Do they have a shot in the dark?

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
4:11
PM PT
Heading into the Los Angeles Clippers' season opener on Oct. 31, we will tackle some of the pressing questions facing the team this season. Today, we look at the importance of success for new shooting coach Bob Thate.

Of all the acquisitions the Clippers made during the offseason, it could be argued that the biggest was the addition of Bob Thate as the Clippers' shooting coach.

Thate comes to the Clippers after spending 2005 to 2008 with the New Jersey Nets. Thate has been on the court before, during and after every practice during the Clippers' training camp, working with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

It's no secret why Thate was hired.

"He's here to work with me, Blake … the guys who can’t shoot," Jordan said last week.

Plenty of Clippers couldn't shoot last season, but the two worst shooters, the two who hurt the Clippers the most with their inability to score from the field and the free throw line, especially late in games, were Griffin and Jordan.

Last season, Griffin shot 52.1 percent from the free throw line while Jordan shot 52.5 percent. Jordan, however, shot a dreadful 33.3 percent from the line during the playoffs and was forced to sit at the end of the bench late in games because of his shooting inability when the Clippers could have used his presence on defense.

Both also were unable to do much of anything outside the paint last season. Griffin hit only 27.7 percent of his shots from 10-15 feet, while Jordan has made only two shots outside of the key in his entire career, both coming in meaningless games last season.

If the Clippers are to become something more than a catchy nickname and a flash in the pan in this city, Griffin and Jordan are going to have to do more than look good on buildings and T-shirts and make highlight-reel dunks. They're going to have to make their free throws and, in Griffin’s case, develop a midrange game; Jordan needs to develop a low-post move or two.

That's where Thate comes in.

Thate was hired by the Clippers almost immediately after the season and began working with Griffin and Jordan in late June. He worked with both players in Los Angeles and traveled to Houston, Oklahoma and Las Vegas to work with them during the summer.

He broke down their shots from the way they held the ball to their follow-through and created a new motion and rhythm for them. Griffin and Jordan will be the first to tell you that it wasn't easy in the beginning but the changes are slowly becoming second nature.

"The first couple of weeks I didn’t like it at all," Jordan said. "I'm going to be honest with you. I didn't like it because I was too cramped in shooting the ball. But when he recorded it and I saw it, it looked like a good shot."

Thate corrected many of the visible issues with Griffin's and Jordan's shots. He noticed Griffin would fade back unnecessarily, hang in the air and keep the ball up high. He saw that Jordan didn't have full control of the ball when he was at the free throw line and would almost shot put it toward the basket, essentially hoping it would go in.

Most of those issues have been corrected in practice, but the bigger question is whether they will be corrected once the season starts. Griffin and Jordan admit they are works in progress, and if the first two games of the preseason are any indication, they're painstakingly right. So far, Griffin is shooting 5-for-11 from the free throw line while Jordan is 1-for-12.

Those were the kind of lines the Clippers would see from Griffin and Jordan before Thate was hired. That's not to say they won't turn it around, but until they do, it will be hard for Griffin and Jordan to take the next step as players or for the Clippers to take the next step as a team.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Blake Griffin
PTS AST STL MIN
23.2 4.4 0.7 35.0
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Jordan 13.2
AssistsC. Paul 9.9
StealsC. Paul 1.9
BlocksD. Jordan 2.4