The Los Angeles Clippers have as talented a roster as there is in the league, but in the playoffs, a clutch five-man unit is the difference between winning and losing. Clearly Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will comprise two of the five players, but who are the other three, and what attributes are needed from those players?
First, Paul and Griffin are first and second on the team in PER, according to Basketball-Reference. Paul is one of the most dynamic point guards in the entire league and helps transform Blake Griffin into a nightmare for defenses. Paul’s ability to control the tempo of a game and create shots for himself and others is game changing.
Despite Griffin’s struggles shooting the ball in previous seasons, he is posting career highs at nearly every range from the floor, according to Hoopdata. Additionally, his ability to attack the rim and finish through contact makes defending the Clippers’ pick-and-roll extremely difficult.
The real question arises when filling in the three spots around the two All-Stars. Outside shooting is one area of need, as is someone else who is capable of breaking down opposing defenses. Jamal Crawford is the next logical choice based on those areas of need.
According to Basketball-Reference, Crawford leads the team in usage percentage and has a low assist percentage. That shows that he is capable of creating his own shot off of broken plays late in the shot clock or one-on-one versus a defender.
This is why Crawford has been so vital to the Clippers’ performance this season. Once Chauncey Billups was lost for the season last year, the team had nobody else on the roster able to consistently create off the dribble outside Chris Paul. Crawford has been given free rein to attack while playing with the second unit, but has shown an ability to bail out the offense even with Paul on the floor.
Considering Paul and Crawford make for a small backcourt, the next piece to the puzzle should be a wing defender. While Caron Butler has been a solid defender throughout his career, Matt Barnes gets the nod.
Barnes provides athleticism and quickness at small forward. Caron has looked a few steps slow the past few seasons, and Barnes brings more to the unit overall. According to 82games, Barnes’ net production while on the floor is 3.5 points higher. He is also rated 2.7 points higher in simple rating and 3.2 points higher in PER.
Additionally, Barnes brings some intangibles that are needed in tight games. He is always hustling after loose balls and is not afraid to play physical. Those extra intangibles usually lead to extra possessions, be it taking a charge or saving a ball going out of bounds. Matt is the extra hustle on the floor that can make a difference when a game is on the line.
The last member of the five-man unit is Lamar Odom. This might come as a surprise to some, but his game is too versatile not to have on the floor late in games. Take a guess who is second on the team in total rebound percentage? It's not Blake Griffin, but rather Lamar Odom who ranks behind DeAndre Jordan.
Although Odom’s offense has not been what we are accustomed to in the past, his defense has been strong all year. Lamar leads the team in defensive rating, according to Basketball-Reference. Odom gives the Clippers the flexibility to defend stretch power forwards and hedge on high pick-and-rolls.
Offensively, Odom can attack from the perimeter and space the floor for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to run a two-man game. Collapsing defenses will have to key in on Crawford on one side of the floor, while Lamar Odom rotates to the top of the key on Paul’s penetration.
Outside of Odom, a case can be made for the Clippers to run with three guards and substitute Billups or Eric Bledsoe in for Odom. Billups can help spread the floor from corner to corner. Meanwhile, Bledsoe provides another quick guard and someone who can disrupt passing lanes. However, Odom provides the most versatility on both offense and defense.
Finally, this five-man unit is the fifth-most-used by the Clippers this season, according to 82 games. The unit also ranks well on both sides of the ball, compared to the other most-used units by Los Angeles this season.
When a game is close in crunch time, a team can go one of two routes. It can continually substitute offense for defense and vice versa, or it can send out five players who provide continuity on both sides of the ball without the need to substitute for match ups. This group of five provides the latter and should be trusted as such.