Prior to the start of the season, one of the major strengths of the L.A. Clippers (at least on paper) appeared to be the bench.
Gone were the likes of Ryan Gomes, Kenyon Martin and Nick Young, and in came Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom.
And, throughout the Clips’ early-season six-game winning streak, the play of the reserves was a major spark. Despite Hill (and Chauncey Billups) being sidelined and Odom still not yet in shape, players like Crawford, Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe stepped-up and produced in a big way. Even Ronny Turiaf got in on the act here-and-there.
However, the tables have been turned a bit of late.
Crawford, who started the season on a torrid (and efficient) scoring rampage, has suddenly gone cold. He’s still shooting a very solid 45 percent from the floor on the season, but in his last six games, he’s gone just 24-72; a miserable 33 percent.
Los Angeles’ second unit thrived offensively due in large part to the slashing abilities of Crawford and Bledsoe combined with great perimeter shooting from Barnes, and paint occupation from Turiaf and Ryan Hollins.
It appears as though teams have been wising up to this lately, however. In the Clippers’ awful 104-93 loss last week in Atlanta, L.A.’s bench didn’t muster a single point in the first half as the Hawks implemented a zone defense that stifled the Clippers’ ability to penetrate into the lane. Not coincidentally, the game was fairly close until the reserves entered the game.
The Clips’ offense with the backups on the floor typically runs through Crawford and Bledsoe. Lately, teams have been trapping the both of them essentially as soon as they get the ball, causing the Clipper offense to lose flow and go haywire. Crawford does have a way of dribbling and dominating the ball, but it seems as though the rest of the Clippers seem to stand around and become spectators, rather than cutting and moving without the ball.
Without Chris Paul on the floor, the Clippers’ defense has been the real key to their offense. Forcing turnovers that lead to transition buckets and easy fast-break opportunities is how a unit centered around athletes like Crawford and Bledsoe should play in order to thrive. They’ve gotten away from that a bit lately, and they’ve let their opponents dictate the pace of the game, instead.
It’s also up to the coaching staff to make necessary adjustments. If other teams are going to implement plans particularly designed to shut-down the Clippers’ reserves, the team needs to be ready to counteract that with strategy of their own. Perhaps mixing-and-matching lineups, rather than having a set rotation, would be one way of throwing a curveball out there at the opponent.
Billups’ return also helps, particularly because it diminishes the role of the largely ineffective Willie Green, who had been starting in Billups’ place during his absence. Green didn’t log a single minute against the Timberwolves. While it obviously helped that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan rebounded from respective terrible performances in the loss to the Hornets with solid games in the win over the Wolves, it appears as though a real key to the Clippers’ long-term success this season will be the play of the bench group.
Arguably the most frustrating aspect of the team’s recent struggles has been the extremely disappointing Lamar Odom.
As he did last year with Dallas, Odom showed up to camp out-of-shape, and still hasn’t been able to trim down enough to where he can play big minutes. This is the same guy that won the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011 while with the Lakers. He’s also just 33-years-old.
If he can even get back to being 75 percent of the player we’re accustomed to seeing, his jack-of-all-trades style of play could prove invaluable to the Clippers once playoff time rolls around. Right now, though, he seems to be stuck in half-speed, lumbering up-and-down the court with no real direction or sense of urgency.
There are a lot of variables in play here for the Clippers. Obviously, avoiding major injuries is most important of all. Other than Billups and Hill (out indefinitely with a bone bruise on his knee), they’ve been able to do that, so far.
They need to get back to what they do best: Run, run and run some more. We saw flashes of the triumphant return of “Lob City” in the win over Minnesota the other night.
Every team goes through its ups-and-downs throughout the course of an 82-game season, of course. Let’s just hope this recent “down” for the Clipper bench is just a minor hiccup.
About the Author
Written by Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith is a writer for the Los Angeles Clippers.