Before tonight's matchup against the Clippers, I had the pleasure of exchanging a few emails with Steve Perrin over at Clips Nation to chat about our respective teams. Read on below to find out what Steve had to say about how Darren Collison is faring this season, where Blake Griffin fits in the "best power forward" debate, and more. Then check out my answers to Steve's Mavericks questions over at Clips Nation!
Darren Collison had a very short and somewhat contentious tenure with the Mavs last season -- his play was pretty up and down. How have his decision making and overall play been this season?
You see players differently when you watch them every game than when you see them every once in a while and know them mostly from box scores. I basically had no idea what kind of player Collison was, despite the fact that I'd seen him off and on for four years at UCLA. His Indiana and Dallas trajectory was strange to me -- he'd seemed to thrive as a starting one when he stepped in for an injured Chris Paul in New Orleans, but clearly neither the Pacers nor the Mavs agreed. Losing the starting job to a very solid George Hill in Indy is one thing -- getting displaced by the re-animated corpse of Mike James? Yikes.
Here's the thing -- because of his size and the position he plays, I thought Collison was a solid distributor. My expectation was that while the Clippers were clearly losing a lot by trading away the dynamo Eric Bledsoe, they might be gaining something with an experienced NBA point guard who would do a better job than Bledsoe of running the second unit. Wrong. Collison is a ball-dominant guard who is at his best when he's attacking. His court vision is mediocre at best, and he's not great at getting his teammates involved. (At least that's who he has been as a Clipper -- his assists-per-36 in L.A. this season are far below his career numbers, for whatever reason.)
Collison had a brutally bad start to the season but has since picked up -- he shot 39% from the field in November, 48% in December. He has really come into his own since J.J. Redick got hurt -- or to be specific, since Jamal Crawford moved into the starting lineup, which happened after a four game Willie Green experiment. In the Clippers' second unit, Crawford is the ball-dominant guard whose job it is to take tough shots. With Crawford starting, Collison has the ball more and is the primary engine on the second team. Basically, Collison has been effective this season when he has been attacking. His decision-making and distribution? Not so much.
Of course, this just begs the question of how things are going to work when Redick returns and Crawford is back sharing most of Collison's minutes. Was Collison's early season slump just a slump, or was it a function of a poor fit on that second unit? Lately Doc Rivers has been playing him with Chris Paul a lot more, in small units where Collison defends the opposing point guard and allows Paul to work off the ball some, and that has worked well also. So overall it seems like he's out of his slump, finding his way, and going to be an important piece for the Clippers moving forward. He's good -- he's just not at all who I thought he was.
The recent debate over Blake Griffin as one of the best power forwards in the league has been interesting. You may recall we have a pretty decent power forward here in Dallas. Bias notwithstanding, what's your take on where Griffin deserves to be in that discussion?
I'm going to cheat and put Dirk and Tim Duncan into a different category; call them the "Seniors Division" or "Power Forward Classics" or something. It's too difficult to compare the young fours to Dirk and Tim, because they've obviously accomplished so much more, but equally obviously won't be producing at the same level much longer.
So if we look at the current crop of NBA fours, most people talk about Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin. Whether Griffin is first or second or third on that list is almost not relevant -- I'm thrilled that he's on the list at all, because those other guys are great. I'll tell you this -- I don't believe the Clippers would trade Blake straight up for either of those guys; not necessarily because they shouldn't, they just wouldn't. Blake is our guy, he is the face of the Clippers franchise, he's the guy that began the change. As crucial as Chris Paul's arrival has been, Blake was here first, the Clippers were selling out STAPLES Center by the end of his rookie season, before CP3, and he's the guy that turned things around. The front office knows all that, and that's why they wouldn't trade him, not even for Love. (That's my take anyway.)
Ignoring sentiment though, Love's numbers are amazing and it's difficult/impossible to make a case against him as the best power forward in the NBA. I will say that there are two arguments in favor of Griffin over Love -- Love remains a poor defender while Griffin has begun to make significant strides on that end of the floor. When the Clippers play the Wolves, Griffin defends Love, and Love defends DeAndre Jordan. That tells you something. Secondly, Love is so polished and so complete that it seems as if he's as good as he can be, while Griffin has still barely scratched the surface. His detractors are right in that regard -- there are plenty of flaws in his game, but that's just an indication of how high is ceiling actually is.
Aldridge has obviously been great this season; I'll be curious to see if he can sustain this level of rebounding, which is a good 20 percent above his career average. Whenever "Griffin or Aldridge?" questions have come up in the past, I scoffed when looking at LA's rebounding numbers, which until this season were pretty anemic for a four. I'd still take Griffin based on efficiency and upside, but it's a much tougher call if LA is going to get 10 rebounds a game.
