What a difference a season makes.
Just a few months ago, it seemed like the Los Angeles Clippers were wholly dependent on Chris Paul. The rest of the team stood around and waited for their superstar point guard to make something happen.
Now everyone is involved. The roster is stacked—the Clips run two to three deep at each and every position with guys who can actually play at a decent level.
Seven different Clippers are averaging at least nine points per game. Only two guys—Paul and Blake Griffin—play more than 30 minutes a night, and they're both playing about three fewer minutes per game than they did in 2012.
The Clippers are spreading the wealth, and that's with the veteran duo of Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill contributing a combined total of 60 minutes so far.
Give credit where credit is due—Vinny Del Negro has settled into a nice, stable rotation. Players know what to expect and what roles they have to fill.
Del Negro has trotted out the same starting lineup in 18 of L.A.'s 22 contests; the only changes came when Billups made his brief return and when Caron Butler sat out a game due to injury. The Clippers head coach lets his starters do their thing in the first and third quarters, then rides his havoc-wreaking bench early in the second and fourth, sticking with them if they begin to run their opponents off the floor.
While everything has gone swimmingly, there are always improvements that can be made.
For starters, some of the bench guys deserve more minutes. With so many productive players on the roster, it's hard to find more playing time for anyone, but the way Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes have been playing this season, they should at least be on the floor more in crunch time, maybe to finish out games.
Bledsoe in particular is in a bind. He's been a per-minute beast thus far, blowing away his previous career highs in just about every category. Get this: Bledsoe has the second highest PER of any point guard in the NBA! The only problem is that the guy who's No. 1 is also the guy ahead of him on the Clippers' depth chart.
Meanwhile, Crawford is eighth in PER among all NBA shooting guards and Matt Barnes is 11th among small forwards. Based on their play, those three could be starting for 20 other teams around the league.
In fact, when those three are on the court together, they are a plus-80 in 306 minutes. Out of the Clippers' 10 most frequently used three-man lineup combinations, the Bledsoe/Crawford/Barnes trio is the most successful, outscoring opponents by 12.5 points per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com.
Offensively, those three post an offensive rating that would rank in the top 10 in the NBA. But the defensive end is where they really shine.
When Bledsoe, Crawford and Barnes roam the court together, they rack up over 12 steals and eight blocked shots per 48 minutes. Both numbers would lead the league. They force turnovers on a staggering 21 percent of opponents' possessions.
Their defensive efficiency would lead the NBA by a wide—and I mean wide—margin.
I would really like to see Del Negro experiment with more super small lineups that take advantage of all the turnovers which lead to transition opportunities and easy fastbreak baskets. Imagine Bledsoe, Crawford and Barnes sharing the court with Paul and Griffin.
Who's running with that squad?
Undoubtedly, they would be susceptible inside and be at a disadvantage on the boards, but all the turnovers they would create might be enough to cancel them out. They would at least force opponents to go small and match up with them.
And how much fun would they be to watch? It would be Lob City on steroids and Red Bull.
Eventually, when Billups gets healthy, he can take Bledsoe's role in that lineup. Chauncey's outside shooting ability will create more space and his knack for getting to the line will only boost that lineup's offensive efficiency. Del Negro can even substitute offense-for-defense between Billups and Bledsoe in crunch time.
The saying goes "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". The Clippers are running along just fine, but further experimentation with the rotation may lead to even more explosive results.