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Finding the Perfect Rotation for the Los Angeles Clippers

Michael C. Jones@MikeJonesTweetsContributor IIINovember 11, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 30: Blake Griffin #32, DeAndre Jordan #6, and Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers run down the court during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on October 30, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Despite returning core stars Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers are still searching for their ideal rotation.

That's not unlike other NBA teams early in the season, but for a squad that's had few moving parts since the arrival of head coach and team president Doc Rivers, it's a concern. 

The Clippers are built to win now. Los Angeles' rendition of the Big 3 is in its prime—each member is in his 20s. The sooner the Clips can find some continuity within the framework of the rotation, the better.

Let's take a look at a few points of emphasis as the player roles from top to bottom take shape. 

The Small Forward Conundrum

The Clippers have had major issues at the small forward spot in the Rivers era. For starters, Jared Dudley took a nosedive in productivity last season and the team has yet to find consistency at the position. 

In 74 games and 43 starts in 2013-14, Dudley finished with a player efficiency rating of 8.9, a career low by nearly two full points.  

A 39.6 percent three-point shooter over eight seasons, Dudley also struggled to contribute offensively with just a 36 percent effort during his stretch as a Clipper. 

Matt Barnes filled in capably when Dudley lost his starting role, managing a 12.0 PER during the same stretch. However, the veteran has regressed so far this year with a 5.6 mark through six games. 

November 5, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (22) dribbles the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

The small forward spot has become an Achilles' heel of sorts for Los Angeles, especially when it comes to defense.

Kevin Durant destroyed the Clips in the playoffs last season, and so far, perimeter defense in general has remained a glaring weakness. This year's squad has allowed opponents to shoot 39.8 percent from beyond the arc. 

At best, Los Angeles has been a middling defensive team in 2014-15. It's allowed 109.0 points per 100 possessions, placing them 23rd in the league. 

Rivers and new team owner Steve Ballmer have made it clear that their goal is to win it all:

 In order to make good on these aspirations, they have to get better defending the outside.

The Newcomers' Niche

Two bright spots thus far for the Clippers have been free-agent acquisitions Spencer Hawes and Jordan Farmar. Both have been an integral part of the rotation with averages of 17.7 and 14.0 minutes per game, respectively. 

The next step is determining their sweet spot in terms of effectiveness. 

As a two-man combo, the first-year Clippers are plus-4.8 in 70 minutes on the floor together. In addition, Hawes and Jordan form the most prolific duo on the team at plus-35.3. Farmar and Crawford are fifth at plus-6.9 through six games. 

This illustrates just how important both players are. Solidifying their roles and ensuring they continue to contribute at a high level is critical in the competitive Western Conference. 

Can the Youngster Break Through? 

If Reggie Bullock can give the Clippers anything close to what he did in 18 minutes on Nov. 3 against the Utah Jazz (a 107-101 win), he'll be a strong accent to a talent-laden roster.

With 12 points, two rebounds and an assist in 18 minutes, including 4-of-6 shooting from deep, he showcased the shooting ability he was drafted for. 

Moving forward, Rivers' challenge will be fitting him in given the logjam at the perimeter. With Paul, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford and Jordan Farmar each warranting significant time, Bullock has found himself the odd man out on five occasions so far this season. 

The second-year 2-guard is searching for a consistent role, and he may not find it without an injury to one of the aforementioned incumbents. 

That means it could be a long wait before we find out if Bullock has a place with this year's group. The answers are still forthcoming as the season plays out. 

But what we do know is that Bullock's trending in the right direction. He's posted 7.5 points per game in two contests after putting up 2.7 in 43 appearances a season ago.

Even more encouraging is his 5-for-7 mark from the three-point line after shooting just 30.1 percent from deep last season. 

If he keeps this up, he'll one-up this career-best performance from 2013-14 some time soon:

Despite limited opportunities, that steady improvement is all the coaching staff can ask for. It will be their challenge moving forward to decide how much to work him in. 

The Big Three Can Get Better

So far, the three-man combination of Paul, Griffin and Jordan hasn't played up to its high standards. After going plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions last season, the trio is minus-8.5 this time around through six games. 

They're also minus-4.4 in rebounds. That number is a concern considering the combination of Griffin and Jordan theoretically gives the Clips their best chance at dominating the glass. 

Jordan led the league in rebounding with a 13.6 per-game average last season while Griffin has a 10.1 career mark. Neither player has approached those numbers so far in this campaign as Griffin holds a 6.3 metric next to Jordan's 10.7. 

The extra possessions lost are costing them points—and potentially games. It's up to Rivers to decide how to maximize his stars' strengths by figuring out who to put on the floor alongside them. 

In 22 minutes with the trio, the twosome of Crawford and Barnes are plus-37.2 points per 100 possessions.

That's a good start, but there will still be some experimentation forthcoming. The coming weeks should provide more clarity on what's going to suit the Clippers as they chase glory. 

All stats are current through games played Nov. 9th and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.