Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Does Antawn Jamison Actually Help The Clippers?

Antawn Jamison has always been a good offensive player, but his poor defense could be a problem for the Clippers.
By Bennett Corcoran

The Los Angeles Clippers have made plenty of splashes this summer during free agency and attempted to shore up the frontcourt by signing veteran forward Antawn Jamison. Although his numbers dipped last season in a reserve role with the other team in Los Angeles, he still served as a productive bench spark capable of scoring in bunches. The team managed to stock up on shooters with the additions of J.J. Redick, a career 39.0% from three-point range, Jared Dudley, a career 40.5% sniper, and Reggie Bullock, who shot 43.6% from beyond the arc at North Carolina last season. Signing Jamison could bolster them enough for a deep playoff run in a loaded Western Conference.

Unfortunately though, Jamison doesn't seem to strengthen Lob City’s glaring weakness in its frontcourt.

The strategy is clear in Clipperland on the offensive end; have Chris Paul orchestrate the offense, driving-and-kicking to an array of shooters on the perimeter or inside to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan for highlight reel dunks. Given Paul's offensive brilliance and the talent around him, there is no doubt that the Clippers will boast one of the top offensive teams in the league.

However, I’m worried about their defense in such a competitive conference. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan may have their fair share of SportsCenter highlights, but there’s no way I’d trust them to anchor a championship defense. Last season, the Clippers' defense was a whopping 8.1 points per 100 possessions better with Griffin off the court, and 6.4 points per 100 possessions better with Jordan off the court. Their latest frontcourt additions haven’t exactly helped them in this area, as the Charlotte Bobcats, dead last in defensive efficiency last season, were still 6.1 points per 100 possessions better with Byron Mullens on the bench. You’d think the Clippers would want to solidify their bench with defensive-minded big men especially now that they have plenty of scorers. Instead, they went with Mullens, who is inexplicably in love with three pointers and 20 foot jumpers despite his lack of success, foul machine Ryan Hollins, and now Jamison, who in his prime was considered a mediocre defender and is now 37 years old.

Granted, their defense still ranked in the top ten in the league in defensive efficiency last year. But when the playoffs rolled around, their defense collapsed, giving in to the powerful Memphis Grizzlies front line. The Clippers had no answer for a combination of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and the numbers suggest they will still struggle against bigger teams. Their team defensive efficiency was second worst out of all playoff teams, as only the lowly Lakers, who were starting a replacement level backcourt en route to a sweep by the San Antonio Spurs, were worse. When Griffin was playing, Lob City allowed a miserable 120.2 points per 100 possessions, and were 9.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the sideline. With Jordan on the court, the Clippers allowed a pathetic 118.0 points per 100 possessions. Essentially, teams like the Grizzlies with a big front line can really take advantage of a glaring weakness, and the acquisition of Jamison fails to address this key need, instead further exposing the Clippers and their frontcourt. For example, if the Clippers were to play a team like the Rockets, who boast both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik, they could face a similar first round exit. Considering they have a habit of meeting the Grizz in the first round, this blatant flaw doesn’t bode well for Clipperland.

Jamison’s defense doesn’t justify playing him over Griffin at the end of a close game, thus exposing this flaw even further. Ideally, you would like to have a defensive stopper come off the bench, man up the opposing big man to get the stop, and then make an offense-defense substitution to get Griffin back in the game. But with Jamison, that plan crumbles, as the team has a much better chance of pounding the ball inside and coming up with a layup.

With Jamison, the Clippers made yet another splash in an effort to secure themselves as an elite team in a loaded western conference. But in the end, the move still put them behind the curve defensively in their frontcourt, and if Griffin and Jordan don’t significantly improve in that area, it will be difficult for the Clippers to squeak by their opposition.

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