Wizards (24-27) at Clippers (17-32)
Notable Clippers numbers this season
24th in expected winning percentage (.347).
11th in pace factor (91.4 possessions per game).
27th in offensive efficiency/offensive rating (102.8)
15th in defensive efficiency/defensive rating (107.8).
PG: Sam Cassell
SG: Cuttino Mobley
SF: Corey Maggette
PF: Al Thornton
C: Chris Kaman
PG: Antonio Daniels/Roger Mason
SG: DeShawn Stevenson
SF: Caron Butler/Andray Blatche
PF: Antawn Jamison
C: Brendan Haywood
Wizards at Clippers: Clippers by 3
Over/Under on total scoring: 193 points.
Since I really haven't followed the Clippers at all this year, I turned to Steve from Clips Nation for a quick Q&A in preparation for tonight.
Bullets Forever:: It seemed we were just talking last year about Chris Kaman being the latest young big man to go into the tank after signing a big contract extension. What the hell has happened to him this year? What is he doing differently this year that has enabled him to be a reliable offensive option?
Clips Nation: Kaman's current performance is even more remarkable because he was so bad last season after steadily improving his first three seasons in the league. So there are really two questions - what happened to him this year, and what happened to him last year? And I'll tell you. I don't know (but that doesn't keep me from writing about it).
There's a ready-made pseudo-scientific answer - you may or may not know that Kaman was treated for ADHD as a child. Well, over the summer, it was determined that he had been mis-diagnosed and that he did not have ADHD. He had not taken medication for years and never as a pro, but his actual condition (the doctors call it an 'anxious brain') was going untreated. This summer he worked on a neurofeedback system that helped him calm the processes in his brain. Here's I would describe it - basketball is a fast game; to Kaman's brain pre-treatment, it seemed even faster; with his newfound neurofeedback therapy, it has slowed down. From a cause and effect viewpoint, it's certainly had a major influence. Observationally this explanation seems to fit with his performance. There were times in his career where Chris seemed overwhelmed by his options - "I could spin left, or I could pivot back to the right, or I could fade away, or I could keep dribbling" - to the point where he seemed to try everything at once. This season, he's more decisive and, importantly, seems to be making the right decisions.
Kaman's always had an extraordinary combination of size and skills. He's quick, he's agile, and he uses either hand to score with an array of low post moves. He's also added a consistent jump shot out to 18 feet this season. His scoring is a direct result of more touches on offense. His shooting percentage (48%), although better than last season's dismal 45%, is actually way off of the 52% from the season before that. (The constant double teams he faces as a result of the lack of other offensive options certainly hurts there.) But it's his defense that is revelatory: he's third in the league in rebounding and blocked shots. He's blocking twice as many shots per game as his previous career high - that's not just extra minutes or extra chances. He's more focused and more aggressive. Whatever the reason, I like it. (Your Wizards may have caught a break, as he's been in his first real slump of the season since a recent bout with the flu.)
BF: What do you do with Corey Maggette this offseason? Under the radar (to me at least), he's scoring 24.4 points/40 minutes with a 20.2 PER and an insane 60.7 true shooting percentage, but there have always been whispers about whether his one-on-one style meshes with a "team" game. Would you re-sign him, and if so, for how much? If not, how would you deal with the situation?
CN: What do I do? I'll invite him on a camping trip to Yosemite, and he'll report me to the authorities. Just like every summer. Stupid restraining order.
Corey's potential free agency (like Gil, it's an early termination option which he's likely to exercise) is a pretty big unknown around here. He turned down a big contract extension this summer which implies that he'll opt out. But as you pointed out in your answers on Arenas and Jamison, there won't be a whole lot of teams with big money this summer, so he may be disappointed if he thinks suitors are going to line up to pay him more than the extension the Clippers offered (around 3$30M).
However, if he keeps up his current pace, that could change. His season numbers are really good. But since January 1, he's been completely out of his head. He's scoring 24 per game, and shooting over 54% from the field in 2008 (he's a career 45% shooter). The way he gets to the line, his points per shot will always be among the best in the league. If he also shoots a high percentage from the field and from deep, well, it's just not fair. (Butler's come back to earth some, but Corey is playing now the way Caron played in November - making shots AND getting to the line.) So he's certainly making a good case for a big contract offer.
The major complication from the Clippers standpoint is that the organization is divided on the guy. Owner Donald T. Sterling loves him, and has apparently vetoed a couple of trades that would have shipped him out of town. Coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. doesn't share Sterling's opinion, and is the guy who keeps trying to trade Maggette. Maggette was at the center of an ugly public spat between the owner and the coach conducted in the newspaper last month. So pretty much anything is possible with him, depending on who wins the power struggle within the organization. He could be traded in the next couple weeks; he could be re-signed this summer for big money; he could walk.
I'm hoping that the Clippers don't get too sentimental on this. Corey is the longest-tenured Clipper, a crowd favorite and the owner's pet. In this situation, teams often bid against themselves to re-sign a player. The 3/$30 deal that was on the table would be fine. More than that (or worse, longer than that) would be a problem in the future. Maggette is 28, but his style of play means that he gets injured frequently, and he's unlikely to be as effective as he's getting older. Put it this way - if Corey Maggette is making $13M at the age of 32, whoever paid him that will regret it.
If indeed he is traded or signs elsewhere, the Clippers have their starting small forward already. His name is Al Thornton (see below).
BF:Besides Maggette and Kaman, who makes the Brand/Livingston-less Clippers worth watching that perhaps those who aren't following the team closely wouldn't know about? What makes said player(s) interesting/exciting/etc.?
CN:All fans tend to like their team's players. I like all of the Clippers (except Tim Thomas, but really, can you blame me?) For the uninitiated, watch Quinton Ross play defense. He's a pretty terrible offensive player, but he's one of the best defenders in the league. (With no Agent Zero in this game, Q won't get a lot of minutes because there's no big time perimeter players for the stopper to stop.) Sam Cassell is defying his age by continuing to play really well. The Clippers are limiting his minutes, but unlike the other old-timers in the league (Mutumbo, Darrell Armstrong, etc.) Sam continues to start, and continues to be effective. If Nick Young has to guard him at any time, Sam will get him to bite on a pump fake and make him look silly in the process. It's a little initiation Sam likes to conduct for all NBA rookies.
But if this is the first time you're watching the Clippers this season (and of course it is, because, you know, it's the Clippers) the guy to watch is rookie Al Thornton. With LA suffering so many injuries over and above Elton Brand's ruptured Achilles, Thornton has been pressed into service in his rookie year. His minutes have steadily increased - 16 per game in November, 19 in December, 26 in January and 32 so far in February - and so has his productivity. Unlike many rookies who have hit the wall, Thornton is coming into his own. He's averaging over 10 points per game on the season (one of only three rookies in double figures) and over 14 per game in 2008. But most importantly, he has become the Clippers go to scorer late in games. In wins against the Nets, Hawks and Raptors within the last month, Thornton has gotten the ball on every crucial fourth quarter possession and delivered. He has scored 18 or more points in 7 of his last 14 games, including a season-high 33 against the Hawks. He's got athleticism off the charts, a lightning first step, the ability to create his own shot, and a smooth jump shot. He's a major bright spot in a pretty bleak season for the Clippers.
Many thanks to Steve for his answers. This is an open game thread, so revisit the Brand vs. Arenas debate here, if you all wish.
Update [2008-2-13 21:28:1 by Pradamaster]: Butler's probably out, both tonight and for the all-star game. Daniels is probably going to play.
Update [2008-2-13 22:46:21 by Pradamaster]: Daniels is in.