1 Change to fix the Los Angeles Clippers' defense

Daniel Theis provides a steady hand on defense.
Daniel Theis provides a steady hand on defense. / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Every team in the NBA needs a calling card. A team needs an identity. Opponents know that when they’re coming to town, this is the reason they’ll be difficult to deal with. 

In 2023-24, the Los Angeles Clippers’ calling card was supposed to be two-way dominance. This roster is stacked with players who are supposed to thrive on both ends of the floor. Somehow, their fourth-ranked 119.0 Offensive Rating (OffRtg) is lapping their 14th-best 114.5 Defensive Rating (DefRtg). 

How can the Clippers fix their defense? 

The Los Angeles Clippers need to alter their rotation 

This roster is built to defend. The Clippers have a stout drop coverage defensive big in Ivica Zubac. They’ve got a platoon of wings who can guard across positions. The Clippers even have a pair of combo bigs who are versatile on that end of the floor in Daniel Theis and P.J. Tucker. 

Is this an embarrassment of riches? Not exactly. Two of those versatile wings are Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. If you haven’t noticed, they carry a substantial offensive burden. The Clippers can’t expect Leonard and George to help James Harden carry the offense while anchoring the defense on a nightly basis. 

So, the Clippers must lean on role players like Theis, Tucker, and Zubac to do the dirty work. They should be leaning on Theis over Tucker regarding that combo big-man role. 

Yes, Tucker has complained about his role this year. Sure, team chemistry matters. This shift could make for an awkward locker room. If you look at the numbers, the Clippers should make the change anyway. 

In 2023-24, Theis has 1.0 Defensive Win Shares (DWS). Tucker has 0.2 DWS. Nobody should be shocked by Tucker’s decline - the man is 38 years old. 

At 31, Theis is a spring chicken in comparison. He’s also significantly taller than Tucker with a much longer wingspan. That makes Theis a more viable option as a small-ball 5. 

Granted, those lineups have yielded confusing results. Per CleaningtheGlass, opponents are scoring 120.7 points per 100 possessions when Theis is at the 5, which lands in the 27th percentile. Still, they’re shooting a party 51.3 effective field goal percentage (eFG%), which is in the 79th percentile. 

Either way, Theis should be spending most of his minutes at the 4 alongside Zubac or Mason Plumlee. When he’s at the 5, it should be to counter an opponent’s lineup in a small spurt. Who knows? 

He might help the Clippers find their calling card.