More depth, new schedule will give Clippers much needed rest


May 14, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) watches from the bench against the Houston Rockets in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

With the release of the Los Angeles Clippers’ schedule for the 2015-16 NBA season, we’ve learned that there will be far fewer back-to-back games and more opportunities for rest than there were last season. The changed scheduling can help teams a great deal, primarily because it gives players more time to recover in order to maintain their bodies throughout the gruelling, 82 game season. In particular, it can help teams like the Clippers save the energy and health of their stars for when the playoffs begin.

This year saw the Clippers endure the problem of being too reliant on star power. With a trio of All-NBA talent in the form of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, L.A. was home to more than its fare share of superstars. Yet, even though they were capable of carrying a poor second unit throughout the regular season to win 56 games, it just wasn’t enough in the postseason.

They fell apart against the Houston Rockets in the second round by losing their 3-1 series lead, and it was largely due to their lack of depth and their starters needing to carry far too much of the load. With their host of offseason additions, though, and the newly improved NBA schedule also making a difference, they shouldn’t have that problem again this year.

As Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times has pointed out, the amount of back-to-back games for teams around the league has decreased significantly, now reaching an all-time low.

On top of that, the number of four-games-in-five-day stretches have also declined.

In addition to these more notable changes, a minor difference is that the Clippers will also play just six preseason games instead of eight this year. It’s not much, but anything that can keep every player rested for the start of the regular season (and shorten the dull wait till proper NBA action starts) is good news.

These adjustments to the regular season schedule are especially instant beneficial to the Clippers. After Paul, Griffin and Jordan all played more than 34 minutes per game last season, the Big 3 are used to making up for a poor bench. And that trend only increased in the playoffs.

In this year’s postseason, Paul upped his playing time to 37.1 minutes per game, Jordan stayed roughly the same at 34.4 (due to his poor free throw shooting), whilst Griffin shot all the way up to 39.8 minutes per game. Whilst even J.J. Redick was forced to play 38.6 minutes each night to make up for the inconsistencies of Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford.

To put Blake’s immense playing time into context, though, he was fourth among all players who made it to at least the second round in minutes per game, with only Bradley Beal, Jimmy Butler and LeBron James himself averaging slightly more.

However, with an adjusted schedule to increase their rest time and a seriously revamped bench to reduce their heavy load during games, the Clippers’ stars are set to have a far less tiring season.

The two key signings set to make the biggest difference, both talent wise and for saving the Big 3 for the playoffs, are Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith.

Stephenson will be able to serve as a primary ball handler and play maker when Paul is off the court, as the athletic, 6’5″ shooting guard can create opportunities and attack the rim in ways that Rivers and Crawford can’t. He may be coming off a dismal year with the Charlotte Hornets, but on a genuine contender, surrounded by veteran leaders in L.A., Stephenson can hopefully bounce back towards his form from his Indiana Pacers days.

Smith, on the other hand, is a far superior athlete to the Clippers’ previous backup power forward, Glen Davis. He’s far more explosive in transition, used his strong finishing to make 66.9 percent of his shots within three feet, improved his three point shooting while in Houston to 33 percent, and averaged a very respectable 16.9 points per 36 minutes (and an even more impressive 20.8 points per 36 in the playoffs).

But the real way in which Smith can help the Clippers, and give Griffin some much needed rest throughout the year, is by playing defense. It can help compensate for when Jordan is on the bench, and puts less strain on Griffin to try and hold the Clippers’ defensive frontcourt in shape, as he had to when Davis and Spencer Hawes failed to do so this year.

More importantly, Smith has the speed, length and explosiveness to defend both guards and forwards. He averaged 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes with the Rockets this season, and even forced opponents to shoot 9.4 percent worse than their season average from within six feet of the basket. When moving out to 10 feet, Smith was still highly effective and made opponents shoot 8.6 worse than their season average (per NBA Player Tracking).

That’s something Davis and Hawes couldn’t dream of doing this year.

It’s extremely impressive, and it’s the kind of defense that was nonexistent on the Clippers’ second unit until now. And when adding his offensive output into the equation as well, it’s clear Blake finally has a backup who can contribute more than 12.2 minutes per game in the regular season and only 10.3 in the playoffs, as Glen Davis did.

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

Once the Clippers’ host of new signings settle into their new surroundings, they can ensure that L.A.’s stars aren’t as overworked as they were throughout most of the past year. Now, both Stephenson and Smith, as well as the likes of Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson and Cole Aldrich as well, can all help maintain the condition of the Big 3.

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The trio may have been in desperate need of second unit support this season, but they’ll still be the ones who are responsible of taking this team deeper into the playoffs.

And now they have the players who can offer far more support and a newly structured schedule that can make a difference as well, the Clippers can finally release their reliance on star power and maintain the condition of their entire team throughout the season.

Because along with all their new talent, some much needed rest can go a long way in leading them to a playoff run at full health and full force.

Next: Why you can rejoice if Glen Davis leaves the Clippers