Blake Griffin needs to take more control of Clippers’ bench


May 4, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) dribbles against the Houston Rockets in the second half in game one of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Los Angeles Clippers won 117 to 101. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers’ starting five will continue to terrorize opponents in the 2015-16 season. The bench, on the other hand, won’t be finding the same level of success — at least for the time being. In their 106-94 preseason loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the play of the second unit looked erratic, rushed, and unorganized as everyone continues to adapt to their new teammates. So, while the main way to fix this issue may be giving them time to sharpen up, there are other ways to help the issue during the early stages of the season.

When using the combination of Jamal Crawford, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith on the floor against the Hornets, the Clippers’ offense ran with pace. Doc Rivers went to his small ball lineup featuring Paul Pierce at power forward and Smith at center a lot during the second half, and while playing with speed was no problem, playing with efficiency and accurate passing was a clear problem.

With no Chris Paul or Austin Rivers either (due to injury), the second unit revolved around trigger-happy ball handlers. Even if you include Rivers in that backup lineup, he’s by no means the kind of “true”, pass-first point guard who can run an offense with ease.

While Doc may want to experiment with small-ball lineups with four or five ball handlers, it’s going to be a constant struggle without an offensive focal point.

As they work towards finding their rhythm, the bench just need someone to anchor their offensive sets. Otherwise isolation plays and long twos are going to be driving Doc and every Clippers fan insane after a while. So, how could that problem be fixed at times? Maybe giving Blake Griffin more of his minutes with the second unit could help during this adjustment stage.

Initially, it may sound like an unusual suggestion as Griffin will continue to feature alongside Paul, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan for countless buckets and highlights dunks. However, he could be the perfect offensive anchor and facilitator for the bench unit at times.

With Pablo Prigioni stepping in as the Clippers’ point guard against the Hornets, Griffin took control of the offense as Prigioni played more off ball. The 38 year old guard may be a patient passer, good three point shooter (39.8 percent for his career) and doesn’t rush the offense, but Griffin was the one who took the ball up-court and facilitated from the top of the key.

Even though Prigioni is proving himself as a valuable addition off the bench, the offense needed to revolve around both Griffin’s post scoring, mid-range game and his high-post passing. More to the point, it proved more successful than the Clippers’ bench plan to go entirely small-ball and let Stephenson or Crawford run the show.

As Doc went to to his second unit more in the second half, the Hornets immediately began the third quarter with an 8-1 run as their lead soon increased and Stephenson and Crawford wound up shooting a combined 8-0f-20. It’s not too bad by any means, but their shot selection was far from intelligent at times. Not to mention the offense immediately looked out of control with too many isolation plays, turnovers and rushed passes.

Meanwhile, Prigioni finished with a nicely rounded performance of 5 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and a steal. As for Griffin, he really couldn’t have done much more in his 27 minutes of action. He returned to his playoff triple double form and finished with 13 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds.

For now, especially while Paul and Rivers are out with minor injuries for the Global Games, the kind of offensive stability that Griffin can bring to the second unit could be exactly what they need to avoid trying to do too much as individuals. Isolation plays and long jumpers are the last thing the Clippers need throughout this season. Yet, Griffin can help change that.

During L.A.’s last game against Charlotte, Griffin maintained a +/- of +4 with his well balanced performance. As for the key three players on the bench, Stephenson ended the night with a +/- of -9, while Crawford and Smith finished with -26 and -22, respectively. There was just no spacing and consistent ball movement when those three were in charge of the Clippers’ offense, and it needs to start changing as soon as possible before they slip into a play style that takes too long to change.

Ideally, that can start to change now.

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

On several possessions Stephenson would take the ball up court, dribble around inside the three point line, and shoot a long two less than 10 seconds into the shot clock without even surveying the rest of his teammates to look for a better shot. That kind of play is rarely a good idea even when his shot is falling. In fact, “rarely” is being too kind. Also, the way that Stephenson, Crawford and Smith would drift to one side of the court on offense at times and all look to take possession of the ball is a problem.

Only one person can handle the ball, and it would be far more beneficial to move off-ball, cut to the basket or create movement around the perimeter than sitting and waiting for the ball. Yet, so far, that mindset to move in order to create space and help teammates is often absent among the Clippers’ new bench.

Enter Blake Griffin.

This is where he can be implemented more during the rest of the preseason and the early stages of the regular season. After averaging a career best 5.3 assists last season (at least 1.9 more than any other power forward), Griffin proved how his combination of passing in transition, hand-offs on high screens and facilitating from the top of the key can run an entire offense.

He’s terrifying when taking pick-and-roll passes from Paul, but Blake is probably the best overall passing big man in the league. That needs to be utilized while the second unit struggles.

His passing was on full display against the Hornets, and if he can set up more of the offense for now, rather than letting Stephenson and Crawford dribble and shoot like crazy, it could bring some order to the Clippers’ offense. Not so they just have another player who can dribble and move the ball in transition, but because it takes the ball away from the two shooting guards so they aren’t always responsible for creating offense or resorting to low efficiency shots.

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Furthermore, when he’s not setting up others, Griffin can do his usual thing of averaging 20+ points a night.

Of course, the Clippers’ new bench finding their rhythm is a working progress. They can’t be rushed and need time to figure each other out. However, while that’s the case, the passing and experience of Griffin can lead them and take some of the pressure away from Crawford and Stephenson. Even just a 10 minutes more over the course of an entire game would help.

Then, to makeup for Griffin spending more time with the second unit, Smith can spend more of his minutes with a starting five revolving around J.J. Redick and CP3 when he returns. At least that means Smith won’t feel the need to dribble too much either while Paul is in control.

With so much more depth and versatility, it’s going to take a while for Doc to perfect the lineups that create the most success. While this process continues, though, Griffin spending more time helping the new bench could go a long way in starting the Clippers’ 2015-16 campaign as they mean to go on.

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