Despite running a tight rotation, the Los Angeles Clippers should be fine with an eight-man rotation for the rest of the season.
Under coach Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers preferred to play 10-man rotations, employing hockey-like substitution patterns in games. Del Negro grew infamous for playing five starters followed by five guys from the second unit.
Led by the backcourt firepower of Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford, the second unit fared well last season, holding and often extending leads for the starters.
A Tribe Called Bench’s 40.1 points per game were the third highest average in the league.
Riddled by injury this season, the second unit has played together infrequently. Lob City’s 31.1 bench points is right in the middle of the pack, curiously sandwiched between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Miami Heat.
With off days and fewer travel days in the postseason, the Clippers should be able to succeed with an eight-man rotation. Barring a serious injury, questions of depth should go away once the playoffs roll around.
Let’s look at how the Clips’ rotations and bench unit might fare in the second half of the season.
Injuries in the Backcourt
Although they looked like they would be one of the deepest teams in the league, the Clippers have been wrecked by injuries this season.
A separated shoulder kept Chris Paul out 18 games. A broken hand and a sore hip has resulted in just 30 appearances for J.J. Redick.
When healthy, Paul and Redick have a case for the strongest backcourt in basketball; however, injures have threatened their on-court product. Fortunately, Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford were able to step up during Paul’s absence, helping lead the Clips to a 12-6 mark without the Point God.
Having the luxury of bringing Collison and Crawford off of the bench makes this team even more potent. Playing without Paul and Redick certainly boosted Collison's and Crawford’s confidence as well.
While Paul was out, Crawford upped his scoring average to 22.0 points per game. Collison followed suit, averaging 13.3 points and 6.5 assists.
For much of that stretch, Crawford and Collison were also competing against opponents’ starting backcourts. With Paul back and Redick recovering, the backcourt bench unit will have the opportunity to exploit slower second units.
A Question at the 3
One of the major questions heading into the season was the Clippers’ starting small forward.
More than halfway through the season, Doc Rivers is still uncertain about what he has at the 3. Poor play saw Jared Dudley lose his starting spot on the Clips’ Grammy road trip.
Over his last 15 games, Dudley has been averaging just 18.6 minutes per game, down from his 26.4 average per contest.
Dudley is slumping, stuck in the worst season of his career. On the year, Dudley is shooting just 44.6 percent from the field and averaging just 7.7 points per contest.
The Clips’ preseason hopes of having a competent 3-and-D guy alongside Paul and Redick are yet to be realized.
His 9.14 PER is the second worst of his career.
Given the struggles of Dudley and Barnes, the front office has been forced to seek extra help. Midseason signings of Hedo Turkoglu and Sasha Vujacic have been clever experiments, but neither is a viable long-term solution at the wing.
If both are able to find some success, then the Clips will have some flexibility and added depth. Rivers can have his pick for a starter and play the reserve wing heavy minutes off the bench.
The Clips are banking on Dudley and Barnes finding a groove in the second half of the season.
Still Looking for That 3rd Big
Behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clips could still use a reliable third big man to come off the bench.
Despite career years for both DJ and Griffin, Los Angeles should be weary about their conspicuous lack of frontcourt depth. Ryan Hollins has been pedestrian, while Byron Mullens has fallen out of the rotation nearly entirely.
Antawn Jamison is still something of a wild card, appearing sporadically throughout the first 55 games of the season. Jamison is a clever forward, capable of utilizing his savvy footwork under the basket.
Do the Clippers need a third big man if they hope to contend for a championship?
However, what the 37-year-old has left in the tank is still rather a mystery.
Earlier in the season, the Clippers were rumored to be considering re-signing backup big man Lamar Odom, according the NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper.
Nothing has come of it, but perhaps Lob City will reconsider the matter after the All-Star break. With the trade deadline around the corner, the Clips could also decide to pull the trigger and acquire a third big man.
Foul trouble to either Griffin or Jordan seriously compromises the Clips’ frontcourt. Bringing in a capable veteran off the bench will buoy the rotation and add to the depth that the Clips have been hoping to show off.
Statistics used from NBA.com/Stats, ESPN.com, Basketball-Reference.com and Hoopsstats.com.