A couple of weeks ago before the Suns beat the Clippers we exchanged questions and answers with Steve from the great Clips Nation. The Suns won that game so it seemed like a really bad idea not to repeat the process. I'm not saying I am superstitious but if something works you keep going back to it.
Here's my answers to his questions. His answers to my questions are below.
Q. When last we spoke (emailed), you were OK with Randy Foye at shooting guard. With a little more time and an 8-10 record since Billups was felled by a blow to the only weak spot on his body, are you still OK?
Yeah, I've taken quite a lot of heat for maintaining that the Billups injury was not going to be that terrible for the Clippers. But 15-7 with Billups and 8-10 without him is pretty telling, isn't it?
Still, correlation is not causation, and I'm hard-pressed to comprehend why Billups injury has caused Caron Butler's productivity to fall off a cliff. Butler averaged 13.5 points while making 43% of his shots in those first 22 games. He's around 10 on 35% shooting since then, and has been much worse than that the last 10. How is that related to Billups' injury? Answer: it's not.
Here are the splits for Billups and Foye this season as starters (they started a few games together while Paul was hurt). Billups gets to the line more. And that's about the extent of the statistical difference.
I'm not saying it's had no impact. It's obviously had an impact, as we knew it would. But there's little or no data to justify the claim that the Clippers recent poor play is a direct result of the loss of Billups' production. You have to resort to intangibles and leadership and things like that, which are clearly factors as well, but not quantifiable.
Personally, I think the Clippers' current issues go way beyond Chauncey Billups.
Q. Tell me how I should feel about Eric Bledsoe?
Eric Bledsoe is an intriguing prospect, there's no question about that. He doesn't have quite the astonishing athleticism of a Russell Westbrook, but I would still put him in the athletic freak category (or at least he was pre-knee surgery -- it's starting to come back but is not all there just yet).
At barely more that six feet tall, he has averaged 1.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes in his two seasons in the league -- a number that ranks him with Dwyane Wade and Westbrook among the best rebounding guards in the league. He had blocked shots on LeBron James AND on a J.R. Smith dunk last season. And then there's this picture. Did I mention he's just a smidge over six foot? The kid is athletic.
This season he seems to be carving himself a niche as a game-changing defender. Against San Antonio on February 18 the Clippers were down 15 and went on a 17-0 run with Bledsoe defending Tony Parker. On Sunday, Bledsoe's lock down defense on Monta Ellis fueled a 28-7 run when the Clippers were down 21. (Don't ask how those games turned out, I don't want to talk about it.) He's not much of a shooter and is still learning to play point guard at the NBA level, but as OKC found out with Westbrook, players with that kind of athleticism can be difference-makers if you are patient and let them develop.
Three years from now he could be an All-Star -- or he could be out of the league because he never really learned how to play. The truth is probably somewhere in between -- he will probably always be able to find a spot on a roster if only for his defense.
Q. How's K-Mart looked and performed for the Clips since his triumphant return to the NBA?
I was never a fan of Kenyon Martin, but I'm a fan of the Clippers so of course I sublimate that prior dislike now that he's wearing the uniform I like. Cognitive dissonance? What cognitive dissonance? Honestly, the most impressive thing about K-Mart is his defense. He's a terrific defender, both on the post and on the perimeter (and I did recognize that in him even when he played for Denver).
In the pick-and-roll, he has the ability to stay in front of point guards even when he gets switched onto them. He's also very good at either showing or trapping -- basically, he pick-and-roll defense is a major improvement over either DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin.
He's not much of an offensive player. I mean, he's better than Jordan or Reggie Evans, but that's not saying much. He went through a stretch a week ago where he made a bunch of his line-drive flip jumpers, but that doesn't mean it's a good shot -- it's not. I also could really do without the technical fouls. He picked up one in the fourth quarter of the game in Minnesota that the Clippers lost by one. Ouch.
Overall, K-Mart's been a massive upgrade for the Clippers' front court since he signed, but that's not saying a lot. Reggie Evans and Brian Cook were the first two bigs off the bench before K-Mart arrived, so of course he was an upgrade.
Q. Can you PLEASE guarantee me that despite the recent slide that the Clips will beat the Lakers in the playoffs?
Would that I could. A Lakers-Clippers playoff meeting would be fascinating for so many reasons. I think the Clippers are the better team, and I expect them to turn things around and win the Pacific Division yet, but I dread the Lakers in a playoff matchup.
The Clippers roster has a glaring weakness regarding backcourt size -- basically, they have no one to defend Kobe Bryant. Billups was probably the best option they had, and now they're down to Randy Foye -- or put Caron Butler on Kobe and leave Foye on Metta World Peace. No matter how you slice it, it ain't good.
Then there's Andrew Bynum. If DeAndre Jordan gets into foul trouble, the Clippers have absolutely no one to guard Bynum. Reggie Evans actually did a decent job earlier this season, but I don't think that's a reliable solution. Finally, the length of Pau Gasol has given Blake Griffin fits in the past. So there are some real matchup problems for the Clippers against the Lakers.
Of course, the Clippers present the Lakers with issues as well. Chris Paul has a long and proud history of torching the Lakers in the playoffs, and he certainly would have much more help around him with this Clippers team than he did in New Orleans last season. The Lakers simply can't defend small, quick guards, and the Clippers have not just Paul but also Mo Williams who would give them fits. So on the court it would be a question of which team does a better job of maximizing their advantages while minimizing their exposure.
In the stands, it would be difficult as well. There are simply more Lakers fans in town, and they'll snap up all the extra tickets and even get some from Clippers season ticket holders looking to turn a profit on a high demand ticket. The crowd for a Clippers home game against the Lakers is usually about 60-40 Clippers fans, and I would expect that to be the same in the playoffs, if not worse. It's no good when, during your home game, 40% of the crowd is booing you or chanting "M-V-P" for a guy on the other team.
It would be a fun series, don't get me wrong, and a Clippers playoff win would fast track the process of gaining a better foothold in town, but it could also go very, very badly for the Clippers.