The past few weeks have not been the best for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Donald Sterling saga looms, and players were left with a bitter taste in their mouth after being bounced from the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-2. Despite strong production from both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, contributions were inconsistent from game to game. Facing a team with, arguably, two of the league’s best perimeter players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it is at the wing position, primarily small forward, where Los Angeles struggled to cover both players, lacking depth to counter the tandem’s explosive abilities.
Matt Barnes started 40 games for Los Angeles at small forward, including all 13 of the team’s playoff games. Known for tenacity, and his knack for getting under the skin of the opposition, Barnes is 34 years old. At this point in his career, he has lost much of his footwork and agility that fueled him his defensive skills. Offensively, he only averaged 9.4 points per game, shooting 42 percent from the field during the playoffs. At times, Durant seemed to prefer Barnes covering him rather than Chris Paul, who held his own despite being nearly a full foot shorter.
Jared Dudley began the year at starter for the Clippers (43 games) before suffering an injury and falling out of the rotation. Dudley was one of the key pieces that came from the Phoenix Suns in the Eric Bledsoe deal. Clippers coach Doc Rivers brought Dudley in with hopes of utilizing his 3-point shooting and toughness on defense, but he could never regain his Suns’ form. Dudley only played in seven of the Clippers playoff games, and was not much of a factor down the stretch.
Former University of North Carolina swingman Reggie Bullock was used sparingly during the 2014 season by the Clippers. He was the 25th overall pick in last year’s draft and he is in the mold of the NBA’s defensive wings who can knock down 3-point shots. Bullock only appeared in 43 games. He didn’t get much time to display his 43 percent 3-point field goal shooting that he posted at UNC. Bullock also shot an efficient 48 percent in his junior season (13.9 points per game).
Doc Rivers will have to dig deep into these players, and find the production he needs for his team’s success. Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley are definitely solid guys, but they have been unable to compliment Chris Paul & Co. More minutes for Reggie Bullock would surely benefit him going into his second season. Unlike Dudley and Barnes, Bullock is–at age 23–years ahead of his peak. His youth and energy could prove useful, in at least making the likes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James work on the offensive end. Giving this young man the confidence would also be a great gesture, as he will look to improve his game over the summer, and help their roster immediately next year.
The Clippers were definitely one of the more exciting teams this season, but excitement doesn’t translate to wins. They must find a way on the perimeter, and it will start with performance from their three small forwards. Without improvement and cohesion, the headlines will remain the same, with Los Angeles conceding to another wing-heavy team.