Well, this game should be fun. The Knicks travel to Los Angeles to take on the 10-5 Clippers, a bucket-getting juggernaut that ranks 2nd in the league in offensive efficiency. The Clips have high-fliers (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan), sharpshooters (J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Jamal Crawford), and the best point guard in the world (Chris Paul). It’s not hard to foresee trouble for our beloved Knicks, who rank 28th in defensive efficiency and seem confused with how to defend the NBA’s latest newfangled craze, a play these nutty kids are calling the “pick-and-roll.”
For some insight on the Clips, Fred Katz and Jovan Buha of the phenomenal ClipperBlog were kind enough to answer some questions. I should perhaps note that Katz was the only guy in my basketball team’s Senior Class who made it all the way to the storied heights of Division I ball—his elite high school bookkeeping skills got him a team manager job at Syracuse.
The Clippers, in a big offseason trade, added wing players J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. How are those two fitting in with the team so far?
Fred Katz (@FredKatz): Dudley got off to a slow start, but has strung together a few hot games to bring his percentages back up to respectability. Redick, meanwhile, is the ultimate staple of stability. Who works better with Chris Paul than a dominant spot-up shooter who is also an assassin running off screens?
Redick’s shooting numbers are a bit lower than what could have expected coming into this year, but that 36 percent 3-point shooting is going to go up. He’s yet to sustain the Chris Paul Bump, a jump in 3-point shooting numbers upon going to play with Paul, but it’s going to happen. It’s happened for everyone else. It will happen with one of the best shooters in the league.
Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha): Redick and Dudley have fit in about as well as expected, if not better. Offensively, neither is shooting as well as one would expect given their array of open 3-point looks — Redick is shooting 35.8 percent on 3s, Dudley 38.5 percent — but Redick has drawn significant attention from opposing defenses because of his hot first quarter starts, and Dudley is dealing with bothersome tendonitis in his right knee that has sapped his legs.
Defensively, both have exceeded expectations. Redick is particularly adept at denying entry passes to guards posting up, sticking with wings who run off tons of baseline screens, and pinching down on the post. Dudley is a much better on-ball defender than I remembered him being in Phoenix, and is almost always in the right position in help defense. Overall, I’d say it’s been a seamless fit.
It’s always fun to get an outsider opinion about certain Knicks players. How do non-Knicks fans see Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni?
Katz: I love Prigs. There’s nothing not to love about Prigs and you can’t make me not love him. It doesn’t make much sense to me why he doesn’t play more. The Knicks’ ball movement is better when he’s on the floor, the defense is feistier, and he seems to help in the transition game on both ends, which is something with which the Knicks really struggle. On top of that, he’s been in the league for more than a year and he’s never taken a bad shot. That’s true. You can look it up.
Shumpert, meanwhile, is already a quality player and is someone who has the ability to become a top-of-the-line contributor on a good team. But I understand why the Knicks would throw him on the block. What I don’t understand is why the Knicks felt the need to throw him under the bus. If you think a player has a high ceiling, but you’re starting to worry that he may never reach that ceiling, then see if you can sell high on him. It’s Trent Richardson logic. But why in the world a team would let that situation become so public is beyond me.
Buha: I don’t have a strong opinion on either player, honestly, but I do think both are underrated and undervalued by the Knicks organization. Prigioni was clearly an integral part of last season’s success, as his plus-minus and lineup data showed, but I don’t think management and Mike Woodson views him as such.
As far as Shumpert goes, I think he’s an intriguing, versatile young player who has a decent amount of potential. I could possibly see him in a Thabo Sefolosha or Tony Allen role down the line, given that he continues to improve defensively and from deep. Those type of players don’t grow on trees. At the same time, I can understand the Knicks testing his market value in hopes of improving their frontline. It’s a complicated, nuanced situation, and I don’t think a clear answer has emerged yet.
True or false: The Clippers needed a rim protector during the offseason, and they still need a rim protector. If true, give us some possible trade targets?
Katz: True. Jamal Crawford is the guy whose name was thrown around before the season when it came to trade rumors, but Crawford has been so good this season (even for him) coming off such a weak bench that he’s becoming tougher and tougher to trade with each spot-up three he hits off a Chris Paul dish.
A Crawford for Samuel Dalembert made more sense at the start of the season, when the Mavericks were going to be a 38-win team, but now with Monta Ellis having it all, the Mavs may not be as willing to give away a quality center for another score-first guard. The Clippers’ best chance to shore up the third-big-man problem might be waiting for Emeka Okafor, who is injured now, but may find himself as a free agent if the Suns buy him out once he’s healthy.
Buha: False. The Clippers already have a rim protector, for better or worse, and his name is DeAndre Jordan. He’s shown considerable improvement defensively this season, even if some of the numbers don’t necessarily reflect that (i.e. opponents are shooting 62 percent against him at the rim).
What the Clippers do need, however, is an above-average defensive big man off the bench. Lamar Odom is an available and likely option, and a buyout candidate like Emeka Okafor could be a late-season addition. Either way, the Clippers need to address their lack of a third big before they can compete with San Antonio or OKC, because it’s that bad.
Do you understand just how lucky you are to be able to watch Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and most importantly Jamal Crawford on a nightly basis?
