Sure, the Los Angeles Clippers are winning, but…


The Los Angeles Clippers are a bit of an oddity. Not odd in a weird way, but more in a hard to place what’s wrong way. I realize its a bit funny to ponder what is wrong with a team that’s 4-0, but it sure seems as if something is just a bit… off.

Have you ever seen someone who accidentally (or for some other strange reason) shaved off a single eyebrow? When you see that person, sans eyebrow, you can tell something is wrong, but you can’t really make out exactly what it is. You try not to stare, but you do, hoping it will dawn on you. It’s a sneaky, temporary disformity.

These Clippers are kinda like that. You see a 4-0 team,  a good team but something is … off.

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Maybe it’s the bench that still looks a bit disjointed. It could be the enigma starting at small forward. It’s hard to really pinpoint it, but something doesn’t feel right. The team seems to be winning in spite of itself. They are good, there is no denying that, but you get the sense watching them that they could be so much better.

That explains, as well as anything, why the Clippers are predicted to finish anywhere between 2nd and 6th in the West. Even the pundits see a team a little out of whack. If everything goes well, then a high seed in the West makes sense. If things implode, then 6th seems logical. Even head coach Doc Rivers sees the lack of balance. “I just want one game where both units play well at the same time. It seems like if one unit plays well, the other unit doesn’t play well” he said after Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns. A 102-96 Clipper victory.

The truth, of course, is that over the course of a long NBA season both units will rarely be firing on all cylinders. That’s part of the reason you have a bench. Sometimes, the starters will be off for whatever reason and a bench player will come in and ignite the team. Other times, it will be the starters who dominate and the bench that has trouble maintaining the momentum. Sometimes it will take an on-the-fly mix of bench and starters that does the trick. Finding that right mixture is the coach’s job. It would be nice, as Doc Rivers pointed out, to see both units click sooner rather than later which would make his job easier.

To date, that has eluded these Clippers.

November 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Lance Stephenson (1) dunks to score a basket against the Phoenix Suns during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I mentioned the small forward positions and bench as possible culprits earlier. At first glance it doesn’t appear that Lance Stephenson is the issue. He certainly plays with energy and his teammates are saying all the right things when asked about him. But, when you take a closer look something seems… off.

Before Blake Griffin, Danny Manning was the Clippers’ first overall draft pick/savior. He was the first pick of the 1988 NBA draft as a 6’10” forward. He could handle the ball, rebound, score and if he had the ball you better be ready to get a pass — no matter where Manning was on the court. Manning was a classic point-forward. He played 15 seasons in the Association, and five with the Clippers. In the 1992-93 season he averaged 22.8 points a game for the Clips and was selected to play in the All-Star game. Whenever the Clippers finally decide to raise some jerseys in Staples Center, Danny Manning will be on the list of consideration.

As great a talent as Manning was, however, it took a while for his teammates to understand how to play with him. They simply were not used to getting passes from the small forward position. Certainly not the rifle passes Manning would make from ridiculous angles. Instead of waiting for a pass, they went up to rebound the anticipated shot and instead were hit in the back by a Manning hand-off.

Fast forward to today and you see the same thing with Stephenson. I am not saying Lance Stephenson is Danny Manning, but I am saying that the 2015-16 Clippers, much like the 1992-93 Clippers, are having to adjust to a unique player. It is a process that will take time.

When Stephenson was acquired every indication was that he would be on the bench. Instead, he is on the court at tip off and the bench is, well, a work in progress. In years past the bench for the Clippers was Jamal Crawford and a series of Who’s and What’s. This season the Clippers’ boast Crawford and his band of All-Stars. On paper, that bench could probably make the playoffs in the East!

In reality, however, they have struggled to find a rhythm.

It seems odd that some are blaming Crawford for the bench woes, even though they’re improving. Some are saying he is more of a ball handler than a pure shooter. Because everyone on the bench is a ball handler, they feel the Clippers are better off with a pure shooter — someone like Kevin Martin.


Much like it will take the starters time to get acquainted to playing with Stephenson, the bench players will have to learn how to play with each other. Instead of swapping Crawford for Martin, however, it seems they would be better off with a pure point guard. Pablo Prigioni, the Argentine Dime, is a pure PG. Why not give him some time to stabilize the bench? I see the bench more as a collection of shooters than I do a collection of ball handlers. What’s missing is a pass first point guard. Prigioni fits the bill. Get him some time, Doc!

November 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippersguard Jamal Crawford (11) moves the ball against the defense of Phoenix Suns forward Markieff Morris (11) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Next: DeAndre Jordan helps Clippers' bench step up against Suns

Yes, the Clippers are 4-0. No, they aren’t playing quality teams, but to their credit, they are winning.

Yes, they need time to come together — both the starters and the bench. No, that won’t happen over night.

The problem of course is that we fans are anything but patient. Yes, the team is a little off and needs time to straighten things out. The Clippers can and did win against the likes of the Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and Suns, but playing with a single eyebrow will simply not work against the Golden State Warriors. Especially playing in the Bay Area. No, to beat the Warriors you have to be a two-eyebrow team.

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I recently called a pre-season game against the Dubs a “must-win” for the Clippers. It wasn’t must-win, but they came through regardless. Obviously motivated by my article. While this regular season game is also not a must-win for the Clippers, it is a great opportunity to make a bold statement. A win against the Golden State Goliaths will take a balanced team effort. It will take the starters playing together and the bench playing to their full capabilities.

This game against the Warriors is about removing the “but” from the sentence that is following the Clippers around so far this season. The Clippers are winning… but. A win against the Dubs replaces the but with an exclamation mark. A few of them in fact.

Is this the game where Stephenson’s teammates understand how to play with him? Is this the game where the bench meets expectations? Is this the game where the Clippers take advantage of a great opportunity?

If so, then they will have taken a large step away from oddity and a tiny step closer to Championship contender.