Clippers: With new faces, Big 3 should see decline in minutes


Since arriving in 2013, Doc Rivers has done an excellent job at doing a terrible job surrounding his top players with balanced reserve talent. Byron Mullens. Jordan Farmar. Spencer Hawes. Ryan Hollins. Reggie Bullock, etc., the list goes on. But after securing Josh Smith on a one-year deal, things are looking up for the Clippers’ bench, at least in comparison to past iterations.

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The Clippers' new Kawhi and Paul George strategy might just work
The Clippers' new Kawhi and Paul George strategy might just work /

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  • In theory, the group should be better. Austin Rivers will have training camp to better understand his role and what it is the Clippers do on the floor. Given their pasts, its unlikely Jamal Crawford and Lance Stephenson are as bad as they were this last year. Josh Smith, regardless of which one you get (there’s “know his role” Smith and “do whatever I want” Smith), is a clear upgrade over Glen Davis. Wes Johnson has shown he can be effective when asked to do very little. And Cole Aldrich is a big body that can get on the floor (worst-case scenario, Glen Davis assumes his role as fourth-big following a re-sign). Even the younger players in Branden Dawson and C.J. Wilcox bring something to the table in the instance a slur of injuries wrecks the teams rotation a la 2014-15. For the first time since “A Tribe Called Bench” graced Staples Center can the Clippers’s bench be referred to as talented (depending on how some dices roll, of course), and no group better benefits from this than the starters.

    The Clippers’ starting five was rarely ever the issue when breaking down the franchise’s shortcomings and what went wrong in the playoffs. Regardless of what you thought of the Clippers last season, when it’s best five players were on the floor, they were an elite team. Per NBA Stats, of five-man lineups who played at least 300 minutes together, only the Golden State Warriors (19.6) and Cleveland Cavaliers (19.3) had five-man units better than Los Angeles’ Chris Paul/J.J. Redick/Matt Barnes/Blake Griffin/DeAndre lineup (17.7). It was when a piece of that lineup was removed from the floor things went astray.

    Due to injury, Griffin’s minutes from this past season skewed but if following a trend set since his rookie season, the All-Star forward was in position to finish top-10 in minutes. Per Basketball-Reference, only Kevin Durant, Monta Ellis, LeBron James, and DeMar Derozan played more minutes than Griffin between 2010-11 and 2013-14.

    Since Rivers’ arrival in 2012-13, no NBA center has played in more minutes per game than DeAndre Jordan (7700 total) — a credit to his ability to avoid injury — with the closest being Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Chicago’s Joakim Noah. Last season, Jordan (7th) and 30-year-old teammate Chris Paul (5th) finished top ten in minutes played. Per SportsVU, only nine players traveled more distance than Chris Paul last season; J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan ranked top-20 in distance traveled.

    In the playoffs, the trend continued, as the starters logged heavy minutes against two of the West’s best in the Spurs and Rockets. Following Game 5 against the Spurs, Griffin admitted fatigue had become an issue, though it affected both teams and players, not just himself — Griffin averaged 41.1 minutes per game in the Spurs series. By the Clippers’ final playoff matchup, Game 7 against the Rockets, the players admitted to ESPN how big an issue a shallow bench created.

    Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs has made it a habit to keep his players fresh for the playoffs — and at the same time, developing role players and prospects throughout the regular season. Steve Kerr achieved the same this past season, thanks in part to dominance over a three-quarter period, allowing his starters to rest in the fourth while young guys play mop up duty the following 12 minutes. If this improved bench can keep leads instead of ruining them, the Clippers can be like those two teams and keep its stars fresh.

    Will added energy automate to a conference finals appearance or hoisting of the Larry O’Brien trophy? No, but it’s proven more rest helps, from a production and injury standpoint, and, regardless of talent, this Clippers team — in what looks to be an improved Western conference finals — is gonna need all the help it can get.

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