force turnovers at league best rate of 17.5 forced turnovers per game. The numbers don’t lie: the Clippers are playing really good basketball right now.
Even though it is only December, it is still clear from analyzing the Clippers both on the stat sheet and on paper, that they are a team that can realistically win an NBA Championship. They have the stars, they have the depth, they have the scoring, and they have the defense to do it. The only thing that stands in their way is that they are still a relatively newly formed team and are still in the process of figuring out how to work all their pieces together. Not to mention, the teams ahead of them are very good. It’ll be a tough task for the Clippers to win an NBA Championship this season, but there is no question in my mind that winning a championship this season is something that they can realistically do if they put their minds to it and continue to play basketball at the level that they are playing at right now.
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