Hello there. The Knicks play the Clippers at 10:30 tonight. My friend Steve "ClipperSteve" Perrin from Clips Nation sent me five questions to answer about the Knicks, so I demanded five answers from him in return. He provided them because I am very intimidating.
1. I've read a bit about the Clippers' defensive struggles, but I'd like to hear it from you. They've got a good coach. They *look* like they have the players. Why so bad on that end?
The standard "feel good" caveat is that the Clippers starters have not been all that bad defensively -- they've actually been pretty good. But the second unit has been a disaster. Which is the polar opposite of last season, when the second unit was among the best defensive fivesomes in the league. Eric Bledsoe's departure is a big factor of course -- his replacement in the rotation, Darrren Collison, has been terrible defensively, and Byron Mullens is our own (cheaper) Andrea Bargnani -- without the decent post defense. Lamar Odom couldn't shoot, but he was far and away the Clippers best defensive big. Still, it goes beyond the second unit woes. One factor is that they Clippers have played a bunch of really good offensive teams (Rockets twice, Wolves twice, Thunder twice, Heat, Warriors) and when they've played bad teams, they've been at their worst for some reason (good news for Knicks fans!) They finally had a dominant performance on Sunday, winning by 39 against the Rose-less Bulls -- and the D-Rtg improved by almost two points, and they went from 28th in the league to 21st. So lots of factors -- including the fact they're still adapting to Doc Rivers' strong side pressure schemes, where they still get lost in rotation way too frequently. They will be better than they've been so far; but they aren't going to be great -- probably not better than average -- any time soon.
2. Possibly related: The Clippers are one of the few teams that even come close to fouling as much as the Knicks do. What do you make of that? Just the result of sloppy defense?
That is a great question, and I wish I could somehow turn off my "ClipperSteve" filter and watch in a truly objective manner -- but officiating may be the one area where fandom always overrides objectivity. So the obvious answer is that the refs hate the Clippers and are out to get them. Seriously, I can blame the terrible second unit a little again -- Mullens has averaged 8.5 fouls per 36 this season and Ryan Hollins 7.5. Mullens is so slow-footed that he just gets himself into bad spots, and Hollins has always been a foul-machine, mostly because he's a doofus. The problem is definitely related to the defensive woes; the Clippers have been almost entirely incapable of getting critical stops, because they invariably end up putting the opponent on the line when they try to dig in. For the first unit, I really wish I knew what it was. At this point, the best I can do is scream "STOP FOULING" at my TV screen, but that doesn't seem to be working.
3. How are y'all feeling about Reggie Bullock so far? Bullock is the guy a lot of fans wanted the Knicks to take, though I think many of us have been pleasantly surprised by Tim Hardaway Jr.
We're feeling really positive about Bullock at this point -- the Clippers seemed genuinely pleased with New York passed on him in the draft. Matt Barnes has missed 7.5 of the 15 games with a couple injuries and one ejection, and will be out for a few more days. Bullock has played almost 15 minutes per game in the last four in Barnes' absence (though that is a little inflated by extended garbage time against the Bulls). Unlike pretty much everyone else off the bench, Bullock plays pretty solid on ball defense -- he's taken his reps against Kevin Durant in two different games and done OK. The shot hasn't been falling just yet -- 9 for 28 on the season, 4 for 19 from deep -- but he looks great taking them and he's certainly not lacking for confidence; when he's open, he shoots, and I like that. He's been good enough that he's got many in the Clips Nation community hoping that the Clippers will move a wing to bring in a decent third big, on the assumption that Bullock is ready to be a rotation player right now. And he probably is.
4. After all that offseason, it looked like the Clippers might be one of the league's best three-point shooting teams this season, but they've been merely okay so far. Do you think that'll last, or will they improve? Either way: Why?
Doc Rivers clearly made it a priority to add shooting to the roster when he took over, and it makes a lot of sense for this team. You want to give Chris Paul room to penetrate and Blake Griffin room in the post, so surrounding those two with shooters makes a lot of sense. Jared Dudley made 4 of 5 threes against Chicago on Sunday, but before that he had been in a terrible slump. Chris Paul, a consistent if not great three point shooter for his career, missed 23 out of 26 threes in a recent stretch. J.J. Redick, who you just expect to make every clean look he gets, is well below his career percentage while getting great looks. The Clippers are taking more threes -- three more per game -- and I think it's a great strategy. They're getting lots of clean looks -- I think they'll start falling more consistently.
5.. Can we have Chris Paul?
Only if you give us Carmelo Anthony. Just kidding. You can't have Chris Paul. He's pretty good; and he's been better this season than he's been since his should-have-been-MVP season of 08-09. Rivers has him pushing the tempo a bit more, looking to score a bit more and those are very good things. The Clippers are 10-5, and they'd certainly be 8-7 if Paul were just an ordinary mega-star, as he single-handedly won two recent games with his playmaking down the stretch. As of now, the Clippers are far from the team that Rivers and others think they can be -- but the mere presence of Paul gives them a chance in every game regardless of other issues.
If you have more questions for Steve, like, say, "What is your vanity license plate number?" or "Where did you take everyone when Chipotle was closed that one time?" or, you know, stuff about the Clippers, he'll be around to answer questions in the comments. 10:30 tip-off tonight, y'all.