Over the past decade, NBA fans have seen Big Threes and super teams run the league and dominate all of the competition. While teams like the 2019 Toronto Raptors and 2014 San Antonio Spurs found success through drafting well and entering the postseason with a deep roster, others found success through free agency like the LA Clippers while others did it with a combination of that and good drafting like the early 2010-2014 Miami Heat and most notoriously, the 2015-2019 Golden State Warriors.
In today’s league, there’s only really one team following the super team formula – that being the Brooklyn Nets. Other than them, the NBA has seen an emphasis on star duos. Most notably, there’s Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Phoenix’s Chris Paul and Devin Booker, and of course LA’s own Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
In an era where super teams have been running the league, the LA Clippers have a more traditional approach to playing winning basketball.
For many of those teams, determining who the third-best player isn’t too tricky at all. For the LA Clippers, on the other hand, it’s really up in the air. The team has found most of their success this season with an injury-riddled roster and players stepping up when the team calls on them. This kind of third-best-player-by-committee system isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is uncommon for seven or eight guys to be in contention as the tertiary option. It all depends on the night, as this is a constantly changing role.
From a basic box score perspective, there aren’t any notable standouts. Nicolas Batum, Patrick Beverley, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris, and Ivica Zubac have fairly similar per-game numbers when you take their positions and sizes into account.
And it’s worth mentioning that the Underground Goat himself, Lou Williams, would be in serious contention for this award before he was traded. His replacement, Rajon Rondo, could do wonders for the team, but it is way too early to tell.
But in order to narrow it down, there are a few names that can be cut out from the get-go. Terance Mann has been for the Clippers recently and might be a late addition to the Sixth Man of the Year award race. If we were only considering the games after the All-Star break, Mann would have a shot, but his many scoreless games from earlier in the seasons rule him out for now.
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Reggie Jackson has been surprising for the team as the backup point guard. When asked to step up, Jackson has averaged roughly 12 points and 4 assists per game in his 27 starts this season. While this is more than most expected when the Clippers signed him off waivers last season, the main thing that holds Jackson back from being the third-best player is that he is a backup for a reason.
Luke Kennard has been lights out this season as he’s connected on 47.1 percent of his three-point attempts. His main issue is a lack of confidence. If Luke were more willing to shoot when he gets the ball, I’m not alone in thinking he could easily be scoring over 12 points per game. But where he stands right now, he doesn’t get the nod.
Many LA Clippers and NBA fans alike have been surprised by Nicolas Batum’s production and efficiency this season. The last few years, he’s been riding the Charlotte Hornet’s bench while earning one of the league’s most generous salaries. Once released by the Hornets and claimed by the Clippers, Batum turned it around and became incredibly efficient on a team-friendly salary. Batum is contributing to the team’s three-point success, as he’s made almost 43 percent of his attempts from deep this season. He has also been surprisingly good on the boards and helps the team’s ball movement. However, Batum is best used in a reserved, 3-and-D or catch-and-shoot type role.
Serge Ibaka was the Clippers biggest free-agent acquisition in the off-season. The team really struggled to guard Nikola Jokic in the playoffs (something that no team has found a way to do yet, to be fair), but Ibaka is a clear improvement over the guy who used to have his job. While he is past his “Serge I-Blocka” days, he still serves as an inside presence that makes opposing slashers think twice. Ibaka is also a breath of fresh air on offense too. His ability to stretch the floor helps the team open up the paint and gives them the option to play five out.
While the Clippers’ success this year wouldn’t be possible without any of these guys, there are a clear three players in contention to be crowned the third-best player.