What We Learned About the LA Clippers During Their First Half of the Season

Ehran Khan@@ekhansworldContributor IIIJanuary 18, 2014

What We Learned About the LA Clippers During Their First Half of the Season

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    The first half of the 2014 NBA season has had its ups and downs for the Los Angeles Clippers, but they're on pace to match 2013's franchise-best 56 wins.

    From what we've seen of the Clippers so far, fans should feel better about this team than last year's incarnation.

    Based on the team's performance to date, there are several reasons to be optimistic.

    None are bigger than the man at the helm.

    And that's where we begin our list of five lessons learned from watching L.A.'s first 41 games.

Doc Rivers Is a Massive Coaching Upgrade

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    The biggest offseason move the Clippers made was bringing in Doc Rivers to be their new head coach.

    Rivers, who came equipped with an NBA title on his resume, has not disappointed.

    He manages the game well, sticks with his substitution pattern, calls great plays out of timeouts and has gotten the entire team to buy into his message.

    Doc has the Clippers averaging about five more possessions per game than a year ago, catering to his personnel's preferred up-and-down style.

    And, like he did in Boston, he's gotten the team to defend at a high level, as the Clippers rank seventh in the league in defensive efficiency.

DeAndre Jordan Can Be a Defensive Anchor

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    All the Clippers have wanted from DeAndre Jordan since inking him to a four-year, $43 million deal in December of 2011 is for him become a defensive force.

    Under Rivers' tutelage, Jordan is finally taking on that mantle.

    Jordan leads the NBA in rebounding, posting a rebound rate that blows his previous best out of the water. 

    He has also done a good job protecting the rim. Jordan has blocked more shots (102) than any player in the league this season. And only eight guys get in position to defend more shots at the rim per game than Jordan does, according to NBA.com's player tracking data.

    Following Friday night's action, DJ was also second in the NBA in defensive win shares and seventh in defensive rating, per Basketball-Reference.

Blake Griffin Is as Good as Advertised

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    A common theme among many NBA fans is "Blake Griffin is sooo overrated".

    Because of all his media exposure—the endless commercials, highlight reel dunks, etc.— and his knack for getting into scraps with opponents, there isn't a whole lot of love for Griffin around the league and people like to knock his game.

    But Griffin has lived up to his billing as a star this season.

    He's one of four players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, is eighth in the NBA in defensive win shares, per Basketball Reference, and he makes two or three jaw-dropping plays every night (and I'm not even counting his dunks here) that no other power forward in the league can make.

    Griffin is steadily improving his all-around skills as well.

    According to NBA.com, Griffin is shooting 43.9 percent from 20-24 feet this season (better than Kevin Durant), up from the 34.2 percent he shot from the same range in 2013.

    His free-throw shooting has gone from 52.1 percent in 2012 to 66.0 percent last year to 71.4 percent so far in 2014.

    And for those who think he doesn't have a post game, Griffin's 0.99 points per possession on post-ups rank 16th in the entire league, per My Synergy Sports' public database.

J.J. Redick Is the League's Most Unheralded Weapon

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    J.J. Redick has been marvelous for the Clippers so far, averaging a career-high 16.6 points per game and putting up nearly 22 points per 36 minutes on his usual stellar shooting.

    His 61.4 percent true shooting percentage ranks third among all NBA guards, per NBA.com.

    Redick missed 21 games with a hand injury, during which the Clippers went 13-8. They are 15-5 with their starting shooting guard in the lineup.

    Los Angeles' offense takes off with Redick on the floor. 

    The Duke product is also second in the entire NBA in offensive rating this season.

    When Redick has suited up for the Clippers this year, he's been an absolute game-changer.

The Clippers Still Need a Quality Backup Big Man

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    The Clippers have one gaping hole on their team—a lack of depth in the frontcourt.

    After Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, L.A. has no productive big man on the roster—certainly no one you would feel comfortable playing extended minutes in a playoff game.

    Griffin and Jordan have combined to play nearly 3,000 minutes so far this season. The big man with the third-most minutes accrued is Ryan Hollins...with 302.

    Doc Rivers prefers playing small and letting a traditional small forward play in the power forward slot. The Clippers have even tried dusting off the corpses of Stephen Jackson (failed) and now Hedo Turkoglu to play the role of small-ball 4.

    The Clips need to find a quality backup big somewhere, otherwise they'll have nowhere to turn if Griffin or Jordan goes down with an injury or is plagued by foul trouble in the postseason.