Clippers’ bench can’t live and die by the three


February 21, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford (11) shoots a basket against the Sacramento Kings during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As expected, the Los Angeles Clippers’ new bench have got off to a shaky start. With Doc Rivers’ revamped team sitting at just 1-3 in the 2015-16 preseason so far, it’s safe to say that even though these games don’t matter, there are still some concerns that can’t just be ignored. And after a 113-71 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, there’s no way to deny that the bench needs some attention.

At half time, the Clippers’ starters had done enough to keep them in the game at 51-56. Blake Griffin had 12 points and 12 rebounds in the first two quarters and it looked like the Clippers may have been able to do enough to get a win. That’s just what triple double Blake can do with ease.

It’s only the Hornets, though. For a team as loaded as the Clippers, getting more than one preseason win should be easy, shouldn’t it?

Not exactly.

In the second half, everything went down hill. No one could make a jumper if their life depended on it and the second unit had no kind of offensive rhythm, structure, or chemistry in any aspect of the game. After the Clippers scraped together just eight points in the third quarter, they eventually went on to be outscored 57-20 in the second half.

Again, it’s only preseason, but it’s not exactly encouraging. Or, more to the point, Doc Rivers’ current experimentation with various second unit rotations and small ball lineups really aren’t working out so far. Truth be told, they they don’t need to. The regular season hasn’t started yet and the Clippers aren’t going to be perfect at such an early stage. Yet any sign of development would be more promising than a 42 point loss to a team who won just 33 games last season.

Oct 14, 2015, Shanghai, China; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers reacts to a call during first half action at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. Mandatory Credit: Danny La-USA Today Sports

For instance, in their last game, several plays by the second unit failed to move the ball anywhere near the paint. The ball continuously hovered around the perimeter as Chuck Hayes finally set a screen at the top of the arc for Wesley Johnson to directly to pull-up behind. Similar plays can’t be run consistently when the best shooter on the floor (Johnson) only shot a moderate 35.1 percent from three last season.

Letting Hayes control the ball from the top of the key — who is far from being on Griffin’s level of passing from that position — and only moving the ball round the perimeter without looking inside isn’t going to create many good looks.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking threes. The Clippers excelled last year by ranking third in made threes (10.1 per game) and in three point percentage (37.6). In moderation, it’s a dangerous shot in today’s NBA and it’s certainly better than countless long twos. However, when the bench began resorting to three after three in an attempt to reduce the massive lead built up by the Hornets, they were never going to find much success.

After the second unit made 2 of their 14 three point attempts in their loss in Shanghai, they’re now shooting a mere 22.4 percent from beyond over their first four preseason games. That’s not all, though. The more important stat to keep in mind isn’t necessarily the 22.4 percent shooting mark, but their 14.5 attempts per game.

When they start developing an offensive rhythm and Doc can instil some more designed plays in his new bench, this can easily start to improve. In the meantime, though, they simply can’t live and die by the three.

Equally, long twos have been far too prominent in the Clippers’ bench offense so far. Over the latter stages of the game, several plays were run to create a shot for Josh Smith. He’d start off on the block alongside the Clippers’ other big man, and would move up to the top of the key after coming off a down screen set by a guard. After turning off his screen and heading past the elbow, the decision for Smith to instantly pull-up for a 18 foot jumper isn’t a good one.

Maybe if it was Kevin Durant in action, these kind of plays could work. For Smith, though, who only made 22 percent of his shots from 16 feet out last season, a play designed to create a long jumper with limited secondary options if there’s no open look, isn’t a good idea.

Oct 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Josh Smith (left) drives against Denver Nuggets forward Joffrey Lauvergne (77) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

When ball handlers drove to the basket and looked to drop passes off to fellow big men or kick the ball out again after drawing a defender, the Clippers’ bench had a little more success creating good looks. If they only swing the ball around the edge of perimeter, though, and run high screens that, at best, can create looks from 16 feet out, they won’t improve their efficiency any time soon.

Even worse, if Stephenson or Crawford try and dribble too much to create buckets all by themselves, Doc has more work to do than he might have thought. It just won’t work unless they get hot and don’t cool down.

And let’s be honest, there’s no way to guarantee that can happen all the time.

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Neither shooting guard made more than 36 percent of their pull-up field goal attempts last season, and that won’t change if they look to create shots off the dribble and take long twos. At the very least, some more pick-and-rolls and constant movement off screens or cuts to the basket could help take away some low efficiency shots.

Although, anything that can lead to more than 71 points will be a nice change.

The Clippers’ next challenge is taking on the defending champion Golden State Warriors (1-2 this preseason) at Staples Center on October 20. We’ll have to wait and see if they can adjust the offense enough to at least score more than 20 second half points.

If not, the wait for the Clippers’ bench to turn around won’t be ending yet.

Next: What can we expect from the Clippers in 2015-16?