Katz: Before Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and (most importantly) Jamal Crawford, the best thing ever to happen in my basketball-watching life either ruined his career with a gruesome knee injury (Shaun Livingston), left after agreeing to a handshake deal with the Clips (Elton Brand), or had the nickname “Bad Porn” (Corey Maggette). Let’s face it: Clippers fans have seen some painstakingly depressing basketball. We’re just happy to be along for the ride.
Buha: Yes, I know. I’m extremely lucky. I would add DeAndre Jordan to that list of exciting players, because some of his in-game dunks (and dunk attempts) are actually more impressive than Blake Griffin’s.
I’m obviously biased, but I think the Clippers are the most entertaining team in the league to watch. Paul and Griffin are two of the 10 most entertaining basketball players in the world, plain and simple. I’m blessed.
A friend of mine said the strategy of intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan (42 percent from the line this year, 39 percent last year) should be called Deck-A-DJ. Should the Knicks go to that strategy (assuming the Knicks employ any strategies/tactics whatsoever)? And, in a big game, can Jordan stay on the floor in crunch time before the last two minutes?
Katz: Deck-a-DJ! Can we make this a thing? I’ve been writing it for a year now and no one wants to keep it going. Thank you, Jon. This is the best thing you’ve ever done for me. Please, please, please will someone else write deck-a-DJ? Just for me?
And as for the actual strategy, the Clips are even more prone to it this year than they were last year just because they don’t have a legitimate replacement for Jordan when he leaves the game. So yes, fouling Jordan might make sense for the Knicks down the stretch if they need to create a few more possessions to mount a comeback, provided Mike Woodson doesn’t call it hack-a-Jordan or some other awful, non-alliterative, non-rhyming version of a phrase that only makes sense when Shaq’s name is at the end of it.
Buha: First off, I like the name. It’s catchy. Second, yes, the Knicks should absolutely use the strategy. Until Jordan improves his free-throw shooting into the 50-to-60 percent range, I completely understand teams using his greatest flaw against him. It messes with his confidence, to an extent, which has the ability to take him out of the game mentally and, sometimes, literally. Since he’s the Clippers’ most valuable interior defender — they have practically no rim protection when he’s off the floor — the opposition gains a considerable advantage when he’s sitting late in games.
I believe Jordan can stay on the floor, though, depending on the circumstances. By intentionally fouling him, the opponent is racking up team and individual fouls, so at some point it has to stop (or they’ll have to play their bench players more minutes, which will ultimately favor the Clippers). This isn’t to downplay the issue — Jordan’s free throw shooting is a problem — but I think its impact is slightly overblown.
Nearly 65% of shots for Byron Mullens, an awful 3-point shooter, have been 3s. That is a real statistic. He will also likely guard Andrea Bargnani if he gets into tonight’s game. Please talk about this situation.
Katz: It’s hard for me to decide if I love Mullens or Bargnani more. It’s such a simple sort of love, the kind that you’d have for your pet dog that keeps peeing all over the carpet. It’s not the love I have for Chris Paul. I love watching Paul the same way I love watching Citizen Kane. I love watching Mullens and Bargs the same way I love watching The Room.
Buha: I said this on Twitter a couple weeks ago, but the only difference between Andrea Bargnani and Byron Mullens is that one is Italian and one is American. Other than that, they’re essentially the same player. I don’t expect Mullens to play unless it’s for a couple minutes early in the second quarter and/or in the fourth quarter of a blowout, so the likelihood of them actually being on the floor at the same time is slim. But if they do end up facing off against each other, I expect it to be hilariously awful.
This game has all the makings of a truly ugly blowout. What weaknesses or advantageous matchups might the Knicks be able to exploit to keep this close or possibly even steal this game?
Katz: Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith have to combine for 60 (or close to it), but even then, that might not be enough. With Matt Barnes out, the Clips don’t really have anyone who can defend either of those two guys one-on-one. The Clippers have no wing stopper coming off the bench.
The Clippers will have to throw the kitchen sink at Melo. You’ll see Jared Dudley on him. You might see some Reggie Bullock or even Blake Griffin (who has admirably defended both LeBron James and Kevin Durant for short stretches this season). But ultimately, Anthony is going to get his points against a defense that has smart wing defenders, but ones who aren’t particularly athletic. If he can score at an efficient rate and Smith can find his stroke, which he hasn’t had ever since the Curse of Jason Terry consumed his basketball persona, the Knicks have a chance to pull out a road upset.
Buha: For the Knicks to keep Wednesday’s game close or possibly steal it, I think they have to attack the Clippers early with their perimeter scoring — i.e. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith — and then use the attention they draw to find open shooters (and hope the 3s rain down).
Already, we’ve seen the Clippers struggle to defend the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, etc. this season. If Carmelo and J.R. can get hot, and force the Clippers to adjust their defensive game plan, it’ll tilt the defense ever so slightly and the Knicks can find weak-side 3-point shooters.
Defensively, there isn’t much Knicks can do. They don’t have the size or acumen to hurt the Clippers on the glass or prevent Griffin and Jordan from living at the rim. Who exactly is going to contain Paul? Shumpert, maybe? I just don’t see it. The Knicks have to turn this into a shootout, as their only chancethe of beating the Clippers will be to use their porous defense against them. If they are unable to do so, though, it’s going to be a long night.