Despite a busy offseason in which they added seven players and revamped their rotation -- adding Jamal Crawford and subtracting Mo Williams and Randy Foye -- the Los Angeles Clippers haven’t missed a beat more than a quarter of the way into the 2012-13 season.
In fact, L.A. actually may have a better offensive team than last season's, with eight players now averaging 9.6 points per game or more in an offense that is less reliant on streaky outside shooting.
How are they doing it?
Here are three keys:
The Clippers lead the league in fast-break points by a considerable margin; the margin between the Clippers (18.2 points per 48 minutes) and the second-place team, the Dallas Mavericks (17.0 points), is greater than the margin between Dallas and the eighth-place Oklahoma City Thunder (16.1 points).
This, in large part, is because of L.A.’s lithe and defensive-minded second unit. According to NBA.com’s stats database, the Clippers’ bench lineup of Crawford, Ronny Turiaf, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe averages 30.3 fast-break points per 48 minutes, almost twice that of the Clippers’ starters (16.7).
Though the starting lineup has the athletic tandem of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, the perimeter trio of Paul, Caron Butler and Willie Green isn’t looking to push the pace; they’d rather execute in the half court because they’re slower and shoot 3s more efficiently.
Meanwhile, Bledsoe, Barnes and Crawford love to get out and run, so at least one of those three usually leaks out for a layup when L.A. secures a defensive rebound. Odom is a deft outlet passer, and Bledsoe can get from Point A to Point B in a nanosecond.
A significant part of the team’s success in transition stems from its league-leading 10.7 steals per game, extra possessions that allow the Clippers to play up-tempo and convert easy baskets. They have increased their transition possessions from 12 percent of total possessions last season to 14.9 percent this season (per SynergySports), and rank fourth in the league in transition points per possession (PPP).
Since Paul was acquired in December 2011, the pick-and-roll has been the Clippers’ primary offensive option.
Griffin has become an ideal partner for Paul, as he can pop (he’s shooting 41 percent on jumpers from 16-23 feet) or roll (he’s one of the best finishers in basketball, of course), and matched with Paul’s peripheral court vision and smooth jumper, the two present a pick-your-poison challenge to opposing defenses.
What’s more, the attention Paul and Griffin draw from the opposing defense often leaves L.A.’s third and fourth options open: a back cut along the baseline by Jordan or Barnes, or a wide-open 3-pointer by a spot-up shooter in either corner.
Crawford (46.6 percent), Butler (44.1 percent) and Green (38.5 percent) are hitting spot-up 3-pointers at a high rate. Bledsoe -- the supposed non-shooter of the bunch -- has converted on 50 percent of his spot-up 3-pointers, albeit in only 24 attempts. As a result of their floor spacing, the Clippers rank fourth in the NBA in points per play on spot-up attempts (per SynergySports).
Last season, the Clippers ranked 21st in the league in points scored in the paint. They primarily scored inside on feeds to Griffin via post-ups or pick-and-rolls.
This year the Clippers rank second, scoring almost nine more points per game in the paint (38.8 to 47.7) than they did last season.
Although Bledsoe and Barnes have added a nice touch with their off-ball movement and knack for slashing, this conversation starts and ends with the progress of Griffin and Jordan.
Griffin’s improvement on his outside shooting seems to have affected his inside play as well, as his scoring in the post has gone up from 0.83 PPP to 0.95 PPP. That mark is good enough to make him the 14th-ranked post scorer in the NBA, a considerable jump from his 71st ranking last season. Credit an improved ability to read help defenses coming at him and a better grasp of defenders’ tendencies in one-on-one situations on the block -- he is simply taking better shots from better locations and angles so far this season.
No one took Jordan seriously on the block last season and rightfully so. He seldom used a post move (just 7.8 percent of his possessions) and when he did, he was awful (0.56 PPP; ranked 121st in productivity from the post).
This season, having clearly worked on his post game over the summer and moving more confidently and decisively, he’s almost an entirely different player who emphasizes post play (28.7 percent of his possessions) and ranks 34th in the league while posting up, good for 0.85 PPP.