If the Los Angeles Clippers are to find any sustainable postseason success, then head coach Vinny Del Negro will have to adjust his rotations to give his best players the most minutes.
From limited minutes for superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to extended playing time for unproductive players like Chauncey Billups, Del Negro needs to put a premium on skill rather than reputation. This will ensure that he gets the most out of his players to attack the Memphis Grizzlies’ burly front line.
Although the Clippers have the deepest team in the league, the widespread presumption during the regular season was that Paul and Griffin would eat up more minutes once LAC reached the playoffs.
Remarkably, neither player has seen a dramatic uptick in playing time. Paul is playing just 35.0 minutes per night, compared to his regular-season average of 33.4. Unbelievably, Griffin has seen his minutes go down from 32.5 in the regular season to 31.1 in the playoffs.
Memphis coach Lionel Hollins appears to be getting it right, as Gasol has seen his minutes improve from 35.0 to 47.0. Randolph’s case is a bit different, as he has been hampered by foul trouble, averaging 4.8 per game. Still, Hollins ensured his power forward would see heavy minutes down 2-0 and returning from Memphis.
Despite amassing five personal fouls in Game 3 and four fouls in Game 4, Z-Bo still played 37 minutes each contest. Conversely, Griffin, who picked up five fouls in Game 3 and three fouls in Game 4, played an average of just 32.5 minutes, indicating that the woeful Lamar Odom might have had to deal with an inspired Randolph on the block.
The trend does not stop with Griffin and Paul, however.
Despite shooting a frigid 30 percent from the field and demonstrating zero capacity to defend Tony Allen in the open floor, Chauncey Billups is still logging 21.3 minutes per contest. These minutes are coming at the expense of Mike Conley-stopper Eric Bledsoe, who is playing just 17.2 minutes a night.
Throughout the season, Bledsoe was a monster on Conley. In two games against Bledsoe this season, Conley scored just 6.7 points per 36 minutes, while posting a disturbing plus/minus of minus-10.7
Compare these numbers to Conley’s regular-season averages per 36 minutes of 14.4 points and a plus-7.0, and it is easy to see where Bledsoe’s ball-hawking value comes in.
Last season’s first round had an even more pronounced effect, as Bledsoe held Conley to just 10.3 points on 25 percent shooting per 36 minutes.
CP3 might be the biggest beneficiary of more Bledsoe minutes.
Playing a Paul and Bledsoe hybrid backcourt allows the Point God to switch onto the offensively challenged Allen. This slight change gives Paul license to help off of his man and lets Paul save his energy for offense.
Bledsoe’s defensive versatility also allows the Clips to go small by playing Jamal Crawford at the 3, key in changing pace against the Grit-and-Grind Grizz.
Ultimately, Bledsoe could be the X-factor of this series. Playing the entire fourth quarter in a Game 1 blowout, Bledsoe opened up the lead, scoring 15 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing four assists. Although Paul was the star of Game 2, Bledsoe still put up eight points, along with four boards and four assists in a close win for Lob City.
Mini-LeBron’s success is no aberration. Along with playing Paul and Griffin more minutes, Del Negro has to give Bledsoe more burn against the Grizzlies.
All stats from ESPN.com and NBA.com/Stats. Statistics accurate as of April 29, 2013.