The Clippers have done things their own way since Doc Rivers arrived on the scene, for better or worse. They have continuously ignored the voices of critics and the media alike, and this season it seems to have paid off.
Let’s start with the objectivity of going big. The Los Angeles Clippers’ front court makeup of power forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan is looking as healthy and dominant as any big man duo in the NBA.
This has not only lead them to the best record (12-2) in the league, but Griffin’s and Jordan’s play has elevated the Clippers to becoming a true championship contender.
Griffin has been resurgent in each match up, returning to his “bull in a China shop” form that led to the admiration and obsession of basketball fans around the world.
In a league that has been extremely vocal about the needs and benefits of playing small ball, the Clippers run in the opposite direction. Los Angeles boasts two All NBA big men who despite Griffins mid-range jumper, lack the ability to spread the floor or knock down three point shots with any consistency.
The Golden State Warriors turned the NBA on its head when they set the league on fire with their ‘Lineup of Death’, featuring: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green.
The lineup was extremely efficient, running teams off of the court with their combination of elite speed, ball handling skills and shooting abilities at every position, the power forward and center spots in particular.
The Warriors ‘Lineup of Death’ sent ripples throughout the league, boosting the value of “tweener” forwards like Draymond Green and Julius Randle, who have uncanny guard skills for their size that allows them to facilitate an offense.
Small ball lineups began spreading throughout the league like wildfire, and now essentially every team has a “small” squad that specializes in shooting, ball handling and fast breaks. The move misconstrued the leagues opinion on traditional centers, who have now become practically obsolete.
Draymond Green has made it hard to be a big man who can’t dribble with the ease of a point guard or fire passes with marksmen-like accuracy. Good players like Dwight Howard are suddenly looked down upon for their inability to spread the floor or defend quick guards on the perimeter.
However, there is still something to be said about the traditional big man, and the Clippers have two of the league’s best in Griffin and Jordan.
Griffin is more capable of evolving into the new look center that the modern NBA has become infatuated with than most traditional bigs, though that is not his strong suit.
He is a bruising and punishing force in the paint, with a knack for finishing through contact. His athleticism and strength allows him to dribble, drive, jump over and out maneuver defenders in the post.
If teams stack up in the paint, Griffin is more than capable of stepping out and knocking down a mid-range jumper with consistency. While he doesn’t lead the Clippers in assists, the Oklahoma standout possesses the skills necessary to find the open man when double teamed in the post.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has complimented Griffin’s passing skills more than once.
“I just ask him to do everything,” Rivers said. “Really, Blake has a full plate when you think about it. We need you to take jump shots, we need you to post, we need you to pass, we need you to rebound, we need you to defend, we need you to push the ball up the floor. He’s got a large plate and he holds it well.”
Even arguably the best passer in the league, Chris Paul vouches for Griffin’s passing ability.
“You really have to pick your poison because Blake makes the right plays,” Paul said. “He kicks it or he attacks, and we’re really at our best.”
Deandre Jordan, while less skilled offensively is more of a traditional center than Griffin. Jordan boasts jaw dropping athleticism for his height, using a staggering frame to hone in on opponents in the paint and anchor the Clippers defense. The Texas native is an all-star and an Olympic gold medalist, and after being named to the All-NBA first team last season he cemented himself as the top center in the league.
While he is a terror defensively, Jordan is a terrible shooter, with a free throw percentage of just 33.3% to start this season. He is not known as a great passer either, though he does manage to find Griffin for lobs down low. Jordan simply does not possess the skills necessary to play in a true small ball lineup like we have seen from the Warriors or even the New York Knicks at times.
Despite this, Jordan excels while facing smaller, and even more skilled opponents. His athleticism allows him to run the court with ease, keeping up with a point forward a la Draymond Green. These same abilities permit him to defend on the perimeter, something few NBA centers can boast.
Golden State Warriors head coach and reigning ‘Coach of the Year’ winner Steve Kerr has explained the value of having a dynamic defender in this increasingly small NBA on multiple occasions.
“It’s never been more important to guard one through five than right now because the league is going small and everybody’s shooting 30 threes a night,” Kerr said. “To have multiple defenders who can get out and cover shooters is important, but to have a guy who can do that and protect the rim and grab rebounds and switch onto pick-and-roll point guards and stay in front of them, it’s incredibly unique and important.”
Jordan proved he could hang with small ball lineups in this year’s Olympics, as it is practically the preferred style of play in European leagues.
As the 2016-17 season gets underway, the Clippers are poised to be a leading team in the hyper competitive Western Conference, all while ignoring the rules of the “modern NBA”. This is only possible because Los Angeles has the most dynamic frontcourt in the league.
Both Griffin and Jordan have proven in previous playoff match ups that they can run the floor with the small ball lineups that the Warriors hold with such high regard. Only time will tell if the Clippers can hang with Golden State after their addition of Durant.
In a league where traditional centers and power forwards have been largely eradicated, the Clippers stick to their big guns, and they are better for it.