Because we're not even a week into the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers season... you know what that means, right?
That means it's a prime time to dust off the ol' crystal ball and get our basketball Nostradamus on.
Let's go all sixth-grade science class on this Clippers team and perform an in-depth dissection to help accurately get a feel for how this team stacks up against the rest of the West.
You know what you're going to get out of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, so let's start with a big change from last year that already has—and will continue—to pay huge dividends for the Clips: plenty of scoring off the bench.
Last season, the Clippers milked their starters as much as any other team in the NBA. On average, Clippers starters recorded 72.2 points per game, good enough for third in the league.
Consequently, that meant that the Clippers punch-less bench would be a serious weakness (although their bench would be the catalyst to winning a gritty seven-game series against the Memphis Grizzlies). The Clippers bench would pour in just 25.3 points per game, good enough for 26th out of 30.
Outside of Mo Williams last year, the Clippers had hardly any scoring threats off the bench.
This year, things are completely different.
Through the opening trio of games, Jamal Crawford is outscoring last year's entire Clippers bench—by himself.
It's as if Crawford has been playing as himself in NBA Jam with the on-fire cheat on. Crawford has averaged 25.7 points per game through the first three contests and just may be regaining his Sixth Man of the Year form that he had just three seasons ago in Atlanta.
Additionally, third-year guard Eric Bledsoe is becoming a difference-making force for the Clippers off the bench. He's a defensive pest and a high-energy player that seems to positively impact the game for his squad. And he's only getting better. The way Bledsoe has been playing dating back to the start of last year's playoffs, I feel like the Clippers may soon have their own version of the Thunder's situation with James Harden...but that's another story.
Any additional points the Clippers get out of Lamar Odom (we'll get to him later), Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, etc. will just be cherries on top.
The Clippers are deep this year, which makes them all the more lethal.
Next, let's talk about something the Clippers have historically not had too many of in previous years: veteran-laden teams.
This year, the Clippers have a 17-year pro (Grant Hill), a 15-year veteran with an NBA championship (Chauncey Billups) and two former Sixth Men of the Year (Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford).
That's not even mentioning Caron Butler (10 years) and Chris Paul (7 years) among others.
Veterans can take you far in the playoffs...just ask the San Antonio Spurs.
They'll need their veterans to carry them far, while also mentoring the team's young guns in Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe along the way. The improvement of those three is paramount to the Clippers' success in both the short and long term.
But be warned.
The Clippers, though deep and talented, come with their fair share of flaws.
Despite how athletic the Clippers are up front with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, the Clippers have done a pretty terrible job at rebounding the basketball.
Through the first three games, the Clippers are getting just about 15 rebounds per game out of Griffin and Jordan.
The Clippers have been one of the league's worst rebounding teams to start the year, being outrebounded by 7 boards per game by their opponents. Grabbing 36.3 rebounds per game, they trail only the Detroit Pistons for the league's top spot in terms of rebounding deficiency.
On the offensive glass, the Clippers have only grabbed only eight offensive boards per game (26th in the NBA), while allowing opponents to grab 5.3 more offensive boards per game than they do.
Equally, if not more concerning, is the alarming rate that the Clippers have been turning over the basketball.
Just a year ago, the Clippers were the league's second-best team at holding on to the ball, only turning it over 13.3 times per game on average.
This year, the Clippers have turned the ball over 22, 11 and 16 times.
As long-time voice of the Clippers Ralph Lawler would say, "Yikes!"
Also, as Clippers fans came to see a few times a year ago, the Clippers often played up to the level of their competition.
That occasional style of play can come with its fair share of ups.
It can also have its fair share of downs.
Granted, every NBA team has their fair share of bad games against teams that they theoretically should beat, but the Clippers seemed to have that happen more often than they'd like.
So far this year, the Clippers have beaten the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers (both playoff teams a season ago) and lost home games to the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, neither of which were playoff teams last year.
The catalyst to the Clippers season may lie in the play of forward Lamar Odom, coming off of an inexplicably dismal season with the Dallas Mavericks.
Odom, who reportedly (and noticeably) showed up to camp out of shape and overweight, has struggled in the early goings of his second stint with the Clippers. He has been inactive, inefficient and erratic...not to mention slow. It's oddly difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that he is two seasons removed from winning the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.
For most of his career, Odom was considered to be one of the most versatile players in the league. But as the primary guy off the bench for the Lakers, he was nothing short of a deadly difference-maker. At 6'10", Odom is not only an excellent rebounder, but a gifted creator and distributor as well.
It's a huge if, but if he can round into playing shape (maybe that was a poor choice of words), Odom can pair with Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe to form a lethal bench trio. If not, the Clippers may have a huge case of trader's remorse.
As with any team, the Clippers will need time to fully jell with one another before they can truly play at their best. Once the players develop a good understanding of each other's strengths, weaknesses and tendencies, the team's level of play has the capability of being dangerously high.
In the meantime, I feel that the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets will lock up the first five slots in the Western Conference respectively at season's end.
The Clippers will win 47 games and lock up the sixth seed, setting up a first-round matchup against the San Antonio Spurs, those same Spurs that swept the Clips in the second round of the playoffs a year ago.
However, don't let the seed fool you. The revamped Clippers have the potential to play with any team in the league, and no series win for that team would be considered a legitimate upset.
With expectations as high as they've ever been for the Clippers, it looks like an enjoyable season is in store for fans of Lob City, and only time will tell how good this team can actually be at full strength.
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