Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Welcome to Raptors West and another case of a playoff lock, everything’s fine, run it back group. The Clippers may not have the charm or outsider status of the Toronto Drakes – they play in the country’s second largest market and are regarded as wildly disliked complainers – but what they lack in likeability, they make up for in talent, consistency, and awesome basketball highlights (sorry Brandon).
It makes sense to write off these guys as losers, particularly with the way they’ve been regularly sonned by the Warriors, but this remains one of the elite NBA teams, and probably only one of 5 with a legitimate chance to win a championship this year. Chris Paul may have been surpassed over the last couple of seasons by the incandescent brilliance of Westbrook and Steph Curry, but he remains statistically the best point guard of his generation and arguably the best two-way floor general in the league. With Paul’s maestro-like passing and the ever-expanding game of Blake Griffin, this group has been in the top-5 in offensive efficiency for the last 5 years (!!), including two back to back years at the #1 spot (If you really want to quibble, the Clips were 6th last year, which I’m giving a pass because of the combined 55 games missed between Paul and Griffin).
Not only that, but this team quietly became a top-5 defense over the last couple of seasons with the continued improvement of first-team All-Defense center Deandre Jordan. Jordan has always been a freak athlete and shotblocker, but over the years he’s really refined his timing and pick-and-roll coverage and almost singlehandedly allows the Clippers to play their insane, perimeter-trapping style of defense. When you add in Jordan’s crucial ability to finish lobs from the pick-and-roll and the fact that last season was the first in his career that he missed even a single game, you have a top -5 two way center in the league, no questions asked.
The problem is that outside of these three, and the knockdown shooting of JJ Redick, this team just doesn’t have a whole lot else going for it. The max contracts of their three stars has made adding complementary pieces difficult for GM/head coach Doc Rivers and this team has either failed to develop its young prospects or has leveraged draft picks in regretful “win-now” trades. They do have the never-say-die old man scoring game of Jamal Crawford and the punchline, is he a rotation player?, coach’s son Austin Rivers, but outside of these two the bench is a pieced together mish-mash of minimum contract guys and vets who were good 8 years ago. The dominance of the Clippers’ big three (and Redick!) should still be good for 50+ games and the 3 seed in the West, but it’s fair to wonder if this team still isn’t good enough to make its first ever Conference Finals.
Of course, we say all of that forgetting that these guys absolutely stuck it to the Spurs in the playoffs two years ago and flirted with taking down a Steph-less Golden State team last year before injuries robbed them of their two best players. These guys are the clear 3rd best team in the West by talent, but it’s possible they sneak by San Antonio for homecourt in the regular season or even catch an injury break from the Warriors after years of suffering bad luck of their own in the playoffs. It might be wishful thinking, but for a team that’s window will be long closed one year from now, I’m going to take every opportunity to enjoy what should be the last iteration of the Lob City Clippers.
Last year’s ranking: 2 (-4)