For Clippers’ bench, time and spacing are the keys to success


Oct 4, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Los Angeles Clippers guard Lance Stephenson (1) reaches for the ball in front of Toronto Raptors forward Bruno Caboclo (20) during the second quarter at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, it’s only preseason and there’s no need to worry about the future of the Los Angeles Clippers’ second unit yet. However, as the new bench needs to begin their 2015-16 season on the right foot in order to avoid slipping into bad habits and bad offensive patterns going forward, there are some things that can’t just be ignored after the Clippers’ 93-73 loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Firstly, the issue of floor spacing from the second unit is something that needs to be addressed in order for the bench players to succeed when in control of the offense. It sounds obvious in today’s three point happy, stretch-four type NBA, but for a unit consisting of multiple ball dominant players such as Lance Stephenson and Jamal Crawford, they need to learn to play off one another.

After ranking third in made three point field goals last season with 1o.1, the Clippers are used to being a team that likes to take out their opponents from long range (as well as using all those flashy dunks). Alongside Blake Griffin’s play in the post and lobs to DeAndre Jordan, three point shooting is one of the most fundamental parts of their offense.

Yet, with a bench who have the ability to attack the rim with the likes of Stephenson and Josh Smith, their second unit needs to start straying away from a three point/long twos tendency early on.

So far during their 2015-16 preseason, the Clippers are sitting at 1-1 after a messy loss to the Raptors that contained far too many turnovers and far too many attempts to create offense from second unit ball handlers and isolation type plays.

Of course, that’s all to be expected, so this article is by no means saying that the Clippers’ bench is terrible and they should be playing in perfect unison already. That would be beyond demanding from a group containing so many new faces. However, some of the issues can be corrected if the bench look to space the floor and use their various skill sets, rather than improvising and dribbling till an opportunity creates itself.

That may be the way Crawford was used to creating offense off the dribble last season and Stephenson may like dribbling till he can attack a lane to the basket or setup a teammate, but that can’t work in the same way with both of them on the floor.

There will simply be too much confusion and a lack of organization, and the Clippers’ starters can’t run their league best offense and let the bench play freely to see what happens when they enter the game. Before jumping to conclusions, though, this style will change as the second unit has more time to learn set plays.

Doc Rivers wanted his bench to have a chance to play like that during preseason, as he wanted them to be able to go with a small-ball lineup, to play fast in transition, and run the offense more freely. It’s worked at times, but there have been plenty of turnovers and lacking chemistry; something that is obviously expected from a group who haven’t even had five practices together yet.

In their two preseason games so far, the Clippers’ bench have taken 15.5 threes per game while making just 25.8 percent of them. From the floor overall, the second unit has shot a collective 32.9 percent. Again, we were expecting a slow start, yet 32.9 percent shooting could easily be improved if we see Stephenson play more to his strengths of attacking the basket; at least while Crawford is on the floor and bringing the ball up the court.

That being said, with such minimal training time under their belts, very little of the Clippers offense has actually been instilled among the new bench, so it’s even more likely that (unfortunately) we’ll see a run-and-gun approach for the time being.

It’s moving forward where we need to see the bench take on more floor spacing.

With their current style and lack of comfort with each other, the second unit were used heavily by Doc against the Raptors to give them time to try and correct those issues. As their playing time increased in the final two quarters, though, the Raptors’ lead got out of hand and reached a high of 23 points. In addition to those shaky shooting numbers mentioned above, the Clippers’ bench committed 18 of the team’s 25 turnovers.

It was largely due to their need to find a rhythm with one another, although if Stephenson, Crawford and Smith move correctly with various cuts, coming off screens, cut down the dribbling, and the first two don’t try and do too much while on the floor together, their success could greatly improve.

Oct 4, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) shoots the ball as Los Angeles Clippers guard Austin River (25) defends during the fourth quarter at Rogers Arena. The Raptors won 94-73. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Both Stephenson and Smith have made more than 65 percent of their shots within three feet over the course of their careers, and that can’t be utilized from the perimeter. Isolation plays and drives to the basket can’t consistently create good looks, which could lead to Stephenson and Crawford settling for far too many long twos until they learn more offensive sets and adapt to play off each other more.

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If they learn how to space the floor and not bring all the defense’s attention to one spot on the floor by both looking to dribble too much, then space can start opening up for other players cutting to the basket or setting up in the corner.

It’s all just a matter of time for the Clippers right now. They need that time to learn how each other play and Stephenson and Crawford need time to realize that they can’t try and do everything. Now that they’re on the same team, they simply don’t need to be “that guy” who creates offense by themselves anymore.

When they learn to space the floor, trust each other’s passes, utilize different player’s abilities to finish inside, and grow accustomed to a structured offense rather than an initial run-and-gun style, the Clippers’ deep second unit can begin to create the success we’ve all imagined over the offseason.

Well, that’s the idea at least.

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