The 2013-14 Los Angeles Clippers' shooting guards are different. And that's a good thing.
In each of the past three seasons, the Clips have transformed their shooting. Two years ago, they were loaded with shooters on the wings. The Clipper offense was predicated upon Chris Paul running the pick-and-roll and then kicking out to guys like Mo Williams, Nick Young, Chauncey Billups, Randy Foye, and Caron Butler.
Last year though, the Clips got away from that. General manager Neil Olshey had left for Portland and coach Vinny Del Negro, team president Andy Roeser, and eventual general manager Gary Sacks headed up a three-man team that put together the roster.
But Foye walked. So did Young. And Billups was never truly healthy all year. That meant the Clips had to rely on Butler along with the newly acquired Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes for perimeter shooting.
Crawford and Barnes each saw a bump in their shooting, mainly because three-point efficiency almost always improves for players who sign to play with Chris Paul, but neither Crawford nor Barnes is a primary spot-up shooter. Crawford is an isolation specialist, and Barnes loves cutting to the hoop and making plays with his feet off the ball.
The Clippers struggled to shoot against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2013 Western Conference Playoffs. Maybe as a reaction to that, philosophy changed once again in Sacks’ first offseason as the official Clippers’ GM.
Shooters, shooters, and more shooters.
The Clippers acquired Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick in a sign-and-trade. They drafted University of North Carolina sharpshooter Reggie Bullock. They held onto Crawford, Barnes, and Willie Green. They even signed Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison to provide some stretch at forward.
The Clippers are going to be able to shoot this year. The entire offense is based on that philosophy.
Here's a look at each of the shooting guards who could help contribute to the best shooting team in the NBA:
2012-13 statistics: 16.6 points per 36 minutes, 2.6 rebounds per 36, 4.5 assists per 36, 57.1 percent true shooting percentage, 14.7 PER
2013-14 projections: 32.0 minutes per game, 18.0 points per 36 minutes, 3.5 rebounds per 36, 3.5 assists per 36, 59 percent true shooting percentage, 17.0 PER
This is a match made in heaven, and not just because Redick might be the best shooter who has ever played with Chris Paul.
With Redick, you have to go ahead and ignore the numbers from his 28 games in Milwaukee. A player like J.J. Redick should never have to be a third wheel to Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
But that’s exactly what happened, and because of that, Redick seemed like he was bathing in a sea of apathy for those few months in Wisconsin. His cuts weren’t as sharp. His shots weren’t as accurate. His energy level wasn’t as high.
Stan Van Gundy said at this year's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and later in a one-on-one conversation that one of the reasons he loves Redick so much is that he never misses a defensive rotation. He never fails to move to the right spot, and because of that, he’s always an above average defender.
But Redick did miss rotations in Milwaukee. He was occasionally in the wrong spot. Watching Redick on the Bucks felt like watching some impostor, a J.J. Redick doppelgänger who played nothing like the Redick we were used to seeing.
Redick’s shot selection was particularly odd last year—though plenty of that had to do with his below-average point guards and the type of offenses in which he played (in both Milwaukee and Orlando).
Only 13.7 percent of Redick’s three-point attempts came on corner threes last season, according to NBA.com. The rest came from above the break. But the corner three is the second most-efficient shot in basketball (next to a layup or dunk), and someone who is as dominant from long range as Redick should be living in that corner. But he didn’t.
That’s not going to happen in L.A. Redick will be hanging out in the corner far more often as a part of a Chris Paul-led offense. The Clippers have to imagine they’re getting Orlando Redick and not Milwaukee Redick.
That’s a reasonable expectation, especially considering the Duke alum has improved in each and every one of his seasons since entering the NBA in 2006. Players who improve every year usually don’t just stop getting better.
Redick fits perfectly into Doc Rivers’ offense, which is reliant on having at least one shooter who can run off screens.
For years, Rivers had the best there ever was, Ray Allen, doing just that in Boston. When Allen left, the Celtics tried to plug Jason Terry into that role, but Terry didn’t look comfortable playing out of his usual pick-and-roll dominated, facilitating gig. Playing off the ball was strange for him, and Terry had one of the worst years of his career.
Redick, though, has an off-ball shooting game that’s more beautiful than his luscious head of hair. 50.3 percent of his plays last season were either spot-up jumpers or shots off screens, according to Synergy Sports. Bet on that number going up this year.
He is an above-average ball handler and is especially good in the pick-and-roll game, but the Clippers already have Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, and Darren Collison. That won’t leave much ball-handling time for Redick. That means the Clips will have to find other ways to get the ball in the hands of their best shooter, and they’re going to run him off screens for 82 games in order to do that.
It could be wonderful.
2012-13 statistics: 20.3 points per 36 minutes, 2.1 rebounds per 36, 3.1 assists per 36, 55.8 percent true shooting percentage, 16.8 PER
2013-14 projections: 27.5 minutes per game, 18.5 points per 36 minutes, 2.5 rebounds per 36, 3.5 assists per 36, 53 percent true shooting percentage, 15.5 PER
Rebounding is going to be a general problem for the Clippers’ guards. Chris Paul is the only guard on the roster who can really get after boards. Meanwhile, they lost a stud rebounder in Eric Bledsoe. That means Redick and Crawford have to step up on the boards. But here's the problem: that probably won’t happen.
