Clippers are armed with a priceless new weapon: Versatility


The Los Angeles Clippers easily had one of the best starting fives in the NBA this season, but depth and versatility was almost nonexistent to them. Until now, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers have been the Clippers’ only primary players to operate at multiple positions on a consistent basis. It’s limited the lineups head coach Doc Rivers can use, and combined with their poor bench, the Clippers have had minimal versatility to say the least.

It’s an incredibly useful asset to have in the NBA today, especially with big men shooting from further out and guards having so much athleticism and size that they can stretch to multiple positions, too. Take the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, for example.

With stars like Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and other key players such as Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala, who are all capable of playing multiple positions, it’s no surprise that the Warriors can create fast-paced, matchup nightmares for opponents. For the Clippers, however, that hasn’t exactly been the case.

However, after adding Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, Wesley Johnson and Branden Dawson (who can all play multiple positions), the Clippers are finally armed with some serious versatility.

Nov 14, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) handles the basketball against the Phoenix Suns center Miles Plumlee (22) in the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Jamal Crawford and his instant offense has been the headline act in the Clippers’ weak second unit for the last three seasons. His ankle-breaking crossovers and streaky shooting can only do so much, though. And at 35 years of age, he’s finally got the help he needs.

With Lance Stephenson, the Clippers have acquired a versatile guard to take a lot of the pressure off Crawford. Stephenson can drive to the basket, finish through contact (he’s made 65.6 percent of his shots within three feet for his career), rebound and facilitate better than Crawford. He’s not been brought in to replace the former Sixth Man of the Year, though, he’s simply been added as a playmaker who can contribute at both the 2 and 3.

A breakdown of Stephenson’s time at each position this year shows that he spent 3 percent of his minutes at point guard, 74 percent at shooting guard and 23 percent at small forward. If he can get back to his triple-double form from his time with the Indiana Pacers (after leading the league with five in 2013-14), Stephenson is one of the most versatile additions the Clippers have made this offseason.

Lance can run the point at times, be used at shooting guard when Crawford’s shots aren’t falling, add some defense, and even slide to small forward if need be.

He’s increased Doc Rivers’ backcourt options to say the least.

Wesley Johnson adds even more size and athleticism to the Clippers’ wing unit as well. At 6’7″ with a 37 inch vertical, he has the explosiveness to finish off lobs from Chris Paul in transition with ease. More importantly, he’s a three-and-D guy to help compensate for the loss of Matt Barnes (Johnson shot 35.1 percent from deep this year) and can even play power forward if the Clippers adopt a small lineup (in 2013-14 for instance, Johnson spent 33 percent of his playing time at the 4).

Similarly to Johnson, Paul Pierce is also a new wing who can play both forward positions. Of course his mental intangibles and veteran leadership will be extremely valuable to the Clippers, but his 38.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc and never-ending ability to close out games is nice to have, too. Because “calling games” is just what The Truth does.

In addition, he can operate as an excellent floor spacing option at power forward in a small lineup alongside DeAndre Jordan.

That’s not all Doc Rivers has done this offseason, though. There’s also the increased versatility of his frontcourt.

Both rookie Branden Dawson and recent signing Josh Smith will spend most of their minutes at power forward this year, but both can be used at small forward as well. Dawson — the 6’7″ defensive specialist from Michigan State — spent his college days dominating the Big Ten Conference in rebounding, rim protection, steals and just in any aspect of the game where he can put his aggression and hustle to good use.

He led the Conference in rebounds per game (9.1), offensive rebounds (102) and defensive rating this year (91.1), and with his strong 230 lbs frame and exceptional quickness, he has the strength and speed to defend both power forwards and guards.

Smith is similar to Dawson in this regard, although he has slightly more size at 6’9″. He averaged 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes with Houston this year, and even held opponents to shoot just 46.2 percent at the rim. If that wasn’t enough, he also forced opponents to shoot 9.4 percent lower than their season average from within six feet and 8.6 percent lower from as far as 10 feet out.

Like Dawson, Smith has the quickness to cover guards and can use his explosiveness to protect the rim from opposing bigs. Add on his 33 percent three point shooting while he was with the Rockets this year,  and it’s clear he has the skill and versatile defense to be utilized at multiple positions.

Which, in comparison to the Clippers’ previous backup power forward of Glen Davis, are assets they haven’t had at all recently.

May 23, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) looks to shoot as Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) defends during the game in game three of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2015-16 season, it can’t be denied that the Clippers are far deeper than they have been in recent memory. And now coming off the three best seasons in franchise history (56 wins, 57 wins, 56 wins), they may just be able to top that mark this year.

Obviously it’s going to be incredibly difficult, though. Simply because it’s the frightening Western Conference that they have to survive. The San Antonio Spurs with LaMarcus Aldridge and an Oklahoma City Thunder squad with a healthy Russell Wesbtrook and Kevin Durant won’t be easy to stop.

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Yet, with the Clippers’ increased depth and interchangeable role players, a 60 win season is by no means out of the question.

Not only do their new players give them a deep second unit, they also give them far more versatility. If Paul, Griffin or Crawford got cold this season, they’d have no one to look to offensively. It’s one of the main reasons they blew their 3-1 series lead against the Rockets.

Now, however, with players who can play at multiple positions and defend multiple positions as well, L.A. have far more options to take the immense pressure off the Big 3. As a result, they have a far better shot at contending in the Western Conference Finals this year.

Next: With the Clippers' remarkable rebuild, Doc finally proved himself