Two of the Western Conference's heavyweights meet up for a massive bout tonight, as the Rockets travel to Los Angeles to take on the Clippers, and this game promises to be a good one. The Clippers have big hopes for a title this season, and a big start by the Rockets has given Houston fans hope that they can do the same. To give you some more information on the Clippers, we have Steve Perrin of Clips Nation joining us. Without further ado, this is what he had to say.
Patrick Harrel: The Clippers flirted with trading DeAndre Jordan this summer, but thus far he has played well and seems to be on track for a career season. Has anything changed for him, or is it just a case of steady improvement from a young player?
Steve Perrin: The main thing that has changed for DeAndre is his coach. I remain a skeptic regarding how much impact a coach can have in game situations, but there's little question that coaches can have an impact as motivators. Vinny Del Negro steadily eroded Jordan's confidence, primarily by showing no confidence in him himself. Doc Rivers may or may not prove to be a great Xs and Os coach, but he is clearly a terrific communicator and motivator.
Knowing that DJ had been in those trade discussions, Doc came in and made Jordan his priority from the very beginning. In his first press conference he spoke effusively of Jordan's defensive potential, saying he'd be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate before long. It seemed like crazy talk at the time, but each time he says it, it seems a little less crazy. And really, there's only one person who really needs to believe it, and that's Jordan.
Bigs can take awhile to develop, and Jordan's still just 25. He's brimming with confidence under Rivers, but he also truly does seem to "get it" this season. He's always been able to block shots, but has never had any discipline on the defensive end, jumping after every pump fake and missing rotations. But so far this season he's been absolutely stellar on defense. Jordan's played well in November before, but has lost focus as the season has worn on (plus I do think the Del Negro factor tended to get to him). We'll see if he can sustain something like this level of performance for the entire season, but it will definitely help having Rivers in his corner.
PH: Chris Paul is playing unbelievable basketball, but after the Clippers traded away Eric Bledsoe, Darren Collison has struggled to replace his minutes at the backup spot. What's Collison doing wrong, and is it a major issue?
SP: Collison is going to be fine, and probably better than fine in my opinion. He bruised his knee prior to the final pre-season game and then his wife had a baby the day before the season started, so he's been less than 100 percent in the first week of the season, and I really think that is the complete explanation for his slow start. Before the injury (which is minor and won't be a factor much longer) he was having a monster pre-season, and was one of the real bright spots for the team. I'm confident that Collison is going to be one of the very best back-up point guards in the league this season (whether Rivers can afford to ever take Paul out the way he's playing is a different question).
Bledsoe was great -- you guys probably have a better feel for Bledsoe than most, since Beverley is a similarly disruptive force. The second unit will be very different with Collison instead of Bledsoe, but not necessarily worse. Bledsoe was an agent of havoc and a defensive terror. Collison will not get the steals and blocks and rebounds Bledsoe got, but he knows how to run a team, and he is more than capable of pushing the tempo.
PH: Finally, it's now Doc Rivers' team, and he at least on paper seems to be a massive upgrade over VDN. How has the team and the media taken to him?
SP: Well, as I said concerning Jordan, regardless of what else you think about Rivers, he is unquestionably a gifted communicator and motivator. The media love him, and how could you not? He gives thoughtful, honest, insightful answers. He provided more "real" information in his first press conference than Del Negro would in a year. Del Negro was very personable, but he (like most NBA coaches it must be said) preferred to speak in platitudes -- "We're going to play the right way" was his favorite answer for any situation. Rivers actually says stuff -- I mean, here's the thing: I actually find myself listening to him when he speaks! How crazy is that?
And you know what? The players listen too. He comes in with instant credibility because he's won a title and he had the full attention of superstars in Boston, and the Clippers know all of that. So while I can say that his "strong side zone" defensive scheme (really former assistant Tom Thibodeau's defense) is miles beyond anything VDN had the team doing and the player movement on offense (really assistant Alvin Gentry's offense) is a massive improvement, it's really the focus and discipline he can demand from the players that will be the biggest difference. Every coach gets a honeymoon period, and there is always a risk that at some point down the road the players will stop listening and will tune him out. With Rivers, that grace period will certainly last longer, and he's such a good communicator that the players may continue to listen for a very long time.
Thanks again to Steve, and be sure to come back tonight for the gamethread and more game coverage!