Doc Rivers’ Los Angeles Clippers are one of the best teams in the NBA right now. A 12-6 record is good enough for the top of the Western Conference, and Friday’s victory over the Memphis Grizzlies made it six wins in their last seven games.
The Bucks, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets (twice) and Thunder have all lost to Rivers’ men in the opening weeks of the season. This is not a case of a favourable schedule; the Clippers are competing with the sport’s best.
The Clippers are an anomaly in a league dominated by stars. They do not have a single All-Star on their roster, though that may well change this season. In the last 18 months or so, they have lost DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Rather than a year or two in the doldrums, Los Angeles are as good, if not better, than the days of Paul, Griffin and Jordan.
Early season wins have been based on high-percentage scoring from all over the floor and superb free throw shooting (as exhibited by Danilo Gallinari to force overtime against Memphis). LA rank fourth in three-point percentage and second in free-throw percentage per basketball reference.
They might lack the big names of their conference rivals, but Rivers has his team making the most of their ability. Lou Williams picked up where he left off last season, Tobias Harris has been excellent at both ends of the floor and they have depth. The early performances of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are rightly getting people excited.
Talent alone is not enough, but Los Angeles still have plenty of it. Balance and good coaching always has a place in the NBA. Blockbuster trades and free agents are exciting, but there’s something special about a team performing without the helping hand of a superstar or two.
The performances of the league’s best get the majority of the attention. The Clippers, though, are quietly going about their business and exceeding even the loftiest of expectations so far in an immensely competitive West.
It might just be a hot start, and even the most optimistic in the organisation would admit a top four seed is a longshot, but this has been an important few weeks. They will remain in the shadow of LeBron James’ Lakers – and that’s okay. It fits with who the Clippers are, the roster they have built and the way Rivers wants his team to be. The offseason moves and those all-important 12 wins have ended any thoughts of a full rebuild.
Rivers is back to doing what he does best. The front office has given him a roster to be competitive, and he’s doing just that. There’s plenty for the Clippers to be optimistic about, even if they aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.