The arrival of Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers has changed quite a few things, but perhaps the biggest difference is the level of trust between the players and coaching staff. All the second-guessing about rotations and substitution patterns has dissipated almost entirely, which is in stark contrast to the Vinny Del Negro era. Funny how a championship-winning coach can do that.
Even if the standings don't reflect much of a change, as the Clippers only won one more game this season than last year, this is a different team thanks to Rivers' ability to manage a game and trust in what he saw during the regular season. Here's Nate Scott at USA Today explaining more:
Overall, yes it’s easy to say the Clippers aren’t that much better than they were last year. Come playoffs, though, the difference will be seen. Rivers has the team confident, believing in itself, with a philosophy both on offense and on defense. This isn’t just a talented team anymore. It’s a true team ready to go deep. Rivers created that, and he deserves all the recognition he’s getting.
While there probably isn't a great deal of tweaking necessary considering Rivers' experience, the Clippers do face an interesting situation considering the roster hasn't been fully healthy pretty much all season.
Now that Rivers is working with a full deck and the games are of the utmost importance, you can easily envision the rotation being shortened a bit and stars like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul taking on a bigger role.
That goes for DeAndre Jordan, as well. He led the Clippers in total minutes played this season, and he's been a huge part of the defense making solid strides this season. Here's what Chris Paul told Arash Markazi at ESPNLA.com about Jordan's play this season:
"You talk about so many different awards for so many different people," Paul said. "I think D.J. [DeAndre Jordan] is a guy who should be up for most improved, who should be up for defensive player of the year, all that type of stuff. He's got to get something."
With increased minutes for Paul, Griffin and Jordan, here's how the starting lineup could shake out:
- Paul: 40 minutes per game
- Crawford: 30 minutes per game
- Barnes: 36 minutes per game
- Griffin 40 minutes per game
- Jordan: 38 minutes per game
The lineup of Paul, Crawford, Barnes, Griffin and Jordan wasn't the group that started the season, but it should be the one that finishes it. Here's Zach Harper at CBSSports.com explaining what led to that:
What seemed like the ideal lineup for the Clippers going into this season of Paul, Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick, Griffin, and Jordan has struggled to protect the rim and is their second most used lineup. They've allowed 62.3 percent of shots in the restricted area to be successful, and this could be a lineup (if healthy) that has a lot of use for them in the playoffs.
Even though Crawford is primarily used as a sixth man, the success of the five-man unit of Paul-Crawford-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan is hard to ignore. That's the Clippers' fourth most used lineup (271 minutes), and according to NBA.com's media stats site, they have a net efficiency rating of +20.4, a staggering number that makes them the best five-man unit (min: 200 minutes) in the league in that category.
It would make sense to get the unit above on the floor as much as possible, but the Clippers really can't go wrong so long as Paul, Barnes, Griffin and Jordan are all together. The Clippers are +14.5 in net efficiency with Darren Collison swapped in for Crawford and are +9.6 with Redick in.
It's important to note that Redick has started in all but one game he's played in this season, so this lineup would be a bit of a surprise to start in the playoffs. Still, there's a full season worth of evidence that suggests this group is more deadly with Crawford instead of Redick.
So long as everyone stays out of foul trouble, the Clippers should have no problem building leads behind the play of this unit.
- Redick: 22 minutes per game
- Collison: 14 minutes per game
- Davis: 12 minutes per game
- Granger: 8 minutes per game
The increased minutes for the starters will sap some time away from the reserves, which might not be the worst thing. The Clippers' second unit has really struggled at times to hold leads, which is a direct contrast to the Barnes and Eric Bledsoe-led second unit of last season.
Perhaps the biggest decision for Rivers is deciding how to split the minutes between Redick and Collison as the first guard off the bench. Collison will obviously play the 8-10 minutes at point guard when Paul sits, but this season he has also spent a great deal of time playing next to Paul in small lineups. Depending on the matchup, Rivers has often opted to use Collison over Redick, which pretty much no one expected coming into the season.
Part of that has to do with Redick's health, as Collison has been one of the few mainstays on the roster this year while Redick has been banged up all year. With both players ready to go for the playoffs, we should see the better three-point shooter and defender get the majority of the time. That's Redick.
As for the frontcourt rotation, the Clippers should often choose to go small, particularly in the first round against the Golden State Warriors, who will have to do the same with Andrew Bogut sidelined.
That means Glen Davis should fill time mostly at the 5, with Barnes and Granger (so long as he really is healthy, if not we'll see Jared Dudley) playing some small-ball 4. Both are good enough rebounders and defenders to hold up on that end.
One of the biggest improvements for the Clippers this year has come during crunch time (last five minutes of a game, score within five points). Here's Zach Harper at CBSSports.com breaking it down:
Ultimately though, the defense will come down to clutch situations in which Jordan is asked to protect the paint and be the anchor to a defense desperate for stops. This season, the Clippers allow sixth lowest field goal percentage and have the 10th best defensive rating in clutch situations. It's not ideal yet but it's a massive improvement over their clutch defensive situations last season when they had the third worst defensive rating in the NBA and allowed the highest opponent field goal percentage in clutch situations.
Because Jordan sat during so many fourth quarters last season, the defense crumbled. With Rivers trusting Jordan to stay in the game and make an impact defensively, the Clippers have become a really dangerous team on both ends when the game gets tight. Paul and Griffin handle the offense, and Jordan takes care of the defense.
Really, the Clippers don't need to change or tweak much of anything. Rivers has had a good feel for who is hot and what's working, and that will ultimately dictate who will close games at shooting guard, which is really the only spot up for debate.
If regular season performance was any indicator, and if the starting unit can stay out foul trouble, the Clippers should be a handful for any team this postseason. Rivers knows what he's doing.