Clippers, after year of talent upgrades, still facing major bench problems

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Jamal Crawford, too long the Clippers’ only reliable reserve, couldn’t believe how much talent president/coach Doc Rivers has added given the team’s salary-cap constraints.

In the last year, Doc has traded for or signed:

  • Austin Rivers, the No. 10 overall pick just three years ago
  • Lance Stephenson, who finished second in 2014 Most Improved Player voting and played at a near-All-Star level that season – at just age 23
  • Paul Pierce, whose lengthy résumé – an All-NBA second team, three All-NBA third teams, 10 All-Star appearances and an NBA Finals MVP – will send him to the Hall of Fame
  • Josh Smith, a Defensive Player of the Year runner-up and multi-time near-All-Star

Crawford, an unapologetic gunner, was so impressed with the haul, he’s even deferring more.

“I’m trying to get them as comfortable as possible, so I’m not being the normal assassin,” Crawford said. “…For years, I’ve been the guy, period. I still am that guy, but we still have more guys to help me out. So, I’m trying to help them out.”

They need it.

The Clippers have four standout players: Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick. When those four share the floor, the Clippers outscore opponents by 14.5 points per 48 minutes. Otherwise, the Clippers get outscored by 5.4 points per 48 minutes.

Relative to every other teams’ most-used quartet, the Clippers’ +14.5 per 48 is second only to the Warriors (+24.4) and a decent step above the third-ranking Thunder (+11.9) and fifth-ranking Spurs (+10.8).

But the Clippers’ -5.4 with other lineups ranks just 24th in league – well behind those other Western Conference contenders. Top-ranked San Antonio (+14.5), second-ranked Golden State (+10.1) and fifth-ranked Oklahoma City (+4.6) continue doing damage once substitutions begin.

Simply, the Clippers look like a Western Conference contender when Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick share the court. Otherwise – even relative to other teams’  backup-infused units – the Clippers look like a lottery team.

The Clippers’ 19.9-per-48-minutes point difference from their their most-used quartet (+14.5) to their other lineups (-5.4) is the largest drop in the NBA. Here’s how each team’s performance with its most-used quartet on the floor (solid) changes when it goes to other lineups (faded):

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Team Most-used quartet Quartet +/- per 48 minutes Other lineups +/- per 48 minutes Difference
LAC Griffin-Jordan-Paul-Redick +14.5 -5.4 +19.9
NOP Anderson-Davis-Gordon-Smith +10.7 -8.5 +19.2
DET Caldwell-Pope-Drummond-Jackson-Morris +11.3 -7.8 +19.1
SAC Cousins-Gay-McLemore-Rondo +9.6 -5.2 +14.9
GSW Barnes-Curry-Green-Thompson +24.4 +10.1 +14.3
DAL Matthews-Nowitzki-Pachulia-Williams +7.5 -2.9 +10.4
POR Aminu-Lillard-McCollum-Plumlee +5.5 -4.4 +9.9
HOU Ariza-Beverley-Harden-Howard +6.1 -3.5 +9.6
MIL Antetokounmpo-Carter-Williams-Middleton-Monroe +0.2 -8.0 +8.2
OKC Adams-Durant-Ibaka-Westbrook +11.9 +4.6 +7.3
PHO Bledsoe-Knight-Morris-Tucker +2.9 -2.1 +5.0
MIN Garnett-Rubio-Towns-Wiggins +1.7 -2.5 +4.2
ATL Horford-Korver-Millsap-Teague +3.4 -0.4 +3.7
UTA Favors-Hayward-Hood-Neto +2.2 -1.5 +3.7
BRK Jack-Johnson-Lopez-Young -5.4 -7.5 +2.1
CHA Batum-Jefferson-Walker-Williams +5.4 +3.7 +1.7
NYK Anthony-Calderon-Lopez-Porzingis -1.6 -1.7 +0.1
CHI Butler-Gasol-Rose-Snell +1.8 +1.9 -0.2
BOS Crowder-Johnson-Sullinger-Thomas +3.8 +4.0 -0.2
WAS Beal-Gortat-Porter-Wall -6.0 -4.3 -1.7
DEN Faried-Gallinari-Harris-Mudiay -5.9 -4.1 -1.8
LAL Clarkson-Hibbert-Randle-Russell -11.6 -8.7 -3.0
SAS Duncan-Green-Leonard-Parker +10.8 +14.5 -3.7
TOR Carroll-DeRozan-Lowry-Scola +0.1 +4.2 -4.1
MEM Allen-Conley-Gasol-Randolph -8.6 -3.6 -5.0
MIA Bosh-Dragic-Wade-Whiteside -2.7 +4.2 -7.0
ORL Fournier-Harris-Payton-Vucevic -2.9 +4.3 -7.3
CLE James-Love-Mozgov-Williams -2.9 +7.6 -10.5
IND Ellis-George-Hill-Mahinmi -4.5 +8.9 -13.4
PHI Grant-McConnell-Okafor-Stauskas -28.6 -10.6 -18.0

