Despite their winning record, and Blake Griffin putting up truly monumental numbers, questions remain as to whether the Los Angeles Clippers can be a team to beat in the way-too-stacked Western Conference. With five out of their 10 games this season having been decided by five points or less (and losing two of those games), their lack of depth has begun to hurt their ability to capitalize on leads in the 4th quarter to finish with the only letter that matters, “W.”
But what do you expect when their bench is composed of players like Austin Rivers and Josh Smith? Sure, the Clippers starting five is pure fantasy (particularly the heavenly triptych of DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin) but after that there isn’t a whole lot of power or talent. This lack of depth was exemplified in their worst loss of the season, a 118-104 away loss to the Suns on Nov. 12. Both Chris Paul and J.J. Redick were out, leaving Griffin and Jordan to shoulder the weight of Brandon Knight and a hot Eric Bledsoe. Then Griffin received a second (questionable) technical and exited after just 16 minutes and 11 points. The Clippers went on to lose by 14. The bench was only able to scrounge together just 54 points, despite three starters being out. (Austin Rivers shooting 4-for-12 doesn’t help matters either.)
So what needs to happen? In addition to Jamal Crawford (who had a monster night vs. Detroit with 37 points) getting more minutes than Rivers at the 2, the Clippers need more depth all over the court. For example, whenever Jordan is off the floor the team looks unbalanced and susceptible to drives in the paint as he is their only real rim-protector. However, it’s a lot easier to say “more depth” and a much more difficult thing to put in practice. The Clippers’ front office added several players in the last year to balance out the bench. These additions include Lance Stephenson, Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson, Josh Smith, and Austin Rivers. So what’s the best we can say about these guys? Rivers was given the start over Stephenson last night and scored 13 on 3-for-6 shooting behind the arc. Paul Pierce is 38 years old and the scrappiest Vet on this side of Vietnam. Josh Smith has barely had an impact and is averaging five points on 15 minutes per game. And Wesley Johnson? The former 4th overall pick of the 2010 draft? He’s averaging under five points per game.
All this just goes to show that with Chris Paul and J.J. Redick out for now, Clippers fans and fantasy owners have to cross their fingers and hope they’ll be back in time for L.A.’s next game against Golden State at home on Nov. 19. This will be a defining game for both teams. The last time they met they were both 4-0. Since then, the Warriors have gone an insane 11-0 and the Clippers have struggled to 6-4. If the Clippers are going to be the ones to finally overthrow last year’s champion’s streak, they’ll need to be healthy and ready to play ball (and if they’re lucky, fewer minutes for Austin Rivers).