One of the big storylines on the Los Angeles Clippers is how much better they got this offseason, adding the likes of Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson and Cole Aldrich to bolster their bench. Now, the narrative goes, they’ll be able to supplement what the starters are doing.
That’s a great offseason story, but the problem is that it’s just not true. The reality is that the Clippers’ bench got a whole lot weaker.
Based on Offensive and Defensive Real Plus-Minus at ESPN.com, let’s look at what the five outgoing Clippers contributed last year (Players who played more than 300 minutes on the team last year are used, so Jordan Farmar is included even though he was waived midseason):
Now, let’s look at what the returning Clippers contributed last year:
Yes, the Clippers’ bench last year was really bad, with an aggregate -9.3 RPM, but they got rid of the wrong people. The departing four players were only a cumulative -3.47. The remaining two were a total of -6.33.
And here’s the really fun part. Let’s look at what the new guys are bringing:
So, the Clippers gave up -3.47 in RPM to get -9.04 in RPM. And they kept -6.33 in RPM, which means now their bench is worth -15.37. And they got worse on both defense and offense.
Additionally, Austin Rivers ranked 450 out of 474 players, and Lance Stephenson ranked 470. That gives them two of the worst 25 rotation players in the league as essential parts of the bench they “revamped” since the All-Star Game.
That’s not an improvement. So that’s just RPM, and you don’t believe in these new-fangled on/off mumbo-jumbo stats. How about traditional numbers?
I looked at what the old guys did versus the new guys in the traditional stats. The following chart shows the average production per 100 possessions:
“Aha!” You say. “The New Guys are more productive than the old guys!” But, in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend.”
The problem is that you only have one ball, and the guys are mostly high-usage (meaning they take a lot of shots), low-efficiency (meaning they miss a lot of shots) types. The departing players aren’t any great shakes on offense, but they’re more likely to see their shots go in.
The five players who aren’t in LA anymore used a total of 90.3 possessions (based on field goal attempts, free throw attempts and turnovers) to score 83.2 points, an average of .92 points (points/possessions).
The six players who have arrived used 114.9 possessions to score 83.2 points, or .72 points per play.
Now, the first thing that sticks out there is that you can’t use 114.9 possessions in 100 possessions. This is the one-ball effect. All the players are going to have their numbers diminish automatically. Adding high-usage players together means a corresponding reduction in production.
That also means that edge in assists is going to drop. Because again, only one ball to share.
And the rebounds are going to come down. Doc Rivers prefers getting back on defense to contesting for offensive rebounds, and the Clips have DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to compete with for defensive rebounds.
When you look at the actual numbers, the illusion is that they added more production, but that’s just higher usage.
The defense gets worse and the offense gets worse.
In order to make the Clippers’ offseason a success it requires optimistic cherry-picking more than cerebral reflection. If Paul Pierce can not die of old age. If Austin Rivers‘s 30 minutes of fame which contradicted his entire career wasn’t the anomaly. If it’s Houston Rockets Josh Smith and not Detroit Pistons Josh Smith. If Lance Stephenson can bounce back from that vomit-inducting catastrophe he had last year. If Cole Aldrich can be relied on. That’s a lot of ifs.
Sure, they didn’t start the offseason with great depth, but they might have finished even worse.
The Clippers’ bench is a lot like their uniforms. It’s different but in a bad way.