Grading Doc Rivers' Season for the LA Clippers so Far
Many agree Vinny Del Negro did a good job as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, but he was no Rivers.
Rivers has helped improve the team in numerous ways. Whether it was forcing an identity on an optimistic young center, redesigning the team’s defensive principles or serving as an executive and loading the roster with his type of players, Rivers has accomplished quite a bit during his first season with the team.
Still, some areas he excelled and others he lagged behind. Assigning a grade to a season that is not complete would be unfair, but Rivers’ development as a coach can already be rated rather accurately.
Game Management: B
Love him or hate him, Doc Rivers has done a good job of managing games during his first season. This category is not here to evaluate timeouts, matchup patterns and play calls, because there is more than that to analyze. Rivers’ defensive system was well known upon his hire.
The Boston Celtics thrived due to Rivers and Tom Thibodeau’s strong-side defensive system and that same defensive efficiency was expected in Los Angeles. However, what was to become of the Los Angeles Clippers’ fourth-rated offense during 2012-13?
The decision to court Alvin Gentry to be Rivers’ lead assistant and designated offensive coordinator was as important a move as any. Under Gentry and Rivers, the Clippers are playing at a faster pace and are scoring 1.3 more points per 100 possessions more this season, according to NBA.com.
Rivers also forced his team play through its defensive missteps all season, knowing they would learn more from their mistakes on the floor as opposed to listening to him define his system during timeouts.
Luckily, that stubbornness paid off for a few months, until injuries sapped the chemistry and consistency the team had developed during the middle of the season.
There are very few coaches in the league better at motivating their players than Rivers. The case for his expert motivation skills can be narrowed down to one prime example, DeAndre Jordan.
Jordan came into the season following a somewhat satisfying season, which saw him have 8.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. However, one of Rivers’ first tasks upon arriving in Los Angeles was to build up Jordan’s confidence and define a role for his young center.
Rivers told anyone who would listen he thought Jordan would turn into a defensive MVP this season. Averaging 13.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game this season, and Rivers’ proclamation seems accurate.
Rivers also has benefited by earning the trust of his two best players, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and allowing them to lead by example in practice and in games. Very few things make a coach’s job easier than earning the trust of his best player.
Although Rivers’ hands have been tied at points this year due to injuries, his rotations have both succeeded and failed.
Early in the season, Rivers remained loyal to Jared Dudley, despite his injury and shooting concerns. Next, it was Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford. To Rivers’ credit he was attempting to create stability on the floor but may have stuck to his guns a bit too long all season.
Other than being cautiously loyal, injuries did sap some of Rivers’ lineup flexibility. Paul, J.J. Redick and Reggie Bullock were all injured at the same time, leaving a handful of guards and wings on 10-day contracts to see meaningful minutes off the bench.
Still, Rivers was able to develop his defensive principles by sticking to his rotations early, and those results will be hard to quantify without seeing the team’s defensive splits for the entire season.
Roster Development: B
Take a look at the playoff eligible roster from last season versus the one Rivers put together this season. Rivers added seven new players to this season’s roster and his presence allowed the team to re-sign Paul to a new contract last July.
Even more impressive, look at the list of contributors Rivers added, making only two trades: Redick, Darren Collison, Dudley, Danny Granger, Glen Davis, Bullock and Hedo Turkoglu.
Those seven players could help field a solid NBA team without Griffin and Paul. Rivers deserves a ton of credit for helping solidify a culture Paul and Griffin built, parlaying that into useful, excellent-fitting role players.
Media Exposure: A
Rivers did a great job with the media as the coach of the Boston Celtics, and those talents followed him to Los Angeles, even if the Clippers are not as prestigious as the Lakers or Celtics.
Of course, Rivers, like every coach, is still susceptible to his own pride. His public spat with Grantland’s Bill Simmons began during the 2013 NBA Draft when Simmons questioned Rivers’ departure from the Celtics.
"Just own it. Just admit what you did. The writing was on the wall. The Celtics wanted to rebuild, you didn't want to be a part of it, you wanted to go to the Clippers, and it happened."
Rivers and Simmons would eventually patch things up, allowing Rivers’ time to be spent giving out candid quotes about his team, expectations and expected results.
Often times, coaches will give the media bland quotes, but Rivers was the opposite. He made it known early on that he would speak his mind, especially as previously mentioned regarding his expectations for Jordan.