The starting small forward position has been an area of concern for the Los Angeles Clippers for the past few seasons. Caron Butler was virtually guaranteed the job, but this season is different as Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley will battle for the right to start.
But who should start? First, let’s make a case for Dudley and Barnes.
After spending the previous three seasons with the Phoenix Suns, Jared Dudley was dealt to the Los Angeles Clippers in the Eric Bledsoe package.
Dudley thrived with the Suns, scoring in double-digits per game for the first time in his career, and he did it all three years. His ability to set up in the corner and knock down threes is an elite skill in today’s NBA, and one the Clippers need.
The Clippers desperately needed to add more floor spacing around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, which is exactly what Dudley will provide. According to hoopdata, Dudley recorded a stellar effective field-goal percentage of 59 from three-point land.
Dudley will be asked to spread the floor, seeing most of his shots from the right side of the court. According to NBA.com, Dudley attempted 26.4 percent of his shots last season from behind the three-point line on that side of the floor.
This is important, because Paul typically runs the pick-and-roll from left to right. Dudley, being a good shooter from distance and comfortable on the right side of the floor, allows J.J. Redick to run backside action with Dudley being the spot-up man in the opposite corner.
Defensively, Dudley is solid on and off the ball. He does not move as well as the better defensive small forwards, but he can hold his own. Last season 82games reported that small forwards posted a PER of 15.3 against him, right at league average.
He will not be counted on as a defensive stopper, but as long as he is able to pick up Doc Rivers’ system, he should be at least an adequate defender.
Barnes had a great season in 2012-13, scoring a career-high 10.3 points per game. He was part of the reason why the Clippers had one of the best benches in the entire league.
Unlike Dudley, Barnes has never been a good shooter. He is a career 33-percent shooter from deep. Barnes hit 34 percent of his threes last season, but also took far too many, tossing up 325 of them.
He is going to have to prove he can hit the corner three in order to break into the starting lineup. Griffin desperately needs to be surrounded by shooters. Otherwise, teams can easily double him.
One positive about Barnes’ offensive game is that he constantly attacks the basket, especially without the ball. He scored on countless back cuts and duck-ins last season.
While offense is not exactly his strong suit, defense is a different story.
The Clippers were 3.8 points better on defense with Barnes on the floor, according to 82games. His energy is infectious and it seems like his motor never slows down.
Comparing Dudley and Barnes on defense is not easy. They defend in two different ways. Dudley plays conservative and smart, whereas Barnes loves to pressure the ball and compete at the rim for blocks. Still, Barnes has the advantage defensively and is a better rebounder, grabbing 10.6 percent of available rebounds when on the floor, according to basketball reference.
So who should start? I suppose it depends on who the team is defending at small forward. Still, Dudley is the better overall player.
He may never wow you, but Dudley can do exactly what the Clippers need. Space the floor, defend well on the perimeter and be the glue that holds the starters together.
Make no mistake, Barnes is fully capable of being the starting small forward, and would do an adequate job. Unfortunately, Dudley’s career numbers suggest he will be a much better shooter than Barnes and is comfortable on the right side of the floor.
Combine his shooting with Dudley’s solid defense and it seems likely he will win the job.
The real key to Rivers picking his starter at small forward is how well that player fits into what he wants to do offensively and defensively. Dudley provides too many traits that are useful to the other four starters. On paper, it looks like Dudley’s job to lose.