The Los Angeles Clippers are the real deal. After jumping out of the gates with a league best 10-1 record to begin the season, the Clippers have secured their best start in franchise history.
While the NBA world had their sights set on a finals rematch between the new look Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Clippers have quietly dominated to begin the season, and look like the best team in the Western Conference thus far.
Los Angeles is mostly the same squad that has failed to escape the second round of the playoffs for the past several years. The team still boasts three All-NBA players in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan, as well as a championship coach in Doc Rivers.
After a successful offseason, the Clippers have effectively bolstered their bench. The acquisitions of savvy veterans in Marreese Speights and Raymond Felton, along with the resigning of Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers have flipped the script in LA.
While once known as a team with a great starting lineup and an anemic bench, the Clippers have finally evolved into an all-around super-team with legitimate depth.
Rivers has boosted his defensive skills and versatility by ferociously hitting the gym this summer at the request of his father. The result enabled the former number ten overall pick to expand his game by gaining the strength necessary to effectively defend bigger forwards.
Despite a rocky start Speights has carved out quite a role for himself in Los Angeles, managing to provide the Clippers with a solid offensive burst at the forward position while coming off of the bench. The former Golden State Warrior provides frontcourt depth and enables coach Rivers to spread the floor with him at center in an increasingly effective small-ball lineup.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Clippers has been the impact of Raymond Felton. The 11-year veteran has brought a defensive grit every time he steps on the court.
The improved bench play has helped the Clippers take the next step in becoming an elite team and contender in the NBA.
Blake Griffin has noticed a big difference in the Clipper’s bench production.
“The second unit has done an unbelievable job, especially defensively of just buying into the principles,” Griffin said. “[Raymond Felton] just absolutely dogs the ball, every time, and makes it tough to even start the offense.”
Even head coach Doc Rivers can’t help but notice just how well his team has come together this year.
”This is the best team I’ve had here,” Doc Rivers said after a win against the up and coming Timberwolves. ”But we got to keep doing it. We’ve got to keep getting better and performing. But this is a heck of a basketball team.”
The league has begun to take notice of this years ‘killer’ Clippers. They sit atop Mark Steins power rankings at the number two spot, only trailing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not surprisingly, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has kept an eye on Los Angeles and their early season dominance.
“The continuity that they have is impressive,” Kerr said. “It makes a lot of sense that they’re playing so well early on. They’ve been together a long time, they execute, and they’ve got a good roster.”
Known in the past for their world beating offense, the Clippers have managed to emerge as the league’s best defensive team as well. Los Angeles has held opponents to a league low 92.7 points per 100 possessions.
“When you play defense the way we have been, it’s a lot of fun,” Griffin said after a win against the Trail Blazers. “We enjoy getting stops and look forward to getting stops. Guys are just flying around, and even if someone makes a mistake, there’s another guy to cover up for them. When you are playing basketball like that, it’s a blast.”
While Los Angeles has found a central defensive identity, they remain the same offensive powerhouse of seasons past.
Griffin has led the Clippers while averaging 20.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Los Angeles has already been the positive side of several blowouts this year, leading the NBA in margin of victories and outscoring opponents by an average of 15.2 points.
There is no reason that the Clippers can’t continue their impressive win streak, as seven of their next 10 opponents have records of .500 or less.
It seems that after several years of retooling and tinkering, the Clippers are finally on par with the elite teams of the league. Only time will tell if they can maintain such dominance, but as of now Los Angles could very well be the best team in the NBA.