One Team, One Stat: Clippers sliding, but getting to the line

NBA.com Global on Dec 21, 2018 07:44 AM
One Team, One Stat: Sliding Clippers getting to the line
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 10: Montrezl Harrell #5 of the LA Clippers dunks the ball against the Orlando Magic on March 10, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

Through the first seven weeks of the season, the LA Clippers were, arguably, the league's biggest surprise. At 16-7 and in what was seemingly a season of transition, the Clips were tied for first place in the Western Conference.

Since then, the Clippers are 1-6, with their only win coming in overtime against the Phoenix Suns. The surprise team of the first seven weeks has slid to sixth place in the West, and the Clips are only four games into a stretch of 10 straight against teams that also have winning records through Wednesday.

Here's one number to know about the 2018-19 Clippers ...

THE STAT

The Clippers have the league's highest free-throw rate, having attempted 33 free throws for every 100 shots from the field.

THE CONTEXT

This is the fourth straight season in which the Clippers have ranked in the top four in free throw rate, even though the Clippers' roster is now almost completely different from when they led the league in free throw rate two seasons ago. The only player from that team on this season's roster is Luc Mbah a Moute, who left for a year, has played a total of 61 minutes this season, and didn't have much to do with that league-high rate in 2016-17 in the first place.

It was DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin who accounted for 40 percent of the Clippers' free throw attempts two seasons ago, even as both shot worse than that season's league average (77.2 percent). The Clippers led the league in free throw rate, yet ranked 27th in free throw percentage.

This season, Montrezl Harrell leads the Clippers in free throw attempts. He has a free throw rate of 65 attempts per 100 shots from the field, up from 41 per 100 last season. That's the biggest increase among 208 players with at least 300 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season.

Harrell has shot just 61 percent from the line, but that's better than Jordan had ever shot with the Clippers. And the next three Clippers in regard to attempts -- Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Tobias Harris -- each rank among the top 25 in free throw percentage, having shot a combined 91 percent.

With the league-high free throw rate and the league's sixth-best free throw percentage, the Clippers have a top-10 offense, despite having an effective field goal percentage right at the league average. Shooting from the field is the most important aspect of NBA offense, but getting to the line remains the most efficient way to score.

The Clippers have outscored their opponents by 3.7 points per game at the line, despite having the 10th-highest opponent free throw rate. Only Jordan's Mavs (with the former Clipper shooting a career-high 73 percent from the line) have a better point differential (plus-4.1 per game) on free throws.

As the Clippers have gone 1-6 over the last two weeks, they've scored just 101.5 points per 100 possessions, down from 113.2 (fourth in the league) over their first 23 games. But free throws haven't been the issue. In fact, they have a higher free throw rate over the last seven games (35 attempts per 100 shots from the field) than they did in their first 23 (33).

The issues have started with turnovers (they have the league's third-highest rate over the last 15 days) and shooting in the paint, both in regard to volume (they haven't been getting to the rim as much) and percentage.

They've been without Williams (sore left hamstring) for the last 4 1/2 games. He hasn't been as critical to their offensive success as he was last season -- when they were almost 13 points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the floor than they were with him off -- but these last seven games, the offense has been pretty terrible with reserves on the floor.

The Clippers have also been spending a lot of time away from Staples Center. Prior to this week, they had played 11 of 15 games on the road. Their loss to Portland on Monday (Tuesday, PHL time) began a stretch where they're 13 of 16 at Staples (including a road game against the Lakers), with only one-game trips to Oakland, Phoenix and Denver.

It's a critical stretch for the Clippers, with Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) game against Dallas being the fourth of nine straight within the top 11 of the Western Conference.

CLIPPERS BASICS

Pace: 102.2 (9th)
OffRtg: 110.5 (10th)
DefRtg: 110.0 (19th)
NetRtg: +0.5 (16th)

CLIPPERS NOTES - GENERAL

1. The Clippers are in sixth place, but have the Western Conference's 10th-best point differential. They're 12-6 in games that were within five points in the last 5 minutes.

