Things that need to happen for the Los Angeles Clippers to be considered contenders:
- Blake Griffin returns to the starting lineup.
- Austin Rivers is released from his contract of $3.1 million dollars a year and a platypus is signed instead.
After dropping four out of their last six games (including two blowouts to contending teams: the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder) the Clippers are hoping that at least one of the two aforementioned objectives is accomplished in order to help to their ailing team. Blake Griffin has remained sidelined for the last 36 games and his absence is being felt now more than ever.
The three forwards who get minutes in Griffin’s stead, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute continue to disappoint. The Clippers’ last minute trade-deadline acquisition, Jeff Green, continues to roller-coaster his way into good and bad nights. He either performs well or is completely cold. Paul Pierce can be a helpful presence on the court with his veteran maturity but continues to brick shots and play poor defense. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a good defender but probably one of the worst offensive players in the league today.
Unfortunately, one of the other worst offensive players in the league is also on the Clippers bench. Austin Rivers, who if the Clippers were run like a business or government agency or school or literally any other form of organization, would surely have drawn the ire and attention of the owners for his poor performances, excessive minutes, and inability to execute.
When one watches the Clippers play (regardless of that team’s merit) the starting lineup usually provides a positive—or at the very least neutral— score. Then (regardless of the opposing team’s merit) the bench intervenes and sacrifices the score for nothing less than Doc Rivers’ vanity. Part of the problem here is that [coach] Rivers has his son play point guard for the bench squad. Rivers is an undersized shooting guard who can’t pass, shoot, or finish. Sure, he has some good games but that doesn’t justify that he receives over 21 minutes a game in any world where nepotism isn’t an acceptable standard. Austin Rivers' usual plan of attack is to go into isolation and turn over the ball. On occasion he scores but his true shooting percentage, according to ESPN Stats, is .508. That score is good enough for 129th place out of qualifying players. To be fair, it doesn’t help the Clippers that Jamal Crawford is given as much opportunity to shoot as he gets when he is shooting just .07 better than Rivers. The two of them combine for an outrageous usage rate while the starters are sitting which leads to an inevitable performance worse than its usual expectations of mediocrity.
Let’s be objective: Perhaps another measurement or statistic will reveal that Austin Rivers isn’t that bad. Nope. Rivers’ real plus/minus is -3.79. This places him in 67th place out of qualifying point guards and 28(!) places below third-string Clippers point guard Pablo Prigioni. Prigioni is far from an elite point guard but the fact that he is 38 years old and receives about half as many minutes a game than Rivers while still out performing him is unreasonable.
Much of this column may sound like a broken record: I acknowledge this. However, much of this season for Clippers’ fans has been a broken record. Every time the Clippers succeed it is due to the incredible individual performances of starting guards Chris Paul and J.J. Redick. Every time the Clippers fail it is due to the inability of Doc Rivers to stagger his lineups to make sure a play maker is always on the floor and the inability of this bench to create plays.
The Clippers’ medical staff recently stated that Blake Griffin’s hand (which he injured earlier in the season in a violent outburst against a Clippers’ employee) is healed but that his torn quad (which kept him out for weeks prior to his broken hand) is still causing him trouble. Unless Griffin can return to the lineup before the start of the playoffs—in order to get back into form and flow— in the next month then the Clippers face another wasted year of Chris Paul’s aging career without fulfilling their potential.