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Clippers Season Preview - A Reason For Optimism: Part II

The Clippers are loaded on paper. Can the talent translate to on-court success this season?

The Clippers are always one of the hardest teams in the NBA to predict; that is of course unless you just predict that something bad will happen and they'll miss the playoffs, in which case you'd almost always be right and they're one of the easiest. But if you want to put some thought into it and actually provide analysis for your position beyond "It's the Clippers", then prognostication tends to be pretty tricky with these guys. Yesterday, we took a look at the coach, free agents, and the returning core. Today, we preview what's new this year.

The New Rookies

Los Angeles Clippers 2010-2011 Preview
Last Year’s Record: 29-53
Key Losses: Marcus Camby, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, Drew Gooden, Head Coach Mike Dunleavy Sr.
Key Additions: Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye, Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe, Head Coach Vinny Del Negro

The Clippers drafted Al-Farouq Aminu from Wake Forest with their 8th pick, and then traded a restricted future draft pick to Oklahoma City for Eric Bledsoe from Kentucky, drafted 18th. Both are young (barely 20) and both are raw. But the talent is there. Both are also changing positions in the pros. Aminu played power forward at Wake, but will man the small forward in the NBA. Bledsoe slid over to shooting guard to make room for John Wall on the Wildcats, but will move back over to the point. These are not easy transitions for young players to make at the highest level of basketball and it is probably too much too expect a lot from either of these rookies this season. Aminu may be closer to contributing based on a couple of solid pre-season performances, and he is clearly the small forward of the future at this point.

The Not-So-New-Rookie

After all that, the Clippers season really comes down to another rookie, Blake Griffin. The first overall pick in the 2009 draft, he missed all of the 09-10 season after suffering a stress fracture in his patella. The knee is completely recovered at this point, and Griffin has returned to being one of the most explosive athletes imaginable.

In five pre-season games, Griffin's per 36 minute averages were 21 points and 15 rebounds on 60% shooting. He was the leading rebounder in the NBA during pre-season. He also led the league in highlight reel dunks, by a pretty wide margin. He doesn't have a polished offensive game yet, but his ridiculous combination of size and athleticism allows him to get to the rim anyway. He has a nose for the ball and great hands, and will be among the league leaders in rebounding from the moment he plays his first NBA game.

But it's Griffin's energy, enthusiasm and effort that have a chance to transform the Clippers. Along with some of the other new faces, notably Gomes, Griffin is part of a conscious effort by Del Negro and new GM Neil Olshey to change the team's culture. The team has given up on the season before the All Star Break each of the last two years. Blake Griffin doesn't give up on a single possession. He also has the ability to make the game fun again, a trait not to be underestimated when Baron Davis is on the team. The last time Baron Davis was having fun playing basketball, he led the Warriors to one of the most memorable playoff upsets of all time. With Blake Griffin at the end of his passes, I expect Baron to be enjoying himself quite a lot this season.

The Outlook

The future is bright, but the Clippers are still a few years away from being truly competitive. The starting small forward is a weakness, as is depth across the board. Bear in mind also that Blake Griffin is replacing Marcus Camby in the starting lineup, and Camby was very productive last season. Given that the Clippers won only 29 games last season, how much improvement can be expected?

Simply by continuing to compete the entire season, the Clippers will win more games. With Griffin's presence, a break out season from Eric Gordon and renewed interest from Baron Davis, the Clippers can probably improve to around .500 this year. Unfortunately for Clippers fans, that probably won't be enough to make the playoffs in the still loaded Western Conference.

Prediction: 42-40, third in the Pacific Division, 10th in the Western Conference