The Best Clipper Team Ever?

Posted on October 18, 2009 by

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The Buffalo Braves came into existence in 1970.  After eight seasons the franchise moved to San Diego and was renamed the Clippers. After six seasons in San Diego the Clippers moved again, this time to Los Angeles.   In each location this franchise has been immensely consistent.  Year after year NBA fans can count on this team to be bad.  Only five times in the history of the franchise has this team scored more points than they surrendered.  And when we turn to efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency), we see that the team’s best marks were as follows:

1974-75 Braves: 1.9 differential (consistent with a 46 win team)

2005-06 Clippers: 1.7 differential (consistent with a 45 win team)

Last year, the Phoenix Suns posted a 2.0 differential and missed the playoffs in the Western Conference. So the Clippers very best season – at least with respect to efficiency differential – would have still landed this team in the lottery.

Only the Worst Performance in the League

Of course, last season was not the Clippers best season.  As I noted a few days ago, the Clippers – again, in terms of efficiency differential – were the worst team in the NBA in 2008-09.  Now this was not the worst team in franchise history.  In 1986-87, 1987-88, 1994-95, 1998-99, and 1999-00 the Clippers posted lower differentials.  Yes, five times the Clippers posted numbers below the dismal numbers seen last year. So although last year was not a disaster by Clipper standards, it was still quite bad by NBA standards.

When we turn to the performance of the individual players this team employed – reported in Table One – we can see why this team had so much trouble.

Table One: The LA Clippers in 2008-09

The Denver Nuggets gave Marcus Camby to the Clippers before the season started.  And when he played he produced.  In addition, the Clippers received above average production from Zach Randolph and DeAndre Jordan.  Unfortunately, everyone else on the roster was below average.  And Ricky Davis and Al Thornton managed to rank in the top ten of least productive players in 2008-09 (with Thornton leading the way).

Now the NBA – like other professional sports leagues in North America – makes an effort to reward failure (and punish success). And the Clippers failure led to Blake Griffin, the big reward in the 2009 NBA draft.  Griffin’s college numbers suggest he will be a very productive NBA player, so it looks like the Clippers will improve in 2009-10.

Of course the Clippers only won 19 games last year.  So even if Griffin is the second-coming of Tim Duncan (19.5 Wins Produced his rookie season in 1996-97), the Clippers still look like a lottery team.  There is some hope, though, if we look elsewhere on the team’s potential depth chart.

Potential First String

PG: Baron Davis [1.5 Wins Produced, 0.032 WP48; 0.177 WP48 in 2007-08]

SG: Eric Gordon [3.8 Wins Produced, 0.067 WP48]

SF: Al Thornton [-2.6 Wins Produced, -0.047 WP48]

PF: Blake Griffin [Rookie]

C: Chris Kaman [0.5 Wins Produced, 0.025 WP48; 0.233 WP48 in 2007-08]

Potential Second String

PG: Sebastian Telfair [-2.2 Wins Produced, -0.049 WP48]

SG: Rasual Butler [4.2 Wins Produced, 0.077 WP48]

SF: Ricky Davis [-2.1 Wins Produced, -0.128 WP48; 0.034 WP48 in 2007-08]

PF: Craig Smith [1.8 Wins Produced, 0.060 WP48]

C: Marcus Camby [12.4 Wins Produced, 0.308 WP48]

In 2007-08, Baron Davis produced 11.8 wins while Chris Kaman’s Wins Produced stood at 10.1.  B. Davis never really produced for the Clippers.  But after 481 minutes in 2008-09, Kaman’s WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] stood at 0.200.  Kaman, though, was soon hurt and his production plummeted. If Kaman is healthy in 2008-09, and B. Davis returns from whatever caused his production to drop-off last season, the Clippers could have four players – Camby, Griffin, B. Davis, and Kaman – capable of producing more than ten wins. Yes, the team still has Thornton, R. Davis, and the newly added Sebastian Telfair (and yes, I have a problem with the Telfair adjusted plus-minus story that I am saving for another day) holding the team back.  But….

  • if the Clippers could somehow get the negative players to be a bit less negative,
  • if B. Davis and Kaman to return to form.
  • if age doesn’t keep Camby off the floor or substantially reduce his production, and,
  • if Griffin can produce as his college numbers suggest,

then the Clippers might post an efficiency differential in excess of 2.0.  And that means, the 2009-10 Clippers might be the best team in the history of this franchise.

Yes, those are a lot of ifs.  But if you are a Clipper fan, there is a chance this season could be truly memorable.  No, it doesn’t seem likely the Clippers can rank among the league elite (usually the minimum requirement for a memorable season).  And the playoffs might not happen (it looks like they will have to beat out the Suns).  But in terms of efficiency differential, this season could be it.  The franchise record – set by the Buffalo Braves 35 years ago – might finally be broken. 

– DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.