Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul was never expected to leave Los Angeles, which is why the hiring of former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers was never considered a prerequisite to Paul signing a five-year, $107 million contract earlier in July.
Rivers was brought on, instead, to push the Clippers over the top with his brand of sensible defensive maneuvering, and half-court offensive know-how. The motivational aspects of Rivers’ resume don’t hurt, but they’re also listed far down below the part that points out that Rivers knows how to get the ball where it can hurt the opponent the most, while sussing out his opponent’s called-for next step once they inbound the ball.
To Rivers’ glee, he has a point guard in Paul that’s already one step ahead of him, not unlike Rivers’ former point man from Boston, Rajon Rondo. From an interview with Gary Washburn, at the Boston Globe:
“It is very similar to Rondo. I mean, Rondo was such a smart player,” Rivers said. “And so far from being around Chris, they do really remind me a lot of each other in their basketball IQ, and it’s really refreshing. Chris can already recite plays that we’ve run. He was talking about the out-of-timeout plays that we’ve always run in Boston. So, he’s got a keen eye for the game. I tell people all the time that Rondo did the same stuff. He knows as many of the opponent’s plays as the opponent does. Chris Paul has turned out to be the exact same way.”
It’s at this point, while we wildly attempt to re-write and re-write this so as not to denigrate the previous administration, that you have to admire just how far Chris Paul has dragged this team over the last two seasons.
We’re not exactly telling you that former coach Vinny Del Negro rolled the ball out on the court during his tenure in Los Angeles, but watching Paul bark out an opponent’s play calls on defense is a common occurrence. Whether the guy is a plugged-in game tape freak or just an inherent basketball know-all with a court-o-graphic memory is up to his official biographer to discuss some years from now. In the interim, it’s more than obvious that the game’s best point guard is truly working within a different strata in comparison to his contemporaries.
(And, some would argue, his former coaches. But we denigrate digress.)
Washburn went onto report that, less than a month after taking on the Clippers job, Rivers is already nearly halfway into the team’s 2012-13 season:
Rivers said he has spent a good portion of the summer breaking down game video and trying to learn about his new players. He said he already had analyzed 42 of the Clippers’ 82 regular-season games, and was going to do the same with the final 40 regular-season and six playoff games.
“We have to play catch-up in that respect,” Rivers said. “I have to figure out why they were so good at times and why they struggled at times. They were a streaky team last year and we’ve got to figure out how to be more consistent.”
This is the massive advantage that someone like Doc Rivers has over his complete opposite: Brad Stevens, the newest Boston Celtics head coach.
Rivers may be relatively unfamiliar with the Clippers roster, having only played the team three times during the Chris Paul era. He’s coached against the team’s rotation parts, however, for years dating back to Jamal Crawford’s (the team’s most-tenured player !!!) first season in 2000-01. Stevens has an entire league to learn about. Doc Rivers “only” has to learn the best and worst tendencies of his team’s rotation.
Like, um, how not great at defense DeAndre Jordan is. Read this:
“DeAndre, in my opinion, should be, and I think he will be, on the all-defensive team,” Rivers said. “And I think he has a chance to be defensive player of the year. But he has to commit to that, and I think he wants to. And I think Blake should be one of those guys, as well. He should be a two-way player even more. I think we have the chance that we can help him into that, as well.”
Now, this could be posturing. Attempting to both build his player’s confidence while also focusing his instincts on what should count most as a priority. It’s very possible that Doc Rivers is watching the same DeAndre Jordan that we are – the guy that still seems completely baffled by the pick and roll, the man that is too often out of place when it comes to both help and hedge defense – and he understands that the DeAndre Jordan that has been working with the Los Angeles Clippers for those first 40 games that Doc has watched is basically a miserable defender save for those two blocks per 36 minutes he tosses back.
Or, he could be deluded into thinking that DeAndre Jordan could somehow outpace some 440-odd other NBA defenders at some point and make the All-Defensive team. We’re guessing it’s a motivational ploy.
Rivers isn’t in Los Angeles to motivate these Clippers. The team’s brass likely understands that a coaching switch out – again, not to denigrate – would be enough motivation to give the team an uptick in the standings. That’s even if the team made a downgrade with their coaching hire, which would seem like a hard thing to do after employing Vinny Del Negro which the team most certainly has not. The new voice would be enough to make an impact, even after the relative whirlwind that was the Chris Paul deal, and the 165 combined regular season and playoff games that followed.
No, Doc Rivers is there for clipboard acumen. Ubuntu leanings will help, to be sure, but Doc Rivers has been hired at a rate above the average player salary (which is so weird to be treated as a novelty, considering a coach’s sway) because he can manage a rotation and call the correct plays coming out of a timeout in May. He’s there to create order, where there was once chaos, along with a consistent game plan when it comes to defending the most basic of basketball plays.
He also has Chris Paul, barking out those basic plays, already on his side. Lucky him.