Redick is a poor rebounder, and Crawford has consistently posted some of the worst rebounding rates in the NBA during his 13-year career. But even though Crawford kills you on the boards and defensively, he can make up for that offensively when he gets hot.
Crawford is the definition of a box of chocolates. But because of that, he can swing games (see: Game 2 of the first round of the 2013 Western Conference Playoffs against the Grizzlies).
He is the type of player who can single-handedly get his team a win when he’s on his game (note the phrase “when he’s on his game”). Because of that, Vinny Del Negro consistently ran him out there with the bench unit last year and let him do his thing regardless of the type of night he was having. But it’s possible Rivers has a different approach to Crawford than Del Negro did.
Crawford is the type of player you can manage differently on a night-to-night basis. Redick is going to get his minutes. Those will be consistent. But with Crawford, there’s going to be a larger standard deviation with nightly performance.
He might be great; he also might not be. When he’s hitting his shots, he could play 35 minutes, but when he’s off, Rivers might not give him enough burn to continue missing a heavy diet of shots. Games like last year's 7-for-18 against Oklahoma City (30 minutes) and 1-for-10 against Memphis (33 minutes) might not exist in 2013-14 with the depth the Clippers have at the wing positions.
2012-13 statistics: N/A
2013-14 projections: 10.2 minutes per game, 13.5 points per 36 minutes, 4.5 rebounds per 36, 1.5 assists per 36, 53 percent true shooting percentage, 12.5 PER.
Everyone is asking: “Is Bullock a shooting guard or a small forward?” Okay, that’s a pretty nerdy question for “everyone” to be asking—but at least some people are asking it.
Bullock mainly played the 3 at North Carolina, but the rookie will probably have to slide over and play plenty of 2 in the NBA. So many people have already wondered if he can handle playing at shooting guard at the NBA level, but Bullock actually says he feels more comfortable playing the 2.
Bullock is a long 2 and can stick with shooting guards on the defensive side of the ball. As a small forward, though, there are plenty of opposing players who can out-bulk him. He says one of his goals for this season is to gain a bit of muscle mass, helping him defensively when he goes up against bigger perimeter players. Offensively though, Bullock will tread similar waters whether he’s playing at shooting guard or small forward.
The rookie is a superb shooter. He showed that off at times in Las Vegas Summer League, when the Clippers ran him off screens to no end. He has a sweet stroke with a consistent release and uses his feet like a veteran when he moves off the ball. He’s going to be able to get open against NBA defenses, and that’s half the battle for someone who will be playing the role of off-ball, spot-up shooter.
Just don’t let Bullock handle the ball. That’s when he gets into trouble. His handle is subpar, and his decision making isn’t always at its best when he’s the one with the rock in his hands. He’s a decent passer, but that’s more as a guy who can swing it around the perimeter than as one who can facilitate an offense.
Bullock could contribute as a rookie, but he’s going to start the season slotted behind four guards and two small forwards on the Clippers’ depth chart.
That means unless the injury bug hits, he will probably hold a role (in terms of minutes, not in terms of skills) similar to the one Grant Hill possessed last season. He might come in as a shooting specialist against certain types of defenses that his style works well against, and he could turn into a valuable rotation player in the future, but we probably won’t see him play many meaningful minutes in 2013-14.
2012-13 statistics: 13.6 points per 36 minutes, 2.9 rebounds per 36, 1.7 assists per 36, 56.2 percent true shooting percentage, 11.8 PER
2013-14 projections: 9.0 minutes per game, 14.0 points per 36 minutes, 3.0 rebounds per 36, 1.5 assists per 36, 55 percent true shooting percentage, 11.0 PER
Green’s minutes are going to go down this season. Actually, let’s try that again…
Green’s minutes are going to go way down this season. He’s going from season-long starter to season-long bench warmer.
Let’s face it: as wonderful of a teammate as Green is and as often as the term “consummate professional” gets thrown around with him (Willie J. Green really is a consummate professional), Green didn’t deserve to start 60 games last season. He didn’t deserve to play 16.5 minutes a night. That role came because Vinny Del Negro used him as a place holder for Chauncey Billups.
I know what you’re thinking. No, it doesn’t make sense to use a below-average player as a place holder for Billups, even though Billups missed 60 games last year. It doesn't make sense for a team to value keeping roles consistent so much that a coach is willing to reduce the talent in its lineup in order to make sure those roles don't change.
But that’s the way the Clippers worked in 2012-13. As good as that team was at times, there were parts of it that never made sense. Green starting for almost the entire season to hold a starting spot for a player who was physically incapable of contributing was beyond odd. But it happened. The Clippers suffered from strange substitution rotations all year.
But now, Del Negro is gone. Rivers doesn’t struggle with roster management, actually, it’s quite the opposite. He thrives in that area of the game. And as great of a teammate as Willie J. Green might be, he’s not going to get minutes from Doc purely based on being a "consummate professional".
All per 36 and PER statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com.