And then there's Anthony Davis, who may be better than any of them. I don't even know what that guy is.
Griffin has improved significantly at the line and from mid-range this season. He's even made 7-18 from three point range. He's becoming a very good defender, and he is still improving almost every game. If you forced me to slot him in among the current fours in the league, I'd have him second behind Love, just ahead of Aldridge with a unibrow growing larger and larger in the rear view mirror. But he's pretty damn good and getting better, and that's the most important part.
On a somewhat related note, how do you feel DeAndre Jordan has developed in his years with the team?
This is DeAndre's sixth season in the NBA, and the answer to the question "how has he developed" would have been "not at all" through the first four seasons. Last season, in season five, he came to training camp with a bunch of new posts moves -- and when I say new, I don't mean that he had some and add a few more; I mean, for the first time in his career, Jordan had post moves.
Unfortunately, that's not who Jordan is or needs to be on an NBA court. And under Vinny Del Negro, while DJ had several great starts to the season, he was always pretty dejected by the end of the season. VDN, either consciously or subconsciously, tended to degrade Jordan's confidence slowly but surely -- by refusing to play him in fourth quarters, by harping on what he wasn't doing well. Jordan was Del Negro's whipping boy, and it took a toll on DJ each season.
Doc Rivers has taken the opposite approach. At his introductory press conference, Doc said that he believed Jordan could be a Defensive Player of the Year in the NBA -- and he said it with a straight face. Doc's approach is simple and smart -- Jordan's role in the NBA is and always should have been defensive stopper. Coming into camp with new posts moves is all well and good -- but Jordan's not a better option on offense than Chris Paul or Blake Griffin, no matter how much better he is than he used to be. Rivers has gotten into DJ's head that he can make his mark in the league as a defender, and DJ is acting like a true believer.
I've long said that DJ's NBA role model should be Tyson Chandler. All he did was anchor the defense for a NBA championship in Dallas, and eventually make an NBA All Star team in his 12th season in the league -- and when was the last time anyone called a play on offense for Chandler? At a similar point in his career, Chandler was almost exactly the same player as Jordan -- full of potential, but still figuring things out. Rivers has Jordan on the right track, and he's currently second in the league in rebounding, fifth in blocked shots and first in field goal percentage (on lobs and putbacks). As I said before, Jordan has had good starts only to fade in other seasons, but somehow I don't think that's going to happen under Rivers.
How has the injury to J.J. Redick affected game plans, if at all? Is he an important piece to the Clippers' success this season?
He's important. How important? Try an Offensive efficiency of 107.9 points per 100 possessions in 17 games with Redick (third in the league during that time) compared to 104.1 (14th) in 17 games without him.
That drop off isn't all Redick -- there's simple statistical noise in there if nothing else -- but there's no question that he's a big part of the difference. Redick is obviously a great shooter (and the Clippers have struggled mightily to make jump shots) but it's more than that. Redick is a tireless worker off the ball, making him a perfect complement to Chris Paul. With Redick on the floor, the Clippers offensive movement -- both of players and of the ball -- was excellent. Without him, it suffers -- seemingly disproportionately, until you realize that movement feeds on itself. If Redick is moving, he's making his teammates move also, to make space, to fill space. On an NBA court, standing breeds standing and movement breeds movement. There's been a lot more standing without Redick.
The team's defense has improved even more dramatically in the last month than the offense has dropped off. I'm choosing to view the defensive improvement as being part of the process of learning Doc's system. So hopefully when Redick returns (which could be as soon as the Clippers-Mavs game in L.A. but I'm not holding my breath) the team will reach a level it hasn't seen previously this season, where both the offense and the defense are performing at peak level.
What do the Mavericks need to do to beat the Clippers?
As I mentioned above, the Clippers have been pretty terrible from the perimeter this season. Doc made a concerted effort to add shooting this off-season, but it hasn't paid off at all so far. They're currently 26th in the league in three point percentage, making just a third of their long balls, but because the roster was built to spread the floor, they're not shy about taking them, and are ninth in the NBA in three point attempts per game.
So the way to beat the Clippers, for now at least, is to wall off Paul's driving lanes, clog the middle, and dare them to beat you from deep. Doc still believes in the three ball, and they'll keep trying even if it's not falling. (They were 7-35in a game in Cleveland last month.)
Thanks so much for the fantastic responses, Steve! For more on the Clippers and tonight's game, sail on over to Clips Nation.