Clippers small forwards are struggling and struggling bad


“IT’S JUST THE PRESEASON,” is as trivial a statement one can make during the preseason.

Mainly because it’s true, but bad play throughout the preseason gets dismissed when, if anything, it should signal something to keep an eye on as the regular season takes off. And for the Los Angeles clippers, all eyes should be on the small forwards because they’ve been awful through three games.

Through the lens of the head coach in Doc Rivers, the situation is still being handed out, with not much changing from day one.

“We came into this knowing that Matt (Barnes) would play a lot, and we’re trying to find out who else will play with him,” Rivers said via the OC Register. “We still haven’t figured that out.”

But viewing the small forwards (Matt Barnes, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Reggie Bullock — Joe Ingles hasn’t played enough minutes to be included within this conversation) through the lens that is the eye test and statistics, both basic and advanced, no member of the mentioned group has stuck out from the group.

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  • The eye test? No one has looked good. Bullock doesn’t look like he belongs on the offensive end, floating around meaninglessly. Barnes looks like the wily veteran whose days as a NBA rotation player are coming to a close. Douglas-Roberts has looked the best of the three, having some sense of purpose on offense, but that isn’t saying much.

    The basic stats test? Neither Barnes, Bullock, or Douglas-Roberts are shooting higher than 30 percent from the field, the  highest being Bullock’s 25 percent and lowest being Douglas-Roberts’ 12 percent. A positive? Bullock is hitting 40 percent of his threes though the sample size is extremely small (2-of-5) — CDR is 0-of-5 from three while Barnes is 1-for-8

    The advanced stats test? According to RealGM’s database, neither Bullock, Barnes, or Douglas-Roberts has posted a PER of 7 or higher, the highest being Bullock at 6.41 and the lowest being Douglas-Roberts at 0.85. For perspective on how bad that is if you haven’t already gotten the point, the Clippers posted the second worst PER at small forward last season (10.9 per, with only the Minnesota Timberwolves being worse (10.8).

    That’s … not good.

    Despite it being “only the preseason”, lackadaisical play from the group will surely warrant suggestions as to whether the Clippers should look to outside sources to improve the position.

    Free agency is likely out of the question as that path has already been trodden with the addition of Chris Douglas-Roberts. And even if they decided to scan the open market, there isn’t much to choose from: Rashard Lewis (injured), Dante Cunningham, Ronnie Brewer, Stephen Jackson, and Josh Howard. No player mentioned is a step up from the current core quite frankly, none of them are good at this point in their respective careers.

    Next up would be the trade market.

    The most optimistic option because it allows fans and analysts alike to play GM-for-a-day, but finding a small forward is easier said then done.

    Who is available? That’s the number one question. Looking through league rosters, here are a list of players who could become available at one point in the season that would be considered an upgrade from the current roster:

    The next step is wondering whether the Clippers possess the assets to obtain the above mentioned players. I’ll stop you from raking your brain: no, they don’t. Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes’ non-guaranteed contracts are potential pieces, but considering the team is 1) already thin at small forward and 2) heavily rely on Crawford to man the second unit and play alongside Paul at the end of the games, those two may be off the table.

    J.J. Redick would intrigue front offices, but he’s key to the Clippers offense — if the talent is good enough, Redick would likely be good enough, but as we see, these talents aren’t.

    This leaves draft picks, a department is mighty short in. Because of the Doc Rivers trade, the Boston Celtics own the Clippers’ 2015 first-round selection. Because of the Ted Stepien rule which prohibits teams from trading back-to-back first-round picks, the Clippers are unable to dangle their 2016 first-round selection as bait. Because of the Jared Dudley trade in which all recipients outside of the 2nd round pick are no longer with the franchise, the Clippers are without the 2017 first-round pick. Does a 2018 or ’19 pick get it done with any of the above-mentioned players? Maybe Boston bites because Jeff Green is a player Danny Ainge has been attempting to get out of his hairs since this past summer. The same applies to Timberwolves team mid-rebuild as Andrew Wiggins could phase out Corey Brewer. The other mentioned teams? They’re trying to win games and moving a rotation player for a draft pick and average-to-below average player may not cut it for them.

    The jury isn’t out on the Clippers small forwards yet. But it’s just preseason. Embrace the notion and live with it. Maybe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

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