Why are the Clippers back to being the Clippers?

Last year was a historic season for the LA Clippers. For the first time in the history of the Clippers organization (not including the Buffalo Braves years) this team won 47 games in a single season. Furthermore the Clippers advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs and even pushed the Phoenix Suns to seven games before bowing out. Given this success, many people thought the Clippers would contend with the likes of Phoenix, Dallas, and San Antonio this year.

So far, though, this has not come close to happening. After 28 games the Clippers have only won 12 games and are currently in 12th place in the very competitive Western Conference. What exactly happened?

In October I noted that the Clippers had done very little to improve themselves last summer. The main addition to the roster was Tim Thomas. With the Phoenix Suns last year Thomas played less than 1,300 minutes and was a bit above average. For the rest of his career, which consisted of more than 15,000 minutes, Thomas has been well below average. Which Thomas has shown up for the Clippers? Unfortunately, the 15,000 minute Thomas currently plays for the Clippers. After 28 games his Wins Produced per 48 minutes is in the negative range. So he’s not helping.

Corey Maggette, though, has apparently recovered from his injury plagued 2005-06 campaign. He is playing 26 minutes per game and is posting a WP48 that is above average. To some extent, the return of Maggette offsets the addition of Thomas.

Still, the Clippers are quite a bit worse. One might suspect that the problem is with Elton Brand or Sam Cassell. Brand had one of his better seasons (although he was a bit better in 2001-02) and one might expect that Brand has simply returned to his very good, yet not outstanding, level of productivity. Last year Brand’s WP48 was 0.274 and this year it’s only 0.218. So Brand is indeed offering a bit less.

Sam Cassell is also offering less. Cassell is now 67 years old (or at least seems to be that old). Last year he was above average, but at his advanced age one suspected that a decline was inevitable. Cassell had a WP48 of 0.128 (average is 0.100) last year and this season he is only offering 0.070. It’s important to note that although we see declines in the productivity of Brand and Cassell, this is not the primary source of the problem. Even if Brand and Cassell played as well as they did last year this team would still be on pace to win less than half their games.

Okay, if it’s not the addition of Thomas, the decline of Brand, or the aging of Cassell, what is the problem? If you look in the middle of the Clippers line-up you see Chris Kaman. Last year Kaman had a WP48 of 0.160. Close to nine of the wins the Clippers posted in their record-setting season were attributed to Kaman’s productivity. This year Kaman has missed five games. And when he has played he has posted a WP48 of 0.0004. Yes, Kaman has offered virtually nothing.

If we look at the individual stats, we see problems everywhere with Kaman’s performance. Last year Kaman scored 1.05 points per field goal attempt [(PTS-FTM)/FGA], which is above average. This year his shooting efficiency stands at 0.85, which is well below average. Kaman is also rebounding quite a bit less and has committed more turnovers. In sum, Kaman is quite a bit worse. I am not following the Clippers as close as I could (although I live in California so I guess I should), but I assume that Kaman is not completely healthy this season. Whatever the reason, though, it’s the decline in Kaman’s performance that is the one key difference between this year and last year.

So that is my explanation for the Clippers. Although I am sure my prose has been quite entertaining (okay, a little bit entertaining?), some people might prefer to just see the data. What I have been doing is putting links in my posts that take the reader to a table with each team’s Wins Produced. Judging by the comments, though, I think I am being way to subtle. At least, it doesn’t look like people know that you can see the Wins Produced for the teams I have thus far analyzed if you can find the link in the text.

Later today I will put together a post with all the tables I have constructed for each team I have analyzed in 2006-07. For the Clippers, though, you can look right HERE to see the Wins Produced for each player on the team.

As the table indicates, Shaun Livingston is still not quite the star people envision. His WP48 is just a shade below average. He is still young, so he could become better in the future. And maybe if that happens, the Clippers won’t need Kaman to return to form. Of course, if  that doesn’t happen, and Kaman keeps playing poorly, then this team will continue to flounder and Mike Dunleavy – the head coach – will probably join Mike Fratello in broadcasting.

– DJ

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