The Los Angeles Clippers thought they had a deep bench. It turns out they were wrong.
The Clippers shored up their biggest problem from last year over the offseason, signing Spencer Hawes away from the Cleveland Cavaliers. They patched up the hole which was punched with Darren Collison's departure by signing Jordan Farmar. They dumped salary to sign Ekpe Udoh and Chris Douglas-Roberts. They did all this mending while bringing back Hedo Turkoglu, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Reggie Bullock.
The Clippers could've gone nine deep with quality. Jamal Crawford is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year. Hawes is a center who is a skilled passer and who drained more than 40 percent of his threes last season. Farmar is dead-on shooter who could at least prove capable of backing up Chris Paul. Bullock was supposed to develop in Year 2.
Meanwhile, some combination of Udoh and CDR was supposed to provide defensive support for a team that needed it. But there was one problem with the plan:
None of that has happened.
Hawes, who hasn't played since Dec. 12 because of a bruised left knee, is hitting just 33 percent of his threes, killing the team defensively and has notably struggled to find a niche within the Clippers offense.
Farmar hasn't created for teammates effectively, gets blown by when guarding quicker point guards and doesn't provide the dual guard flexibility Collison did when next to Paul.
Udoh has barely seen the floor. CDR, due to injuries and general ineffectiveness, has floated in a similar boat. And Bullock hasn't improved as rapidly as the Clippers would've hoped.
All that means Turkoglu and Big Baby have played bigger roles than any contender should desire them to, considering Turk doesn't provide much more than the ability to hit occasional open threes and Davis has had games when he's been blocked by the entire opposing backcourt.
The Clips could make a trade, but not without giving up someone of consequence and creating another flaw. Maybe it'd be one of lesser importance, but it'd still be a problem. And that's the scariest part of the bench issues: There doesn't seem to be a way to fix them completely.
Doc Rivers knows it too.
After the Clippers' 107-104 Tuesday night loss to the Atlanta Hawks, a game in which L.A. lost grasp of a 13-point third-quarter lead, Rivers depicted the defeat with a sentence of brutal honesty (h/t to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com): "I had to sub at some point."
That game had another typical showing from both the starters and reserves. Individual plus-minus isn't exactly the best stat to use for single games, but the following note has been true for enough contests this season that it's safe to say it isn't a fluke: Each of Clippers' starting five had a positive plus-minus against Atlanta. Each of the five reserves who played had a negative one.
Even during the Clippers' Christmas Day win over the Golden State Warriors, Crawford went to 24 and the rest of the bench combined for four points, two boards and three assists in 38 combined minutes.
As you can see in the chart below, the Clippers reserves don't look particularly impressive judging from the team's offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) or defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) when they're on the floor.
|Clippers bench players on/off the floor|
|Name||LAC OffRtg||LAC DefRtg||LAC Net Rtg|
The Clippers have negative net ratings when four of the five reserves in their rotation play. That's not something you tend to see on a team that's an alleged title contender, but it's happening in L.A.
Crawford is in the midst of another solid season which will net him Sixth Man of the Year consideration once again, but even his net rating, the only positive one among the reserves, is inflated because of all the time he plays with the starters.
It's been a common theme all year. The starters, who outscore opponents by 17.5 points per 100 possessions, build up a legitimate lead only to see the bench unit reverse the process.
There are so many issues plaguing this unit, whether it's stagnancy in the offense or the lack of rim protection or the absence of a wing defender—enough that the Clips have a bench problem which couldn't be completely solved with just one acquisition.
L.A.'s been fortunate enough to stay healthy, so the weakness on the bench hasn't killed Rivers' squad. But if the Clippers suffer some unfortunate luck, losing a major contributor for an extended period, they can't feel good about their replacement options.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work atWashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.