Biggest Issue L.A. Clippers Must Solve Before the Start of NBA Playoffs

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Biggest Issue L.A. Clippers Must Solve Before the Start of NBA Playoffs
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Could DeAndre Jordan be the Clippers' fourth-quarter secret weapon?

Heading into the postseason, head coach Vinny Del Negro and the Los Angeles Clippers must address whether DeAndre Jordan or Lamar Odom is the team’s crunch-time big. 

Although Jordan starts games for the Clips, he routinely finds himself on the bench in the fourth quarter.

A combination of poor decision-making and miserable free-throw shooting has kept DJ on the pine. Although Odom is more of a cerebral and versatile player, he lacks the explosiveness and rim protection that Jordan offers. 

Neither big is ideal, but Del Negro must make a decision soon and stick with it. Adding reps for either big in the final dozen games of the season will be key. 

In close games, the Clippers tend to work with a lineup of Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Blake Griffin and Odom. 

Despite boasting an above-average PER of 17.00, Jordan finds himself on the bench in place of Odom and his sub-par PER of 10.24. 

Per NBA.com, Odom has logged 522 fourth-quarter minutes this season, a full 400 more than DJ. 

Although many of those minutes have come in blowout Clipper victories, the disparity is still striking.

Odom is certainly the team’s best big at defending the pick-and-roll, but the Clips' fourth-quarter rotation seems to fall apart down the stretch. Although the Paul-Crawford-Barnes-Griffin-Odom unit has logged just 47 minutes of action this season, it is posting a dismal defensive rating of 126.9, per NBA.com. 

The offense picks up the slack, owning an offensive rating of 116.8. However, this unit’s net rating of -10.0 speaks volumes to the Clips’ late-game collapses, per NBA.com. 

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Lamar Odom or DeAndre Jordan? The debate rages on.

In five losses since the All-Star break, this discrepancy is even more lopsided. Although the sample size of just 13 total minutes is incredibly small, due to blowout losses at home against the San Antonio Spurs and on the road against the Denver Nuggets, Lob City is scoring with an offensive rating of just 96.8. The defensive rating has ballooned to 131.3. Per NBA.com, that comes out to a net rating of -34.5. 

That two of those tight home losses were against potential conference playoff opponents in the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies is even more discouraging. 

Replace Odom with Jordan, and the Clippers’ fourth-quarter advanced statistics are otherworldly. 

Per NBA.com, the Clippers are producing at an unbelievable 148.7 offensive rating. The defensive rating is also rather tight, coming in at a 76.3. The sum is an incredible net rating of plus-72.3. 

Clearly, these numbers are rather unsustainable and are largely a product of a small sample size of just 39 minutes. Nevertheless, they are an indicator of Jordan’s value.

Curiously, Odom’s fourth quarter plus/minus is higher than Jordan’s. Per NBA.com, Odom comes in at plus-8.7, while Jordan is just below at plus-7.4. 

A quick look at potential playoff matchups reveals more about Del Negro’s tough decision. 

Against Tim Duncan and the Spurs, Jordan’s on-court presence drops the Spurs’ high-powered offensive rating from a season average of 107.5 to 101.0, per NBA.com.

Something must be said about Lob City’s improved defense, as even with Jordan on the bench, San Antonio’s offensive rating drops to 98.2, per NBA.com. 

Which big is more deserving of fourth quarter minutes alongside Blake Griffin?

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Odom’s ability to disrupt the Spurs offense is even more dramatic. 

Per NBA.com, LO’s superb defense helps drop the Spurs’ offensive rating to an incredible 85.4. When he is on the bench, that number rises to 105.2. 

Against the Memphis Grizzlies, Jordan's and Odom’s defensive presence is also evident. 

With Jordan on the court, the Grizzlies’ offensive rating falls from 101.2 to just 85.3, per NBA.com. However, the Clips tend to defend the Grizz well, holding them to under 100 points 11 of their last 13 meetings over the last two seasons. 

When Jordan sits, the Grizzlies' offensive rating increases from 85.3 to 86.7, per NBA.com. 

Odom seems to find even better success against the Grizz. With him on the floor, the Grizzlies' offensive rating falls to just 81.0. With him off the floor, that number rises to 91.4, per NBA.com. 

The disparity in defensive rating is enough for Del Negro to deliberate. 

Although the fourth-quarter unit featuring Jordan is significantly stronger offensively than that featuring Odom, DJ’s free-throw woes are enough to leave the Texas A&M product off the floor. 

Jordan is shooting an unbelievably awful 40.4 percent from the line. Teams such as the Spurs and the Golden State Warriors have found success using the hack-a-Jordan strategy. Unfortunately, DJ’s liability from the charity stripe could cost Los Angeles wins this postseason.

Jordan's free-throw shooting could cost the Clippers this postseason.

Jordan has looked better as of late, however. 

DJ thrived while matched up against the Brooklyn Nets in a tight home win over Deron Williams and Co. 

Jordan came alive, scoring a bucket and pulling down three boards in nine minutes of fourth-quarter action. Per NBA.com, he had the highest plus/minus of any of the Clips at plus-10. 

His defense against Brook Lopez was even more pronounced. In eight minutes of fourth-quarter playing time, Lopez scored just two points and pulled down zero boards. 

Jordan has been interested in logging more meaningful minutes, but until he able to come through from the line, Coach Del Negro has reason to doubt him. 

The Clippers could definitely use Jordan’s energy and activity around the rim. However, Odom will likely get the call come crunch time. With the postseason quickly approaching, Del Negro will have to make a decision on fourth-quarter personnel sooner rather than later. 

Jordan and Odom both have their benefits and their drawbacks. Who will help Lob City knock off the likes of the Thunder or the Grizzlies will be key.

 

Statistics used in this article were accurate as of March 23, 2013.

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