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Preseason Warnings: It’s Just Preseason, but…

The standard disclaimer in preseason is always, “I know it’s just preseason, but…” and then usually what follows is something that ignores the qualifier. Thus, the argument goes, preseason doesn’t mean anything. That’s not quite accurate.

It’s better to say, “Preseason doesn’t mean much.” While a team or player doing exceptional things in the preseason is cause for skepticism, a team or player doing something poorly is legitimate cause for concern—particularly if it’s repeating a pattern from previous years.

So, while we’re not going to taut Marco Belinelli as a 30-point scorer based on one preseason contest, there are a couple of observations that could hold steady into the season.

One such case is with the revamped Los Angeles Clippers’ bench, which much has been made of. Zach Lowe of Grantland writes:

Rivers has to sort this out and discover whether his son, Stephenson, and Crawford can share the ball on second units. “You can figure it out on the whiteboard, but that s*** doesn’t really work,” Rivers says. “You have to figure it out on the court.”

On the brighter side, Stephenson will get wide-open looks and long driving runways in L.A. If he attacks instantly on the catch, without going into one of his ridiculous circus dribbling shows, his playmaking could compensate for his jumper in the same way Barnes’s cutting did. If everything fits, the Clips will have more options on those nights when a locked-in defense strangles the paint — as Houston did in humiliating the Clippers during that infamous Game 6. The easiest choice is to slot Pierce into the crunch-time five along with the rest of the starters. The Clips should be borderline unguardable with another ace shooter on the wing.

Such is the optimism. It’s easy to slide the pieces around, ignoring the flaws in the process.

But there’s a bigger question mark to that revamped bench than is being advertised. Austin Rivers had an effective field-goal percentage of 44.9 percent on 496 shots last year, Josh Smith 45.6 percent on 987 shots, Jamal Crawford was 46.7 percent on 332 shots and Lance Stephenson was 39.2 percent on 550 hurls. That’s a collective total of 1,156 shots and an effective field-goal percentage of 44.5.

That’s not very good. In fact, it’s downright appalling. But somehow we’ve spun a narrative where slapping a bunch of bad shooters will make them all good. Granted, they’ve all had moments, or even seasons where they’ve shown they can be better, but it’s presumptuous to assume that they’re all going to suddenly thrive because they’re together.

And so far in the preseason, that’s a fair concern. The Clippers’ bench was shredded in the first two games. Per RealGM, they scored just 82 points as a group on 85 field-goal attempts and 22 free throws for a field-gaol percentage of 32.9 percent and a true shooting percentage of 43.3 percent.

Meanwhile, their counterparts have scored 99 points on 78 shots and 29 free throw attempts and boast a 54.5 true shooting percentage. The reason that this should be cause for concern for the Clippers is not that it’s something different, but because it’s the same as last year.

They need it to be different.

Another thing that we can pick up from preseason is how the league is transforming. After the Golden State Warriors won the championship, the small-ball, court-stretching revolution is complete, and it’s apparent through the preseason that many teams are going to try and put their bigs out behind the three-point arc.

Through the first nine games, players listed by RealGM as power forward or center jacked up a total of 88 three-point attempts—almost five per team, per game. And there are some names on that list we’re not associated with the deep ball, such as DeMarcus Cousins, Al Jefferson and Brook Lopez.

As a group, the results were moderate, with the big men hitting 31.8 percent of their treys, but that’s still more valuable than an average mid-range shot, so expect that trend to continue. Anticipate more high pick-and-rolls, more corner threes and more bigs showing—or trying to show—range this year.


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