After revamping the roster this past summer, the Los Angeles Clippers added much needed shooting support from the perimeter. Consequentially, the beefed up perimeter attack makes the Clippers more than capable of running a small-ball lineup this season.
One of the Clippers’ strengths last season was their bench, mainly because of the stellar play by Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes. Carrying that over to this season, Doc Rivers is sure to employ multiple small-ball lineups.
Considering how versatile Blake Griffin and Barnes are, Rivers will have plenty of options to fill out the other three positions. Jared Dudley is capable of holding down the other forward position, while Darren Collison, JJ Redick and Crawford will battle for time next to Chris Paul.
According to 82games, of the Clippers’ top 10 unit pairings, based on minutes, last season Matt Barnes was a part of six of them. Barnes played great at both forward positions, which is why the team was a positive 6.7 points per 48 minutes with him on the floor.
Since Barnes is capable of playing as a small-ball four, Blake Griffin makes an ideal center in such a lineup. Not only will Griffin thrive in a smaller lineup that creates more possessions by increasing the tempo, but it allows him to play one-on-one in the paint with the floor spread around him.
This is one of the problems Griffin faces when playing with DeAndre Jordan. Jordan’s nonexistent offensive repertoire allows defenses to key on Griffin, thus clogging the paint. When Griffin goes to work on the block, teams are able to double him, forcing the ball out of his hands.
While Rivers is known for his team’s solid defense, he realizes that having an effective small lineup is necessary (via ESPN).
I think what we have to do is create two teams, Rivers said. We have to create a big team, which we have, and I think our big team is as good as any big team in the league. And then we also have to create a small lineup that is effective and that you can use every night as well.
Rivers will also have the option of playing Jared Dudley at power forward in a small lineup. While he has played the four sparingly over the past few seasons, he is an ideal fit offensively. Dudley’s shooting ability would allow the floor to remain spread for Griffin in the paint.
Defensively, Dudley should fare decently well guarding opposing power forwards. He is a solid defender on the perimeter, but his strength and grit would allow him to matchup against bigger forwards in the paint.
Another reason Rivers could use Dudley as his small-ball four is to put Jamal Crawford in the backcourt with Redick and Paul. Dudley and Redick are two dangerous threats from three, and Crawford’s ability to create his own shot would be a terrifying addition for opposing defenses.
Vinny Del Negro ran multiple three-guard sets last season, with Crawford playing small forward next to Eric Bledsoe and Paul. Redick’s development into an adequate defender would push him to the small forward position, allowing Crawford to remain in his natural role at shooting guard.
Still, based on the basic defensive principles that Doc Rivers preaches, the most successful lineup for the Clippers to use while playing small-ball would be: Paul, Crawford, Dudley, Barnes and Griffin. The wild card here would be Redick, as he can come in and provide another ball-handler next to Paul.
However, Dudley’s spot up shooting, size and dependability on defense earns him the nod at small forward. Crawford earns the spot over Redick because of how electric he can be in small lineups.
This small lineup maximizes the scoring and shooting load, provides a second shot creator in Crawford and gives Rivers a unit that can defend in multiple different ways.
Furthermore, last season Barnes and Crawford were at their best when paired with Chris Paul in a lineup. Both players were a part of the Clippers’ highest offensive rating five-man unit—50 minutes minimum—according to 82games.
While Doc Rivers will likely try to play a traditional lineup as much as possible, when the Clippers go small, expect to see a lineup that mirrors the one above. The more successful the unit is on the floor, the more minutes Rivers will devote to the unit, as long as they can hold their own on the glass.
Regardless, a small-ball lineup with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul means more lob attempts. Those might not translate to wins, but it sure will be fun to watch.