With early season injuries piling up, can Doc Rivers develop the LA Clippers’ depth and youth to survive the upcoming road trip and the future?
When the Clippers acquired Danilo Gallinari this past offseason, the hope was that they had finally landed the effective small forward they had been lacking during the Doc Rivers era. Unfortunately, his shooting to begin the season has left much to be desired; shooting only 26% from deep and posting an effective shooting percentage of 41.6%. Both of those numbers have taken a dip from his career averages of 36.7% from three and 50.1efg% (via Basketball Reference).
After Sunday’s loss to the Miami Heat it was revealed that he might have been playing through a hip injury since the start of the season, which would explain the dip in productivity. Whether or not that is the cause, he is listed as OUT for the teams current roadtrip. This is going to force head coach Doc Rivers’ hand at coaching and the team’s depth. Since the season has started, Doc has essentially been running a nine-man rotation. With Milos Teodosic, Patrick Beverley, and Gallinari out with injuries, and Austin Rivers listed as “questionable”, it’s time to look further down the bench than Doc has in the past.
The Young Guns
Via the Chris Paul trade this summer, the Clippers acquired defensive stud Patrick Beverley, former Sixth Man of the Year winner Lou Williams, a handful of other players and a first-round pick. Among those “other players” the Clippers received were PF/C Montrezl Harrell and SF Sam Dekker. Both are in their third year in the league and both at the age of 23, these two players are intriguing and could add some much needed youth to the Clippers’ roster.
According to Basketball Reference last year, Harrell averaged 18 minutes a game and shot 66% from the field, logging almost four rebounds and one block a game. Dekker also averaged 18 minutes per game and shot 59% from 2, 32% from 3, and collected 3.7 rebounds per game last year for the Rockets. Both played valuable roles as rotation players and helped contribute to the Rockets 55-win season, but now both players are averaging less than five minutes per game for the Clippers.
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Doc Rivers was removed as President of basketball operations this past summer with the belief that this would allow him to focus his energy on coaching his new-look roster. Now is the time to really prove his worth to the team; with no Chris Paul and with early season injuries, he has to prove he can develop young talent and use the depth the team acquired in the offseason.
The Clippers’ front office showed focus on depth this offseason with the addition of Jerry West in an advisory role. West’s track record speaks for itself, most recently with advising the build of the behemoth in Golden State; one of the deepest teams in the league. Doc historically doesn’t give much run to young players, but he has made some discoveries when the team’s back was against the wall. In December 2015 when Blake Griffin was injured, Doc was forced to give minutes to center Cole Aldrich, discovering an effective pick and roll player off the bench that was more than capable of cleaning the glass.
Now with the team’s best passer, best defender, and one of the team’s best shooters being out, it looks like another opportunity to discover some untapped talent collecting dust on the bench; Dekker and Harrell. When Gallinari left Sunday’s game against the Heat, Dekker played a season-high five minutes and logged two steals that helped the Clippers rally back from being down 23 points at the end of the third quarter to almost win the game. At 6’8” Harrell has the body type and fierce style to play minutes at the 4 or 5 and has the potential to be an almost-Draymond-Green type player (remember, Green was discovered after David Lee was injured).
With this new Clippers team taking shape, this is the ideal time in the season to develop the youth, build to the future, create trade assets and become an interesting, young team with depth that can show potential free agents that the Clippers are still a team on the rise.
Clippers fans have been through a lot, and it’s time for Doc to leave his comfort zone and give the team, franchise and fans some hope for the future.