The Los Angeles Clippers' revamped roster will push some players into new roles in the 2013-14 season.
A new regime means change, and as the Clippers welcome Doc Rivers to LA, they will also say goodbye to some of the principles by which they once played.
Rivers could use guys like Willie Green and Jamal Crawford differently from how Vinny Del Negro did in the past. There is also uncertainty about the newbies. Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison came to LA after playing relatively important roles with their previous teams. Will they garner enough time to make an impact?
With roster transformation comes rotation transformation. We’re going to see some changes. That’s for sure.
Here’s a look at four Clippers that stand to lose some playing time in the upcoming season:
Willie Green, SG
Willie Green is a great teammate.
Sorry about that lede, but every piece of Willie Green analysis has to start with an expected disclaimer about Green’s locker-room value. Unfortunately, the disclaimer is as inevitable as the upcoming decrease in his playing time.
Green started last year as a placeholder for Chauncey Billups, who missed 60 of the Clippers’ 82 games in 2012-13. That meant 60 starts for Green, who moved to the end of the bench once Billups returned.
Even though he played most games with the starters, Green didn’t play like a starter last year.
Vinny Del Negro valued consistency in his rotations to an irrational degree and figured if Green leapfrogged every other guard on the bench, he wouldn’t disrupt Del Negro’s preferred substitution rotation. That strategy left Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe on the bench and Green in the starting lineup. He finished the season with an average playing time of 16.5 minutes per game.
But now there’s a new coach in town, and with him comes a new strategy. J.J. Redick will start at the 2. Jared Dudley can play there as well. So can Crawford, Reggie Bullock and even Chris Paul, if the Clippers want to go with an uber small backcourt of Paul and Darren Collison.
Green won’t jump all those players in Doc Rivers’ rotation. There is no longer a head coach in LA who will employ the reasoning that made him a starter last year, and because of that, a bench-warmer role is probably all that awaits Green this season.
Jamal Crawford, SG
We’re nitpicking a bit with this one.
Crawford averaged 29.3 minutes per game last season, but there’s a chance his minutes total will inch closer to 25 minutes a night this year.
That might not seem like the biggest difference in the world, but statistically it can affect a national perception of Crawford’s sixth-man role. Crawford might not garner the label of “Clippers’ sixth man” this season.
He’s the leading scorer off the bench so he must be the best non-starting player on the team.
For some reason, that logic eludes Sixth Man of the Year voting. That’s why we always end up with a J.R. Smith-type winning that award.
If it’s not Smith, it’s James Harden. If it’s not Harden, it’s Crawford. If it’s not Crawford, it’s Jason Terry or Leandro Barbosa or Manu Ginobli. Instant offense is too sexy for voters not to stare.
Sometimes there is logic to back up that practice. Harden was clearly a deserving Sixth Man of the Year winner. But still, eight of the past nine Sixth Man of the Year winners have been offense-first guards.
This year, though, the Clippers defense could struggle—at least from a personnel standpoint. Crawford’s lack of awareness and shoddy on-ball skills are a part of that. That means Doc Rivers might not run Crawford out with the closers like Vinny Del Negro did so often last year.
With J.J. Redick now on the roster, the Clips can play Redick and either Jared Dudley or Matt Barnes along with Chris Paul in crunch time. With Crawford, they’ll have to worry about team defense. With Redick or Barnes or Dudley, they won't.
It’s reasonable to argue that Crawford wasn’t the best player off the Clippers bench last year. Actually, it’s reasonable to argue he wasn’t even the second best. Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe were both two-way players that affected Clippers games in their own positive ways last season.
Now, Bledsoe is gone, but if Barnes becomes the first Clipper off the bench under a new regime, those closing minutes could be enough to shave some playing time off Crawford’s minutes total.
Byron Mullens, PF/C
It is possible for someone to talk himself into Byron Mullens.
The Rivals150 ranked Mullens as the No. 1 high school recruit in the country back in 2008. That wasn’t that long ago, even though it feels like it never even happened.
There was a time when Mullens wasn’t just a talent—he was an elite one. But again, 2008 Mullens seems like more of a mirage than a reality. But when it’s late in the offseason and all other quality bigs have signed—like a lost and wandering man in the desert—sometimes a mirage is all you see.
The Clippers thought they were looking at B.J. In reality, they ended up with Byron.
Mullens averaged 26.9 minutes per game last year, but that was for a 61-loss Bobcats team. There’s no way he can get that many minutes on a team that’s trying to contend.
The myth about Mullens is that he can shoot. Mainly, that stems from the fact that he does shoot.
For some reason, we assume that if a 7-footer hangs around the perimeter, puts up shots, has a relatively pretty stroke and looks comfortable in his release, then he’s absolutely a stretch four.
Because of that, Mullens has carried around the stretch four label, but there’s one inherent flaw in that judgment: anyone can consistently take shots from beyond 16 feet, but you actually have to make them to be a stretch four.
And Mullens doesn’t make them.
We’re talking about a 7-foot center here, a startlingly inaccurate 7-foot center.
If Mullens changes as a player, does work on the inside, crashes the boards and eliminates the outrageously bad jumpers he continues to take, maybe he'll stay in the rotation. Sticking in the rotation doesn’t mean another 27-minute-a-night season, but it does mean some playing time.
If Mullens continues to take bad shots, Doc Rivers will pull him. He’s not going to have the same leash he had in Charlotte, where tanking starts in October.
It’s not like Mullens has defense to fall back on if he’s not taking good shots. And if he sits, that means the older vet is going to be taking his spot in the rotation.
Antawn Jamison, PF
Jamison’s playing time is a major question mark. We’re still not sure where the Clippers’ big-man rotation falls.
Is Jamison the third big? Is Mullens? Does Ryan Hollins have a legitimate chance at getting playing time on a nightly basis?
Right now, it seems like Jamison should be the leading candidate to slide into the third big-man spot, but he’s hardly guaranteed a consistent role in the Clippers rotation.
For all the criticism that comes Jamison’s way, he’s actually still a strong offensive player. In 21.5 minutes a game for the Lakers last year, he had a 15.3 PER, a 56.1 true shooting percentage and he paired a 15.7 points per 36 minutes average with a mere 18.7 percent usage rate. That’s efficient scoring from a bench player.
Defense, though, is where Jamison has his issues.
Jamison doesn’t guard well on or off the ball. It’s not necessarily an effort problem, just an awareness one.
In some ways, being a poor team defender is even worse than being a bad on-ball one if only because it leaves four teammates out to dry. Jamison misses rotations, and if he’s playing with someone like DeAndre Jordan or Byron Mullens (two centers that don’t always recover when teammates get caught out of position), the bench defense isn’t going to work.
That’s how Jamison can lose time and how Ryan Hollins can work his way into the rotation (even though Hollins is a center who bites on the slightest pump fakes and gets caught out of position all too often).
Jamison has a chance to earn similar playing time to last year, but–at least early in the season–Doc Rivers could change his big-man rotation on a nightly basis. That means inconsistent minutes for Jamison, Mullens and Hollins and potentially a slight decrease in playing time from last year for all of them.
All statistics courtesy of basketball-reference.com.