Can LA Clippers Align Their Wings into Championship-Caliber Group?

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Can LA Clippers Align Their Wings into Championship-Caliber Group?
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the front-runners to sign former All-Star Danny Granger, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

Is this just another case of the rich getting richer? After all, the Clippers appear to have a stacked roster and have already added another buyout case in big man Glen Davis. How much talent does one team need?

But Granger might end up becoming more of a necessity than a luxury in Los Angeles. Once again, the Clippers are finding themselves painfully exposed at the wings. It is an old area of weakness—one that the front office tried desperately to shore up in the offseasonbut injuries and ineffectiveness have threatened to derail L.A.'s postseason chances.

 

What We Learned from Wednesday 

Wednesday night's hard-fought 101-93 win over the Houston Rockets was yet another encouraging display of the growth shown by the Clippers frontcourt. Facing off against perennial All-Star center Dwight Howard, who has been playing some of his best basketball as of late, the duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan clearly won the battle inside. 

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Clippers scored 54 points in the paint, and Rockets coach Kevin McHale was forced to play Howard and reserve center Omer Asik together in the fourth quarter in an attempt to keep L.A. out of the paint. 

Such displays of frontcourt dominance have become par for the course in Los Angeles. Griffin is enjoying the finest season of his career, averaging 24.3 points per game. And Jordan is in the middle of a true breakout campaign—the upgrade in coaching from Vinny Del Negro to Doc Rivers has clearly aided his development.

Pair those two with the best point guard in the game in Chris Paul, and you have a potential championship foundation.

However, two other things happened on Wednesday that exposed potential weakness at the 2 and 3 spots on the floor. 

Starting shooting guard Jamal Crawford left midway through the game with a calf strain. After the win, Rivers expressed concern over the health of his veteran guard, per ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi:

Personally, I'm a little concerned because no one was around him. When guys get injured when nobody's around them, that always scares me. We'll know more tomorrow. He said he felt better. I think he'll be OK, but I've been around the league a while, so that's my concern.

Fortunately, an MRI taken on Wednesday showed no major structural damage, per Clippers.com's Eric Patten. Crawford is only expected to miss a few games, but leg injuries can be tricky, especially for a 13-year veteran, and Crawford has been so valuable this season that the team cannot afford any long-term complications.

The more disturbing news from Wednesday involved the man Crawford replaced in the starting lineup: J.J. Redick. During the ESPN broadcast, sideline reported J.A. Adande mentioned that some within the organization fear that Redick, who is out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his lower back, could be out for the year.

Redick was the key piece in the Clippers upgrade at the wing position during the offseason, and he has been a great addition when healthy. If he is lost for the season, it could prove a fatal blow to the team's championship hopes.

 

The Other Guys

If Redick can return to form, he would push Crawford back to his more natural role as a second-unit scoring whiz. But even in that best-case scenario, L.A. will still have to shore up some weak spots on the perimeter.

The Clippers have been absolutely horrid this season on the three-point line, ranking just 23rd in the league with a 34.9 team shooting percentage. For a group that benefits from the playmaking genius of Paul—not to mention the underrated passing ability of Griffin—such low shooting numbers are simply unacceptable.

Two of the main culprits have been Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes, two veterans playing well below their career norms.

Dudley, who was acquired in the same deal that brought Redick to L.A., was supposed to be a key member of the team this season, as SB Nation's Mike Prada explained at the time of the trade:

Dudley is a career 40 percent three-point shooter that had his best years playing alongside Steve Nash, a similar ball-dominant point guard to Paul.

Dudley's corner three-point shooting has fallen off a bit in recent years, but it should be reinvigorated playing with a point guard like Paul and alongside an elite wing shooter like Redick. 

Instead, he has shot 36.1 percent from beyond the arc this season—good by normal standards, but well below his career average of 39.8. His player efficiency rating (PER) and win shares per 48 minute rating are both the lowest of his seven-year career.

Barnes is not the outside shooter Dudley is, but he too has struggled compared to the excellent season he put together last year, his first as a Clipper.

But Barnes sounded a hopeful note to the ESPN broadcasting crew on Wednesday when he told them he expected to play better now that the trade deadline had passed. He had been linked with to a trade involving the New York Knicks, via ESPN's Chris Broussard, and he admitted that all the trade talk had been wearing on him.

Whatever the reasons for their struggles, Dudley and Barnes are more likely to help the Clippers than Willie Green and Reggie Bullock. The veteran Green has been virtually unplayable this season after shooting 42.8 percent from behind the arc last year, and the rookie Bullock isn't quite ready to be part of a playoff rotation. 

The Clippers' Choices at the Wings
2013-14 PER (15 is average) Career PER 2013-14 WS/48 (.100 is average) Career WS/48
Jared Dudley 8.9 13.9 .063 .110
Matt Barnes 10.1 13.3 .072 .102
Willie Green 7.2 11.3 .020 .045
Reggie Bullock 5.9 N/A .006 N/A
Danny Granger 10.4 17.3 .090 .130

Basketball-Reference

While the Clippers can certainly take a shot on Granger, he is by no means guaranteed to help. He may have name recognition, he has shot only 35.9 percent from the field in 2013-14 and missed all but five games of the previous season with a knee injury. He is still a work in progress, and the Clippers need help immediately.

The one saving grace for the Clippers is that they have a wealth of options—even if most of those options have severely underachieved this season. If they add Granger, Doc Rivers will have five wing players, apart from Redick and Crawford, with the potential to improve down the stretch.

It will be up to the coach to figure out which of these other guys can be counted on when the games really start to matter. It might not be an easy task, but that is why the Clippers went out and got Rivers in the first place.

 

*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

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