2. The Clippers are 5-2 with a rest advantage (when they didn't play the day before, but their opponent did), though they've lost the last two times they've had one (Dec. 8 vs. Miami and Dec. 15 at Oklahoma City). Only Washington (4-4) has played more rest-advantage games.

CLIPPERS NOTES - OFFENSE

1. The Clippers are one of three teams (the Pacers and Spurs are the others) that rank in the top five in 3-point percentage (37.3 percent, fourth), but in the bottom five in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (28.9 percent, 28th). They've seen the second-biggest increase in 3-point percentage and third biggest drop in 3PA/FGA from last season.

2. They've also seen the second-biggest drop in the percentage of their shots that have come from the restricted area, from 39 percent (highest in the league) last season to 34 percent (11th-highest) this season.

3. The Clippers rank fourth offensively in the first half of games (113.5 points scored per 100 possessions) and 20th offensively in the second half (107.0). Only Denver has seen a bigger drop-off in efficiency after halftime.

CLIPPERS NOTES - DEFENSE

1. Clippers opponents have taken only 31 percent of their shots, the league's second lowest opponent rate, from 3-point range. And they've taken only 18 percent of their 3-pointers, the league's lowest opponent rate, from the corners. Only Brooklyn (1.7) has allowed fewer corner threes per game than the Clippers (1.9).

2. The Clippers rank last in opponent turnover rate, having forced just 11.9 per 100 possessions. On top of that, only 48 percent of their opponents' turnovers, the league's third-lowest rate, have been live balls (the league average is 53 percent).

3. The Clippers rank 25th defensively in the first half of games (113.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and 10th defensively in the second half (107.0). Only New Orleans and Sacramento have seen a bigger defensive improvements after halftime.

CLIPPERS NOTES - LINEUPS

1. The Clippers' regular starting lineup -- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Marcin Gortat -- has an effective field goal percentage of 58.4 percent, the fifth-highest mark among 49 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together. It's also just one of two lineups that has played at least 100 minutes and recorded assists on less than half of its field goals.

2. Highest on-court OffRtg among two-man combinations (minimum 200 minutes together): Patrick Beverley and Harris. The Clippers have scored 114.1 points per 100 possessions in 505 minutes with the pair on the floor together.

3. Lowest on-court DefRtg among two-man combinations (minimum 200 minutes together): Gilgeous-Alexander and Lou Williams. The Clippers have allowed just 100.4 points per 100 possessions in 289 minutes with the pair on the floor together.

4. Beverley is known for being a pest defensively, but among the seven Clippers who have played at least 500 minutes, the team's league-low opponent turnover rate has been lowest (11.6 per 100 possessions) with him on the floor.

CLIPPERS NOTES - INDIVIDUAL

1. Danilo Gallinari (24-for-24) and Lou Williams (13-for-13) are two of three players (Kyrie Irving is the other) that have attempted at least 10 clutch free throws and made them all.

2. Gallinari has shot 47.1 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the fifth best mark among 56 players who have attempted at least 100 (and up from 31 percent on only 87 attempts last season).

3. Montrezl Harrell is one of five players who have shot 70 percent or better on at least 200 shots in the restricted area. He has scored 15.9 points in the paint per 36 minutes, fifth most in the league (minimum 500 minutes played), but down from a league-leading 18.9 per 36 last season.

4. Tobias Harris is one of three players - Stephen Curry and Nikola Vucevic are the others - averaging at least 20 points per game while shooting 50-percent-or-better from the field and 40-percent-or-better from 3-point range.

5. Boban Marjanovic has grabbed 15.8 percent of available offensive rebounds, the second highest rate among 324 players who have averaged 10 minutes or more in at least 15 games.

6. Lou Williams ranks 11th in fourth-quarter scoring (6.7 points per game) after leading the league (7.9) last season.

7. Williams has taken 26 percent of his shots from 3-point range, down from 39 percent last season. That's the fourth biggest drop among 208 players with at least 300 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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