Los Angeles Clippers: A Case Study On The Importance Of Spacing

Dec 26, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) and Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talk during a break in action against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 26, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) and Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talk during a break in action against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports /

The Los Angeles Clippers are scoring and defending at almost exactly the same rate without Blake Griffin. How? The emergence of a new star in Los Angeles: Spacing.

Much has been made over the Los Angeles Clippers’ success without star power forward Blake Griffin in the lineup. The Clippers moved to 19-6 without Griffin in a 124-84 romp over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night.

One piece of their winning formula is that the loss of Griffin coincided with a new star joining the team: spacing.

We’re living in a new-age NBA. The pace-and-space era, the small-ball era, whatever you want to call it, it’s simply a new NBA and the loss of Griffin has allowed the Clippers to embrace the movement that has been taking the NBA by storm.

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Simply put, the Clippers are a case study on the pace-and-space era compared to the traditional lineups that the NBA has typically ran throughout its history.

The Clippers have proven just how valuable spacing is in today’s NBA. Just look at the stats below from NBA.com’s advanced stats writer John Schuhmann.

This tweet was before the Clippers faced off against the Warriors and Suns, and have actually improved these numbers since that game according to stats compiled from NBA.com/stats. The lineup with Paul Pierce instead of Griffin has actually brought the offensive rating up to 113.5 and lowered the defensive rating to 99.6.

That leaves the Pierce lineup outscoring opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions. For comparison’s sake, the Spurs lead the league with a 12.9 net rating per 100 possessions.

The only difference in these lineups is that Pierce, who is averaging 5.8 points on 34.5 percent shooting from the field and 31.7 percent on three pointers, is taking Griffin’s spot as power forward.

In case you’ve forgotten, Griffin was playing like an MVP before injuring his quad on Christmas against the Lakers, then breaking his right hand by punching a team equipment manager. Griffin was averaging 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while shooting better than 50 percent.

The only other players to average those numbers or better are Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley.

In the most simplified way of explaining the situation, the Clippers replaced a player putting up stats that only some of the NBA’s greatest talents have ever put up with a 38-year-old having the worst season of his career in all areas.

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And somehow the Clippers are operating at nearly identical rates on offense and defense.


As bad as Pierce has been this season, he remains a threat to shoot the ball.

Although Pierce is shooting only 31.7 percent on three-pointers and Griffin is shooting 35.3 percent on three-pointers, the amount of three-pointers and their skill sets make the difference. Pierce takes 62.5 percent from three-point range, compared to 3.1 percent for Griffin.

Even though Pierce isn’t hitting his three-pointers, the fact that he operates from the outside while Griffin often works in the mid-range area or in the paint allows much more spacing for the Clippers to work with.

While Pierce hasn’t come close to replicating Griffin’s numbers, the Clippers haven’t lost out on anything on offense. The Clippers lineup with Pierce is taking 12.2 more three-point attempts per 100 possessions than the same lineup with Griffin. They’re making 43.5 percent of these compared to 42.2 percent of them with Griffin on the floor.

On the other hand, the Clippers have had a slight setback on field goal percentage from 49.2 percent to 47.9 percent on field goal attempts by replacing Griffin with Pierce. This is going to happen when you replace a 50 percent shooter with a 34 percent shooter, but the Clippers have compensated for the lower field goal percentage by attempting more three pointers.

The math is simple; shots worth three points get you more points than a shot worth two.

What does all of this mean going forward for the Clippers?

Great question, you intelligent, beautiful reader. It means that the rest of the Clippers, specifically Paul, Redick, and Jordan, are best fit to operate with space, as most players are.

It also provides value for spacing. While Schuhmann joked in his tweet that Pierce is equal to Griffin, we know better. A 38-year-old Pierce is not anywhere near equal to Griffin. However, the spacing that Pierce provides in Griffin’s place is as valuable to team success as having one of the best power forwards in the game.

In business, there is a term called opportunity cost that can help us understand this situation. BusinessDictionary.com defines opportunity cost as “a benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire something else.” Opportunity cost be be used to understand situations outside of life.

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Maybe you’re in college and you have a huge project due tomorrow but you’re invited to a huge party. Of course you’re responsible and would work on your project. In this scenario, missing out on the party is the opportunity cost to working on that project.

When the Clippers play Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, two of the best players in the NBA at their respective positions, the opportunity cost that the Clippers pay is that they don’t have much spacing. Even with one of the best shooters in the league, J.J. Redick, the paint is usually inhabited by one or both of the big men, restricting the space for the offense to operate within.

This does present a problem for the Clippers as they’re currently constructed. If the Clippers continue to win at the rate that they have been while Griffin is sidelined, expect Griffin’s name to be mentioned in trade rumors during this offseason and for the Clippers to commit to surrounding Paul, Redick, and Jordan with players built to play a small-ball style.

When Griffin does return, the Clippers would be wise to experiment with bringing Griffin in off the bench. The Clippers have really taken a hit with their bench unit hits the floor and Griffin could provide a solution for this problem. Griffin feasted on the starting units of the league and would become an absolute monster when going against the third or fourth best big men on opponents. 

Long term, the revelation of how important spacing has been for the Clippers has showcased that the Griffin and Jordan playing almost exclusively together isn’t the best way to maximize their offense. In crunch time, you can’t leave a player like Griffin or Jordan on the bench.

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There are a few ways to go about this revelation, but it’s become clear that the Clippers are the latest NBA team to prove just how valuable spacing is in today’s NBA.