Vinny Del Negro and his dead eyes are gone, J.J. Redick and Doc Rivers have arrived, and oh dear lord are the Clippers fun to watch.
The season is only four games old, but so far the Clippers' offense is staggeringly efficient. They're scoring 116 points per 100 possessions—the top mark in the league by a margin of six points—and running up and down the floor at the third-fastest pace in the league. But these gaudy numbers don't really tell the whole story. After all, last year's team finished in the top five in both points per possession and pace. What's different about this year's version of the Clippers is how they're scoring.
Despite all their success last year, the Clippers were often frustratingly stagnant when they had the ball. Anyone who watched their games became accustomed to seeing possession after possession end with a contested, ugly shot. The Clips could run-and-gun with the best of them, but their half-court offense was stale and unimaginative. How many times were we forced to watch poor Blake Griffin put up a 20-footer with a hand in his face as the shot clock ran down?
Now that the Clippers have ditched Vinny Del Negro's vacant stare and swapped in the competent Doc Rivers, though, the offense is really humming. Here's how Kevin Arnovitz described it on ESPN.com today:
The Clippers will come down the floor and run through their "floppy action"—Redick and Jared Dudley fanning out to opposite sides of the perimeter courtesy of screens from Griffin and Jordan. From there, it looks not unlike some of the schemes from the halcyon days of Rivers' Celtics teams. The Clippers run lots of inversions, with the ball swinging to the weak side out of the primary pick-and-roll. We see slice cuts by Redick, 3-man actions that work to get Griffin a touch down low and all kinds of second side action.
Those are words that one simply couldn't use to describe Vinny Del Negro's offense. You can see what Arnovitz is talking about in these two plays from last night's game:
Those are two plays in which the Clippers ran actual offense, setting up screens and zipping the ball around the perimeter before finding Blake Griffin at the rim for an easy shot. This is a big departure from last year, when Del Negro so often relied on Griffin and Paul to run a vanilla pick-and-roll with no plan B (or the plans C, D, and E other elite offenses arm themselves with).
And then there's J.J. Redick, the prototypical shooting guard that the Clippers have so desperately needed. He spent last night running James Harden ragged around screens, spacing the floor, and hitting open shots when he got them. He's never played with a point guard as good as Chris Paul, and so far he's reaping the benefits. Through four games, Redick is scoring almost eight points per game off of catch-and-shoots.
A nuanced offense and a shooter who can space the floor were two things the Clippers were in desperate need of last year, and now they have both. Now, instead of watching Vinny Del Negro scribble nonsense on his clipboard while Willie Green bricks another shot, we get to watch an incredibly talented team whip the ball around the court and unlock its true potential.
The team currently ranks second in the league in assists with 113, and Chris Paul is orchestrating the offense masterfully. He leads the league with 13 assists per game, and according to the NBA's SportVU data, Paul is creating 30 points per game for his team via assists. (Steph Curry has the next best mark at 22 points per game.) And, of course, Paul is getting plenty of help from his two hyper-athletic big men, who are running the floor and throwing down crushing dunks just like they were last year.
Again, the season is very young and the offense will certainly regress at least a little bit, but this looks like a team that has finally found a scheme to match its personnel. Let's hope they keep scoring in gobs, because there's no better show in the league right now.