Why Spencer Hawes Has Been Clippers' Biggest Bench Disapointment This Season

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2015

Dec 3, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Spencer Hawes (10) handles the ball as Orlando Magic center Dewayne Dedmon (3) defends during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Clippers bench has been a disappointment, and that starts with one of its newest additions, Spencer Hawes. 

Hawes signed with the Clippers this past summer for the full mid-level exception over four years in a deal that will net him almost $23 million during its duration. He was expected to come in and fix the Clippers' biggest weakness from last year: the hole where the third big man was supposed to reside.

But that's hardly happened.

A series of injury and performance issues have stunted Hawes' growth with the Clippers. Thirty-five games, one knee injury and a Tim Gunn-unapproved suit later, we're left wondering if the Clippers' biggest offseason gaffe was giving Hawes all that money and all those years.

You could argue Jordan Farmar is deserving of the "most disappointing bench player" title, too. The man who replaced Darren Collison hasn't exactly replaced Darren Collison. But on a one-year deal for the biannual exception—a salary that earns him about 40 percent of what Hawes makesthe financial impact just isn't the same. 

Hawes has averaged only 6.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per night and missed nine December contests with that bruised knee. And it's not like he's someone who hasn't had success before. In some ways, the fit—or lack thereof—is surprising.

It was fair to criticize the Hawes signing at the time of the deal but more because of the contract's nature than the projected performance. 

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Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Giving Hawes the full mid-level exception meant the Clippers were hard-capped, which eventually "forced" them into the Jared Dudley salary dumpa trade in which they gave up a first-round pick and one that is looking worse and worse every second. Had they split their mid-level exception between multiple players, that wouldn't have been the case. 

Still, the market value for Hawes likely dictated more than what he ended up getting from the Clippers. A little over $5 million was perfectly fair for a big man coming off a season in which he averaged 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting a superb 42 percent from long range. 

He was going to add stretch. He was going to add space. He was going to add competence from a third big-man spot that had been such a problem the previous three years. Instead, he's continued the Clippers' issues while posting an underwhelming 41-32-67 shooting line.

Hawes has been used strangely, too. 

How often did we see him fling fancy bounce passes with the Cleveland Cavaliers or Philadelphia 76ers? And how many times have we witnessed those sorts of dishes in Los Angeles?

The feel is just kind of awkward. Hawes will receive a pass and hold onto it for longer than he should, waiting for something to open up, but—of course—that falls on production from the rest of the bench unit, as well.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

The Clippers haven't gotten what they've expected from a reserve unit that has turned the roster into one of the shallowest among the NBA's top 10 or 12 teams.

Farmar has been hesitant as a cutter. And whether Hawes has teamed up with Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu or even DeAndre Jordan as his frontcourt mate, it hasn't really worked. 

He's not shooting at the clip expected of him. And it's not like he's a defensive presence who can provide much help other than swatting the occasional shot. With the dive Blake Griffin's defense has taken this year, the need for a defensive-minded big off the bench becomes even more crucial, but the Clips simply don't have that guy. 

We saw the perfect example of this in Monday night's game against the Atlanta Hawks, when the Clippers subbed out Jordan at the end of the third quarter and Atlanta immediately went on a binge at the rim. Hawes failed to help on dribble penetration in a timely manner; the Hawks went on a mini-run and led by eight at the end of the period on their way to a 107-98 victory.

This has been a theme for Hawes, and though he's hardly ever been a defensive stalwart, it's doubtful the Clippers assumed their defense would drop off to this degree with his presence.

LOS ANGELES, CA -  JANUARY 3: Spencer Hawes #10 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 3, 2015 at STAPLES CENTER in Los Angeles, California, NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

He needs another rim-protector out there with him for a defense to succeed, and the Clippers D is more than 14 points per 100 possessions better when Hawes plays next to Jordan versus when he's at the 5 by himself. That's the difference between the NBA's No. 1-ranked Golden State Warriors defense and the last-ranked Minnesota Timberwolves.

The problem is that with Hawes and DJ out there, the offense puts up significantly worse scoring numbers with a less mobile Hawes at power forward. It's a shame for someone who was supposed to make an impact as a 5 next to conventional or even stretch 4s. 

It's not at all too late to salvage Hawes, who's having his worst year in some time by posting his worst player efficiency rating since the 2010-11 season, per Basketball-Reference.com.

It's perfectly realistic that he can turn around his season at any coming minute, hour or day. He could start hitting his shots, slotting into the offense, meshing well with the other bigs and creating formative lineups with Jordan and Griffin.

So far, though, we haven't seen signs of a turnaround. It's been the same old story night in and night out for the Clippers, and if they want that to change, they somehow better start improving their depth. That starts with the man who they gave all that money to this past summer.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Jan. 6 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com 

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 on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.