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Los Angeles Clippers Bench Off to Slow Start

Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News/Zuma Press/Icon Sportrswire

Heading into the 2015-16 NBA season, it seemed the Los Angeles Clippers were in line to continue a strong tradition of rostering effective reserves.

Guys like Eric Bledsoe, Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, and even Ronny Turiaf have been integral parts of the Clippers’ success over the past five years, and being able to add talents like Josh Smith and Paul Pierce, as well as solid role players in Pablo Prigioni, Wesley Johnson, and Cole Aldrich seemed to be the answer to the team’s bench woes from just a season ago.

More importantly, since Doc Rivers took over as not only the team’s head coach but also the organization’s general manager,  he’s made several questionable transactions. The first moves to come to mind are trading Jared Dudley AND a first round pick for Miroslav Raduljica (who?) to essentially open up room to sign Spencer Hawes, and acquiring River’s son Austin, who was (and possibly still is) considered a bust after being a highly touted prospect entering the NBA.  Landing several players who have a history of being key contributors on good teams this past offseason could clear Rivers of previous mistakes, as long as they help get the Clippers over the hump.

Well, through five games the 4-1 Clippers only have four players with a positive box plus minus according to Basketball-Reference.com, with Pierce being the only reserve among the group who’s even close to breaking even. Even though Pierce has almost been a positive for L.A., he’s averaging just six points per game this year, shooting a miserable 20-percent from three. Unfortunately for Rivers, Pierce isn’t the only member of the bench mob struggling from deep, as the team’s second unit combined is shooting just 21-percent from three, which qualifies them as the second worst three-point shooting bench, per HoopsStats.com.

We knew heading into the season that the Clippers starting five was one of the best in the league. I mean, this is a team that boasts two of the top ten players in the league in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, as well as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in DeAndre Jordan. But as the season goes along, if one of Paul or Griffin gets hurt, or they need extra rest, will the bench be able to come in and keep production at a high level for the Clippers?

According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Clippers are currently posting the fourth-best offensive rating in the league and the 12th-best defensive rating. This makes sense considering their starters are top five in rebounds, assists, and blocks per game, while owning the top field goal percentage among starting units, according to HoopsStats.com.

But, let’s take a look at some of the bench ranks that stick out: 23rd in rebounds, 27th in assists, and 27th in field goal percentage. As you can see, the ball isn’t moving a ton, resulting in stagnation on the offensive end, leading to poor shooting.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Los Angeles, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015.   (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News/Zuma Press/Icon Sportrswire)

Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin Rivers in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Los Angeles, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015.
(Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News/Zuma Press/Icon Sportrswire)

With shoot-first (as opposed to creating shots for teammates) guys like Rivers, Smith, and Jamal Crawford, it isn’t shocking that this unit isn’t playing with a ton of synergy, or that the results showcase a lack of efficiency. I know it’s still a relatively small sample size, but when looking at different five-man lineups the Clippers have used, Pierce, Smith, Rivers, Johnson and Crawford have been the second most used lineup (just over 45 minutes) after the starting five, and are getting outscored by 18-plus points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference.com). More of an eye-opener: the two worst three-man lineup combos include both Smith and Pierce, with Smith being a part of the SIX worst three-man lineups to date.

I think a huge problem here is L.A.’s lack of a backup point guard. Prigioni is hurt/old, and both Rivers and Crawford have proven enough times that they’re scorers, not facilitators, at all. I would have thought that bringing in Stephenson meant he was going to be the main ball-handler/floor general for the second unit, but it seems Rivers is keeping him in the starting lineup to keep him engaged on both ends, and also to keep him from shooting the team in the foot too much by running the offense for the second unit. It’s hard to find a backup point guard as good as Bledsoe and Collison were, but Rivers flat out hasn

‘t even tried to replace them, and it continues to hurt this team.

Of course at this stage of the season it’s on Rivers to find lineups that work, and as long as he has Paul, Griffin, and Jordan, the Clippers will be one of the more competitive teams in the league. With that said, all eyes will continue to be on Rivers and the production he’s able to get out of his second unit, and if things don’t get better soon, you can surely expect the criticisms of GM Doc to be greater than ever.

This is definitely a situation worth monitoring in Lob City.

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