Why the L.A. Clippers desperately need a new big man


May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) looks up during the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Clippers 113-100 to win the series 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Clippers desperately need to bolster their bench. More than anything, they need to add depth to their front court. Because no matter how good the All-NBA third team duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are, they need reliable backups when they’re out of the game. And simply put, Glen Davis and Spencer Hawes aren’t up to the challenge. Especially if the challenge at hand is for the Clippers to make the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

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Although, now the offseason has rolled around and the Clippers are out of the playoff race after being eliminated in devastating fashion by the Houston Rockets, Doc Rivers has the opportunity to address his second unit. And whilst the entire bench needs to be examined — because the streaky-shooting Jamal Crawford can’t do it alone with Austin Rivers — the biggest flaw is their frontcourt rotation.

Because after Griffin and Jordan, the likes of Big Baby and Hawes bring little benefit to either end of the floor. And often do far more harm than good.

In terms of rebounding, L.A. would be lost without Jordan and Griffin. DeAndre has led the league in rebounding for the last two seasons, and reached a career high 15 boards per game this year. Griffin, on the other hand, has seen a cut in his percentage of rebounds, as Jordan is always too busy grabbing every loose ball in sight. Yet Blake’s average of 12.7 per game over the playoffs has reiterated how prominent he can be.

And then there’s Davis and Hawes.

The Clippers’ two All-NBA big men both did their job this year, as Jordan had a dominant rebounding percentage of 24.5, whilst Blake did his part with 7.6 boards a game. Meanwhile, Davis and Hawes both averaged less than 3.5 rebounds per game with rebounding percentages of less than 11.4.

It’s not as though Davis and Hawes need to be as terrorizing on the glass as their teammates, but if the Clippers want to be able to end the possessions of their opponents effectively, they need role players who can take care of things when Griffin and Jordan aren’t able to do so.

With Davis and Hawes, that’s not possible.

They’re the main reason why the Clippers ranked just 20th in rebounds per game and 17th in rebounding rate. On offense, they were even worse. As no matter how helpful Jordan’s 4.8 offensive rebounds per game were this year, L.A. still finished the season ranked a rather dismal 28th in offensive rebounding rate.

But it’s not just rebounding where Davis and Hawes make a minimal impact, though. The Clippers need help defensively all around. It was their lack of a gritty intensity and all-around toughness that really let them down against the Rockets. And a lot of that comes down to defense.

Chris Paul and Jordan made the All-Defensive first team this season, but they can’t do it by themseles. Matt Barnes is a tough perimeter defender, who’s often able to defend their opponent’s top wing scorer, yet the Clippers have little else when it comes to defense. And (surprise, surprise) Davis and Hawes are a big part of that.

Sorry for all the criticism, but if they did more this year it wouldn’t need to be said.

Despite the fact that the Clippers had the second best overall point differential this year of +6.6 (behind only the Golden State Warriors’ historically good +10.1), they only achieved such a high win margin because of their offense. They led the NBA in offensive efficiency with 109.8 points per 100 possessions, yet were nothing more than mediocre as a defensive team.

Apr 14, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Spencer Hawes (10) reacts after falling to the court against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In short, they allowed 100.1 points per game (15th in the league) and consequently ranked a perfectly average 15th in defensive efficiency with 103 points allowed per 100 possessions. And whilst stingy defense is the result of an entire team’s effort, the way the Clippers’ bench struggled to hold onto a lead all year is a key factor.

Before addressing the primary issue of the frontcourt again, both Rivers and Crawford were detrimental to the Clippers’ defense. Rivers raised the offensive rating of opponents by 1 point whenever he was on the floor — a different albeit minimal. However, Crawford allowed opponents to score 4.7 more points per 100 possession when he was in the game this year. Counter in his lack of efficiency (by shooting just 39.6 percent from the floor) and the Clippers’ point differential dropped to -8.8 with Crawford on the floor.

Davis and Hawes are at the forefront of this problem, though. The Clippers (remember, a team with the second best point differential in the league) trailed by an average of at least 14.4 points per 100 possessions with either Big Baby or Hawes on the floor. And when you compare that to Jordan’s +/- of +15.4 this season, it’s rather shocking that Davis and Hawes created a near 30 point swing per 100 possessions.

You simply can’t win championships with a bench that unreliable. And when you consider how they both slow down the offense, that Hawes’ efficiency as a stretch big man regressed this season due to his 13 percent drop in three point accuracy from 2013-14, and their clear detriment to L.A.’s defense, it’s blatantly obvious that Doc needs someone else.

So, how can the Clippers address such a serious issue?

First and foremost, they need to resign DeAndre Jordan. As the numbers have illustrated above, he’s far too valuable as a rebounding and defensive anchor to be let go. They won’t be able to find a replacement with nearly as much athleticism and ability, and despite his dreadful 39 percent free throw shooting, he’s earned a max five year deal of around $108 million.

May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of tackling the issue of their backups, the Clippers’ main options are to either make something happen in the draft or sign a veteran free agent. If they can trade for a second round pick or even sign an undrafted rookie, there should still be talented frontcourt players who can serve a real defensive purpose. Or, if that doesn’t work, there a veterans — such as Lavoy Allen and Tyler Hansbrough for example — who can be considered.

However, the 2015 NBA draft has thrown up some very interesting options. And as L.A. may not be able to acquire a draft pick, an elite defensive talent such as Michigan State’s Branden Dawson could be a perfect choice. Especially because he’s projected by many (for example, several mocks by CBSSports and NBA Draft.net) to go undrafted.

For a complete breakdown and more thorough analysis of his defensive abilities, and how well he can suit the Clippers, you can read this column. But in summary, he’s a 6’6” power forward who’s so explosive that this year he ranked 1st in the Big Ten Conference in rebounds per game (9.1), total offensive rebounds (102), defensive rating (91.1) and even finished 4th in blocks per game (1.7).

Not to mention his ferocious dunks would do nothing but entertain the fans of Lob City.

The Clippers are extremely limited with cap (currently around $5 million available), but by re-signing Jordan, they’ll have set the foundation. There are possibilities out there this offseason, and if they sign someone like Branden Dawson who offers defense, toughness and rebounding, they’re well on their way to improving.

Because no matter how many jokes they may receive over failing against the Rockets, they’re just a little defense, depth and mental toughness away from making a far better run towards the Western Conference Finals next year.

Next: Should the Clippers sign Gerald Green?