Clippers rumors: Wes Johnson to start at small forward?


It’s been two and a half seasons since Matt Barnes last wasn’t starting at small forward for the Clippers; the brief Jared Dudley era, which ended in underperformance, injury, and a confusingly bad trade.

Now, Barnes is completely out of the picture as the Clippers traded the forward (and Spencer Hawes) this past summer for then-Charlotte guard Lance Stephenson, eventually landing with the Memphis Grizzlies where he should resume a role as starter under Dave Joerger. And presumably, many pictured off-season signee Paul Pierce, NBA champion and eventual Hall of Famer fresh off a solid year with the Washington Wizards, to step into Barnes’ role, but according to Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, Doc Rivers may have other plans for the role.

"And with Matt Barnes now in Memphis, it would make sense for Pierce to slide into the starting lineup, a place where he’s been for all but 10 of his 1,400-plus career games.But whispers out of the Clippers’ training facility in Playa Vista make it sound like that plan isn’t set in stone.Wes Johnson, who the Clippers signed in free agency from the Lakers, is still being considered as an option to start, sending Pierce to the bench."

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  • Early in the offseason, I penned up a piece stating Johnson’s case as starting small forward. Of the available players, Johnson’s game best resembles Matt Barnes — a 3-and-D, low-usage forward who can combat against whatever best wing is opposite of the Clippers on any given night.

    "When asked to do very little, Johnson has shown to be effective on the offensive end. Last season, per NBA Stats, Johnson shot 45.6 percent from the field (38.2 percent from three) on shots that didn’t require him to put the ball on the floor. Matt Barnes? 44.1 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from three. On catch-and-shoot three-point attempts (2.6 per game), Johnson shot 38.7 percent. from the field. Barnes (4.5 per game), 37.2 percent.via Lob City Questions: Can Wesley Johnson fill Matt Barnes’ role?"

    It’s a case of better fit over better talent, and in doing so, spares Paul Pierce the need to defend elite wings on a nightly basis and to keep the 37-year-old forward fresh for the playoffs, because that’s really what he’s here for. In the Doc Rivers era, the 5th man in the starting lineup, however good or bad, has yet to impact the overall success of the group. Last season, the four-man lineup of Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre JordanJ.J. Redick, in 16750 total minutes, posted a net rating of 16.4 (118 ORTG, 101.6 DRTG)

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    Where things get interesting in the scenario Johnson enters the season as starter and Pierce as sixth man is how the bench rotation pans out. With Pierce hypothetically in the starting lineup, Doc can roll out Austin RiversJamal Crawford-Lance Stephenson-Josh SmithCole Aldrich, but with Johnson in and Pierce out, one of Rivers, Crawford, or Stephenson are at risk of losing serious playing time. Of course, Rivers could orchestrate a trade sending Jamal Crawford out for a lesser player, clearing room for Rivers, Stephenson, and sometimes Pablo Prigioni to dominate guard minutes when one of Chris Paul or J.J. Redick isn’t on the floor.

    Given the build of the team, there’s no wrong decision to be made here — and either decision can be reversed throughout the season without shattering anyone’s psyche or blowing smoke onto a growing fire. Training camp and preseason will determine the opening night starting lineup and from there, on-court productivity.

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