The Los Angeles Clippers are not a bad team by a long shot, but in a brutal Western Conference you need to be elite to stay with the pack. Currently they sit 6th in the West at 24-12. Despite winning two-thirds of their games so far, the Clips have fallen out of the title contention conversation. The main reason for this is their average (15th ranked per DEF EFF) defense, especially on the wing, and a good-on-paper, yet terrible, bench.
Offensively the Clippers are still a juggernaut, running the third most efficient offense in the Association behind only the Mavs and Raptors. To compare to LAC’s title run of ‘13-’14; last season they had the top ranked offense and 7th ranked defense. That season Blake Griffin was playing at near MVP levels and Chris Paul’s defensive ability wasn’t called into question.
This season the Clips will fail to win it all because their wings can’t defend and their bench is poor. The wings that play significant minutes are: J.J. Redick (29 MPG), Matt Barnes (27), and Jamal Crawford (26). J.J. and Barnes are great at spreading the floor shooting 42% and 38% respectively from 3-point range but both lack the quickness and size to defend a decent wing player, let alone one you’d find in the Western Conference playoffs ie. Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson. Jamal is shooting just 40% from the floor which is down from last year and not a good mark even for a volume shooter guy. Jamal is also a minus defender. Unless they can grab an above average wing defender (Wilson Chandler?) before the deadline, the Clips won’t last in the playoffs.
Doc Rivers is the GM/Coach for his second year and despite bringing in names like Dudley, Farmar, Big Baby and Spencer Hawes (ok, not names names) he can’t get the bench to be a solid unit. Because he’s the GM/Coach he’s the only one to blame for either bringing in the wrong guys (ability or system-fit), or coaching them poorly. Jared Dudley (along with Redick) was acquired in the Bledsoe trade in 2013 but was never given much of a chance last year and has sinced been shipped to Milwaukee where he’s been an essential (to a .500 team) piece. On the other side, the newly signed Jordan Farmar, Glen Davis , and Spencer Hawes (with a freshly minted 4y/$23mil dollar contract*) were supposed to be known quantities brought in to round out a solid team. Instead, those three, a less effective Crawford, and a surprisingly still-in-the-NBA Turkoglu have been a disappointment off the bench.
The Spencer Hawes gamble hasn’t gone to plan. Stat-wise Hawes isn’t faring well, he’s down from 41% from three last year to 31% this year. His value as a stretch big has disintegrated and the bench unit as a whole has suffered for it spacing-wise.
Notice how little Al Horford (#15) respects Spencer’s (#10) range at the top of the arc and focuses on helping off the pick. This allows Horford to stand at the top of the key, sagging off a harmless Hawes, and clog the paint . What is most concerning is when Blake anchors the bench and isn’t in the paint. If he’s not inside, no one is. Nobody is cutting or planting in the paint to bend the defense making defending on the perimeter easy for the opponent, especially if not everyone can make a three “cough” (Hawes). The 5 spaced out around the perimeter is a bad habit that makes scoring difficult and getting offensive boards impossible.
Jordan Farmar is shooting 38% from the field and 36% from three, down from last year when he shot an efficient 43% for the rival Lakers. Farmar also tends to turn the ball over and hasn’t been effective enough to take important minutes off Chris Paul’s back for the long haul. TO THE TAPE:
This a Hawes and Farmar 2-for-1 bad execution sale. Horford sets three picks on the far side. The first gets Farmar out of position. The second gets Schröder open and the third forces Hawes to help on-ball while Farmar fights through the pick. Horford is talented at these screens and against bad perimeter defense he’s deadly. Farmar and Hawes deal with the third pick poorly with Hawes helping unnecessarily as Schröder is running to corner. Instead they double Schröder but don’t trap him, Horford leaks to the paint and Blake is pulled of his man to guard him and Schröder picks out the open man wisely. Blake closes well but Mike Scott’s still given enough space for most 3 point shooters to drill it.
I don’t look at Glen Davis’ stats often (because I’m sane) but I assumed he was a solid NBA guy. I was wrong. I don’t think he’s good at anything. He’s not good at shooting from distance, rebounding, assisting, being athletic, or playing defense (44% fg, 5 PF per 36 min, 6.5 RB per 36).
With time winding down on the shot clock after a broken play, Big Baby attempts to come high on the late screen and even hedge the driving Nate Robinson who is almost behind the clumsy Davis by the time he gets there, forcing the slow big man to foul Nate and bail out the Nuggets who get a second chance to find a good shot.
The Clippers aren’t a bad team. I’ll say it again. This team is not broken and the underachieving signings may yet find the basket and gel as an effective bench unit. A lot can change in roughly 3/5’s of the season that’s left but until the Clippers add a wing defender their title hopes are unachievable this year.
*Hawes’ deal might end up being a bargain when the salary cap spikes in two years or so. BONUS footage of him forgetting the most lethal shooter in the the NBA just for laughs.