2015-16 NBA Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

Sep 25, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3), forward Blake Griffin (32), and center DeAndre Jordan (6) during media day at the Clipper Training Facility in Playa Vista. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3), forward Blake Griffin (32), and center DeAndre Jordan (6) during media day at the Clipper Training Facility in Playa Vista. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /
Sep 25, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3), forward Blake Griffin (32), and center DeAndre Jordan (6) during media day at the Clipper Training Facility in Playa Vista. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3), forward Blake Griffin (32), and center DeAndre Jordan (6) during media day at the Clipper Training Facility in Playa Vista. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /


The Los Angeles Clippers have one of the strongest cores in the league, but with Chris Paul’s age there’s a pressure to win now or at least vanquish their Conference Finals demons. Paul is at a tipping point in his career where he’s still relevant as a player and can determine his fate in basketball’s history but he may not have many of those years left. With a lack of post-season success, which has little to do wit his performance and more to do with his opposition and teammates, he could be marginalized as a figure despite his incredible control of the game as a point guard and tough defense. With a revamped bench, the Clippers are looking to strike now and win with Chris Paul leading the way.

2015 in review:

The Clippers led the league in offensive efficiency, with the attack spearheaded by Paul’s mastery. They combined high shooting percentages with an absurdly low turnover rate. They were second in the league in adjusted point differential. Alas, they were in the West, and fell to the third seed, meaning a matchup with the Spurs juggernaut in the first round. In an instant classic, they won the last two games by a combined eight points, ousting the returning champions. Naturally, they were defeated in the second round, thanks to great shooting from Josh Smith and good performances from players like Clint Capela but mostly due to a total collapse in Games 6 and 7. There’s bad luck, and then there are curses. One wonders if the team is under some sort of hex, and if they are it probably has to do with Donald Sterling.

Rotation players in: Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, Cole Aldrich, Pablo Prigioni.

Rotation players out: Matt Barnes, Spencer Hawes, Hedo Turkoglu.

The Clippers renovated their bench and small forward position. Paul Pierce is obviously familiar with Doc Rivers, but he’s an ideal fit here because of his shooting ability, smart defense, and smallball utility. Lance Stephenson is coming off a wretched season, and as such he was a very reasonable “buy low” candidate. He’s worth the risk because it’s tough to improve otherwise when the cap is full and there are no useful assets to sell. Josh Smith is a similar risk, but he showed he could adapt to a smaller bench role on a good team during his time in Houston. Smith can provide some playmaking, defense when focused, and versatility. The Clippers may even use him as smallball five alongside Pierce at power forward. Cole Aldrich is a simple extra defensive big man, but given their options last year he’s probably an upgrade. One under-the-radar addition was the crafty vet Pablo Prigioni, a low usage point guard who passes, sometimes takes an open shot, and plays good team defense.

The team will miss Matt Barnes, warts and all, because of his defensive tenacity and how well he meshed with the other starters. Spencer Hawes was a major disappointment, as his three-point shot left him and his drives to the basket looked as if an upright robot got stuck in molasses and fell downhill. Hedo Turkoglu was somehow on the roster. No offense to the man, but he’s not an NBA player anymore and only tallied minutes because of Doc Rivers’ seeming obsession with Eastern Conference foes from the late 00’s.

2016 Projected

The Clippers are well-balanced at the top with a hall of fame lead ballhandler, a great scorer at power forward who’s both a highlight reel finisher and a truly exceptional passer, an elite and tireless shooter in JJ Redick, and a center who tries to grab all the rebounds and dunk everything near the basket. The question is how well will the team play with their supporting players, and can they stay healthy for the playoffs?

The style of perimeter player which tend to age best are “big” shooters — guys like Pierce can hit outside shots until they collect social security. It’s just that he isn’t quick enough to guard many small forwards, while both Redick and Paul are too small for that role. Wesley Johnson could be a nominal starter, filling out the fifth Beatle role with the Clippers for the first six minutes until the team tries different configurations. The problem is that Johnson to this point of his career has been a 3/D player without the 3 or D.

Stephenson might be the best option at small forward, and that’s a terrifying statement. He’s a good defender, when engaged, with long arms and no fear. He’s a poor shooter, even considering his seasons before 2015, but he’s probably on the level of Matt Barnes, who worked well with the starters.

