Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and Reggie Bullock. That is what the Los Angeles Clippers' depth chart at small forward looks like. Not exactly a trio that strikes fear in opposing teams. Unfortunately, the Clippers have already used both salary-cap exceptions, leaving a trade and the league minimum left to improve the position.
While Barnes plays with high energy and loves to slash to the basket, his shooting is inconsistent and he doesn’t have enough defensive ability to slow down the top small forwards in the league.
Dudley came to the Clippers last season via trade, but he never quite looked like the player everyone saw with the Phoenix Suns. Injuries plagued him all season and stripped him of what quickness he had left defensively. Who knows what he can provide this season.
Finally, Bullock was barely used by Doc Rivers last season, thus projecting as a big question mark this season. He was drafted to be a three-and-D guy on the perimeter, but he was unable to break into the rotation.
How the Trio Compares to Other Small Forwards
Today’s small forward position is filled with elite athletes, volume scorers and long athletic defenders. None of those attributes define any small forward the Clippers have on their roster.
LeBron James, Rudy Gay and Josh Smith are just a few of the elite athletic small forwards. They would be a difficult cover for most small forwards but are in another class when compared to Barnes and Dudley.
Scoring-wise, not much is expected from the Clippers’ small forwards, but even factoring in the rest of their offensive contributions, they are average at best.
According to ESPN, Barnes ranks 36th in PER at the position with a 12.05 rating, meanwhile Dudley posted a miserable 8.91 PER, ranking 58th. Their inefficiency on offense did not hurt the team that much during the regular season, but it proved to be a problem during the playoffs as teams continually sagged off them.
Defensively, Barnes and Dudley were a bit more effective, according to ESPN’s regularized adjusted plus-minus stats. Barnes ranked 27th at the position, while Dudley ranked 32nd.
Unsurprisingly, the combined stats of the team’s small forwards don’t paint a much better picture. According to 82games, the position posted a net PER of -2.1 for the season. Offensively, the small forwards were a disaster earning a pathetic 10.9 PER.
What the Team Needs
Unfortunately for Barnes and Dudley, it was rather apparent that the team needs an upgrade at small forward. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Broderick Turner, Rivers agrees. He wrote:
“It's no secret Rivers wants to upgrade his small forward position and that he has been trying to trade starting small forward Matt Barnes.”
While the options are limited, the most likely scenario is that the team plays the season out with Barnes, Dudley and Bullock splitting minutes. The problem is that while the Clippers have three roster spots available, they must operate under a hard cap.
The Clippers are operating under a hard cap for the second straight season. This is because the team used the $5.3 million mid-level exception to sign free agent Spencer Hawes, the $2.07 million Bi-Annual exception on Jordan Farmar and is below the tax apron. This means the most the team can spend is up to the $80,829,000 apron.
Should Rivers wish to upgrade the position he will need to do so via trade. The problem is that the team would need to deal one of Dudley, Barnes or Jamal Crawford and potentially include a future first-round pick, C.J. Wilcox or Bullock to get back an impact contributor.
Rivers could also attempt to offer Dudley and assets to bring back another rotation forward, but the options are limited, especially considering Dudley’s play last season.
Although the Clippers finally were able to address their need for a reserve big man, the small forward position remains a major concern. The team would absolutely benefit from an upgrade at the position, because if the team wants to advance out of the Western Conference they are going to need a long, athletic defender on the perimeter.
How Should the Clippers Address the Small Forward Position
The problem is that the team has been unable to find that player in the draft or free agency. The hope last year was for Bullock to develop into a potential perimeter stopper. While that might still be the case, he is more of a guard-forward "tweener" rather than a defensive stopper at small forward.
Rivers could very well make a trade but what assets will he need to part with in order to land an impact defender? Nearly as important; will said player be able to space the floor? Rivers has put an emphasis on spreading the floor. Either way, the team needs an upgrade at small forward and the sooner the better.
Follow me on Twitter @JeffNisius. All salary information provided by Spotrac.com.