Remarkably, it doesn’t matter whom the Clippers play with Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick. It always works.

Three players – Luc Mbah a Moute, Stephenson and Wesley Johnson – have started multiple games with the quartet. Each five-man lineup has produced offensive/defensive/net ratings near the Warriors’ overall marks (113.1/97.8/+15.3).

Here’s how the Clippers have performed with their big four and:

  • Mbah a Moute: 109.7/96.8/+12.9
  • Stephenson: 115.0/97.3/+17.7
  • Johnson: 113.6/96.7/+-16.9

Here’s how that compares to the overall ratings of the other Western Conference contenders – Warriors (113.1/97.8/+15.3), Spurs (106.1/92/+14.1) and Thunder(107.7/99.9/+7.9). The bounds are set to the NBA’s best and worst offensive and defensive ratings, and the axes represent the median marks

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The Clippers’ defense is excellent with their big four, and their offense is literally off the charts.

Doc appreciates having a unit he can count on.

“That helps, but we want two,” Doc said. “And we’re working on that.”

It’ll take more work than the Clippers hoped, though that wasn’t entirely unpredictable.

You can scroll up to see the optimistic view of the newcomers, but there was certainly another outlook.

Austin needed significant improvement just to become a viable NBA player, though he thinks much more highly of himself and too often plays like it. The Hornets seemed fed up with Stephenson from nearly the moment they signed him. Pierce is 38 years old. Smith was so unproductive in Detroit, the Pistons ate more than $30 million to waive him.

Doc has tried multiple solutions – playing all the reserves together, staggering when Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick sit and even recently giving Stephenson a DNP-CD. The results have all been similar: The Clippers look uncomfortable playing together whenever reserves infiltrate the lineup.

Maybe that will get better with time. Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick didn’t immediately click to this degree. Now, those four mesh seamlessly, their styles complementing each other. Stephenson, Smith and Pierce have the varied skill sets to find ways to help  – if they put their minds to it. It doesn’t help that Smith is in a contract year, and Stephenson faces the likelihood of having his 2016-17 team option declined.

The 16-10 Clippers can get by in the regular season like this, but this isn’t a recipe for playoff success. In the postseason, their most important question could become: How much playing time can Griffin, Paul, Jordan and Redick handle before fatigue causes their performance to decline? The answer, after a round or maaaaybe even two, will almost certainly be “not enough.”

Still, the Warriors have been so dominant when they use their best players – even more so than the Clippers. Unless Golden State comes back down to earth, it might not even matter if the Clippers’ reserves make tremendous strides.

But for the Clippers to have any chance of winning big in May and June, they need to find a rotation – not just a four-man unit – that works. Despite all their efforts, they’re still not close.

Wembanyama encore: 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks against Ignite

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Victor Wembanyama is for real.

And I don’t mean real tall, although he is that, too. Check out this image of him next to Rudy Gobert, who is a legit 7’1″.

Wembanyama is for real like a genuine generational talent — in his second game against the G-League Ignite he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That comes off his 37-point performance in the first meeting where he hit 7-of-11 3-pointers and had five blocks.

To be clear: That is 73 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks, shooting 9-of-18 from 3 (and 22-of-44 overall) across two games against a good talent level. And he is 18 years old.

Everyone in and around the NBA has been trying to come up with player comps — Kristaps Porzingis, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan — but the reality is Wembanyama is one of one.

Scoot Henderson — the G-League guard projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — played just five minutes in this game after bumping his knee while guarding Wembanyama. He was taken out of the game and X-rays found a bone bruise, he did not return. He is officially day-to-day the team announced.

Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 got the win in this rematch, 112-106.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.