The lineup of death, however, will be Austin Rivers alongside Stephenson without Chris Paul on the court. I imagine that duo will play together a lot due to Doc’s love of, well, his own son. But both players are poor outside shooters who operate more as slashers and could exacerbate each other’s weaknesses. Opposing defenses will welcome those two guys together, clogging the paint and watching the bricks pile up as Lance throws increasingly more wild passes. Prigioni would make more sense next to Stephenson for bench-heavy units. Stephenson can take the tougher matchup and Prigioni can space the floor for him.

Austin Rivers is, quite frankly, superfluous. Chris Paul is one of the most ball dominant players in NBA history, but he’s so skilled with the ball you obviously want him to have control. So extra ballhandlers should be there for support or for a few backup minutes when he’s resting or injured. But they have a handful of guys who are good ballhandlers but don’t need the ball constantly and good ballhandlers who need the ball to maximize their own value. Josh Smith, for instance, won’t be guarded on the perimeter, but he can flummox defenses when he acts as a frontcourt player pushing the ball forward and zipping creative passes across the court.

There’s a possibility the fit here isn’t ideal and the Clippers will again have major issues with their bench. It’d be no surprise if Stephenson tanked and became a liability, for instance. There’s a high variance with this team, but that’s not necessarily bad. A gamble is smart in this situation because the Clippers need more firepower to push through the other Western Conference teams and they have few assets to bring in that talent; thus, they take fliers on buy-low guys with issues.

Quick statistic/graph

Lance Stephenson had one of the worst shooting seasons ever. Exaggerations and hyperbolic language are common now, but it truly was historically bad with few real comparisons. The good news is that players usually recover their shooting percentages after a down year. Stephenson will likely be a lot better almost because he has to be. Using a four-year model, one can calculate a projected 3PT% based on past results, weighing by recency. Lance had the largest drop from 2014 to 2015, which isn’t shocking when you shoot 17%. Unfortunately, he only projects to shoot around 30% based on his track record. 2014 was anomalously high.

Not only is Stephenson on the list, so is Prigioni — the Clippers are stocking up on guys with an off year from outside the arc. Funnily enough, Hawes joins the party as well. For some reason, he had arguably his worst shooting season since he was a rookie despite getting great looks playing in the Clippers’ high-powered offense. Generally speaking, players who suffered a big one season drop in long range shooting are good buy-low candidates,as those percentages are pretty volatile and usually recover within a year.

Table: biggest year-to-year drops in 3PT% (min. 100 3FGA 2015&2014)

Player2015 3PT%2014 3PT%3PT% changeProjected 3PT%
Lance Stephenson17.135.2-18.129.5
Pablo Prigioni34.346.4-12.139.3
Spencer Hawes31.341.6-10.336.9
Vince Carter29.739.4-9.636.8
Mario Chalmers29.438.5-9.136.2
Patty Mills34.142.5-8.439.3
Boris Diaw32.040.2-8.234.8
Jarrett Jack26.734.1-7.333.6
Gary Neal30.537.8-7.335.8
Arron Afflalo35.442.7-7.237.1


The Clippers had a long-suffering history before they drafted Blake Griffin and traded for Chris Paul. Even with all the early playoff defeats, what they’ve accomplished is commendable and it’s a reverse of fortune that should inspire every down-on-their-luck team. This season, the Clippers have a potentially good bench, but there are a myriad of reasons things could go south given the players involved, due to Paul Pierce and Pablo Prigioni being old, Josh Smith turning back to his bricking ways, and Lance Stephenson pulling a 2015 Dallas Mavericks Rondo on the team. But they’ve given themselves a shot at clawing their way through the playoffs in the west, and for Chris Paul this could be one of his last opportunities to win as the best player.

PBP-Metric[1. This is the initial version of my own metric, which uses a full range of stats collected from play-by-play logs and tested extensively to avoid overfitting.]: 55.9

PT-PM: 53

Nick‘s[2. For a short description, the predictions use regression models and neural networks to apply various stats like BPM, RAPM, and Win Shares to 10,000 simulations of the season game-by-game to select the “best” result.]: 59

Nathan Walker: 53