October 22, 2010
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Los Angeles Clippers
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Clippers

New coach Vinny Del Negro has some intriguing guys but a lot of question marks, starting with this one: Who is going to be the leader? Is Vinny going to be able to harness Baron Davis and get him to be a good team player? Or does Baron win that battle of who is going to control the ball? In the past, Mike Dunleavy would call the plays and then watch Baron run the plays he wanted to run. And then along the same lines, what is going to happen with Eric Gordon? Is he going to be a future star who receives more responsibility? He needs the ball in his hands as much as Baron needs it. So it's shaping up to be a struggle involving those three guys.

Gordon is not going to be a traditional point guard. But if he doesn't get the ball a lot, he's going to be a quiet player. I think about how Del Negro let Derrick Rose play in Chicago; Rose and Gordon have some similar traits. Gordon won't turn into the star that Rose is going to be, but Gordon is a better outside shooter and they both look to score first. Del Negro could be convinced to let Gordon play the way Rose did. The problem is that Gordon and Baron can't coexist on a successful team. That means Del Negro and his staff will have to figure out which guy to tie the wagon to. They'll try to get as much out of Baron for as long as they can and then try to move him.

In a perfect world, Baron would be the starter and leader, and then you'd bring Gordon off the bench to play either guard spot and lead when he's on the floor. If both guys would embrace those roles, they could both average 20 a game and they'd have the makings of a good team. But I doubt we'll see that happen.

There aren't many guys in basketball who are as talented as Baron. People who have been around him tell me he is very much an independent thinker. He's a confident guy and he isn't dumb so you can't snow him. His track record shows that you're going to have a hard time convincing him to think differently.

He's a dominant player but he's a terrible shooter in terms of shot selection. He has the talent to make seven in a row, but when they aren't falling, he'll continue to take shots. He takes more bad shots when he gets tired, and so if the ball is in his hands, he can really screw up his team. I think he goes back to that series he had for the Warriors when they knocked off Dallas in the first round and it reminds him of how he can dominate the game with his skill set. There are times that you want him to take over, but there are a lot of other times when you wish he wouldn't.

One thing I've noticed with Baron is that he'll give you chances, but he doesn't give you lot of chances. So if he throws the ball to Blake Griffin and Griffin scores, Baron will keep throwing the ball to him. But when he throws it to somebody who doesn't get it done, then all of a sudden Baron is taking over the game and shooting questionable shots because he doesn't trust you.

They have two rookies in Griffin and Al-Farouq Aminu who have great talent and athleticism and explosiveness. Griffin is the more polished of the two, but it's going to be hard for him after missing an entire season. He plays so hard that you'd think he'd be able to get things done on the NBA level if he's playing with that effort every night. Blake can complement Chris Kaman up front because it's a powerful enough inside duo that they can play against most teams.

Aminu looks very raw. He's a back-to-the-basket guy with great upside. But Aminu has to be the small forward if he's going to play alongside Blake, and he's a long way from developing the skills to do that.

Kaman was their most consistently productive player last year. His strengths are his size and his skill set. He can shoot with either hand and he can pass. Staying out of foul trouble is a big thing with him. He's a good rebounder and he can block shots. He does everything you want a center to do, and Baron seems to trust him. One of Kaman's backups, DeAndre Jordan, is a freaky athlete who blocks shots but gets in foul trouble immediately.

I'm a big Ryan Gomes fan. They could have a powerful lineup that could match up size-wise with the Lakers or Spurs by putting him in with some of their other guys. He doesn't need the ball and he can play different positions as a complementary guy with a variety of skills.

Rookie Eric Bledsoe isn't a point guard yet. He's a good defender. He's another upside guy with athleticism and strength who could be a good player. But he replicates what they have already. He's explosive like Gordon but not as skilled offensively. He's raw and he takes terrible shots.

They need Rasual Butler for his consistent shooting; after Gordon, who else do they have to shoot threes? Butler has length and range and he doesn't have to have the ball all of the time.

Randy Foye is a good backup guard who doesn't do anything you're going to have to game-plan for. He can play both spots but he's not great at either one.

Craig Smith is a good 10th man. He played a lot of minutes for Minnesota but he won't see that kind of time here with Blake and Aminu ahead of him.

From a scouting standpoint, I thought Del Negro was pretty simplistic during his two years at Chicago. He had one of the shortest playbooks in the league, which will be a big change for the Clippers because Dunleavy had an extensive playbook. Del Negro's approach should work to the benefit of Baron and Gordon as guys who want to attack. Del Negro lets his guys play. He seems to be confident in his approach. The real test will come when he knocks heads with Baron.


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