How will the Los Angeles Clippers new faces affect a team with big aspirations?
All the big names are back, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, coach Doc Rivers. They will suit up once again for the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that finished third in the western conference and did not need to make any big sweeping changes. However, with championship aspirations and a new big name owner with deep pockets, the Clippers did try to fortify their bench with some new faces.
At this level of competition even peripheral changes can make a big impact over the course of 82 games, as injuries, foul trouble, and sometimes just some much needed rest will put guys normally comfortably seated on the bench into a game. Lets take a look at some of the changes and how it might affect this year’s Clippers team.On the wing Los Angeles no longer has stable veteran and good chemistry guy Jared Dudley, a player known for smart play and accurate long range shooting. However, last year was a disaster for Dudley as he struggled from beyond the arc and on defense.
Dudley alleged that he was playing hurt, and doing it for the team, and that is why he played so poorly. Whether true or not, the Clippers know for sure that they need better shooting and more athleticism on the wing than what Dudley provided last year.
However, given that J.J. Redick remains their only real sharpshooter among their top four wing players, spacing may still be a problem for the Paul/Griffin and Paul/Jordan pick and roll. Barnes is a career 33 percent shooter from behind the arc and is well known as a streaky player.
When he is hot, he can win a game for Los Angeles, but when he is not, then teams know they can sag off him. Reggie Bullock is even worse beyond the arc, at a career 30 percent. That kind of shooting will cause opposing coaches to breathe a sigh of relief when he launches a three instead of a Griffin slam or Paul lay-up.
Jamal Crawford can shoot it, but he is another year older, turning 35 before the season ends. He was effective in spurts last year, but you have to wonder how long he can keep it up. In the end, the Clippers might have been better off keeping Dudley and hoping good health and a fresh start might have brought out the best.
Another position where Los Angeles has seemingly gotten worse is at point guard. Chris Paul is still one of the best in the league, but instead of a quality back-up like Darren Collison, you have journeyman Jordan Farmar and the play of a combo guard like the aforementioned Bullock.
Now, Farmar did have a career year last season, boasting nearly 44 percent from behind the 3-point line, and dishing out nearly five assists in just over 20 minutes of court time. He should be able to hold down the fort for the 15 minutes a game Paul is on the bench, but should your all-star guard be out for any amount of time during the season, you will probably see what is a decent bench player exposed by getting starter’s minutes.
On the other hand, you have to be encouraged by the addition of Spencer Hawes, a three point shooting big man who can also rebound. Hawes shot over 41 percent from three point land last year, and even his career mark is a healthy 36 percent. Add more than eight rebounds per game and more than a block per game, and you have a high quality third big that you can plug into either the four or five spot.
He can help make up for the lack of reliable shooting by the wings by acting as that coveted stretch 4 or even stretch 5, and playing alongside Griffin would give the Clippers high flyer a much cleaner lane. Even if there is some sagging from the wing players, you would much rather see Griffin dunking over say… Klay Thompson than Andrew Bogut. Hawes is a huge upgrade over the Glen Davis, Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens crew that Los Angeles ran out last year.
Speaking of Davis, he will now be competing with Ekpe Udoh for minutes as the back-up to Blake Griffin. Neither Udoh or Davis will put much fear into the eyes of the opposition, but given limited minutes both can be solid players. Davis is a decent shooter who works hard on defense and on the boards, while Udoh is a solid defender, although not much of an offensive threat.
The two should be able to form a sort of platoon to keep the Clippers in the game while Griffin sits. In the event of a Griffin injury, you would probably see Hawes enter the starting lineup, with Udoh getting minutes as a back-up five, while Davis would then back-up at the four. That would not be ideal, but if it is only for a few weeks or less, Los Angeles might be able to survive.
Farther down the bench, there is C.J. Wilcox, the Clippers first round pick in this year’s NBA draft. Wilcox showed in college that he can really shoot the ball, and could end up being the floor spacing wing player the Clippers really need. The downside is that, aside from open catch and shoot opportunities, Wilcox probably will not be able to score in the NBA, as his handle and creativity is lacking.
Of course, many teams look for that three-and-D type of player, but unfortunately Wilcox is missing the D in that equation, as he was an average at best defender in college, and probably grades out below average in the NBA. Still, in some spot minutes through the season he should be OK, and if either of the aging duo of Barnes and Crawford sees their productivity fall off a cliff this year, you could do worse than Wilcox as a three point threat to keep the lane open for lob city.
The last newcomer not mentioned yet is Chris Douglas-Roberts, a player who signed for the veteran’s minimum with the Clippers and who will probably ride the pine for the majority of the season. Douglas-Roberts is purely a depth move, an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass kind of player. He is a decent defender and has shown a much better stroke behind the arc lately, but on a loaded Los Angeles roster, he will not get nearly the same minutes he was getting with Charlotte.
Overall, the Clippers seems to be in a similar position as last year, but with a little more positional flexibility and more quality depth at the four and five. The sacrifice is that they are without a proven starting caliber point guard to back up Chris Paul. If Paul stays healthy, then things will work out just fine. However, if he misses more than just a game here or there, you have to wonder if Steve Ballmer will decide to be aggressive on the trade market to find a fill-in.
Either way, there is no doubt this is still one of the premier teams in the Western Conference.