Addition by Subtraction?

In his comment following the victory over Memphis, among other thing, Citizen ZhivClip asked this question:

We know that the Clips just don't have very many wins, right?  Haven't an inordinate number of their rare wins--especially once you pull out the 4-0 start--come with Thomas out?

I started to rebut his statement in a reply to his comment.  The Clippers are in fact 3-11 without Tim Thomas this season, a dismal winning percentage far worse than their overall rate.  Back when it seemed to matter, we often made the point that the team was so paper thin that the margin for error was non-existent.  Missing anybody, particularly a competent offensive player, was an almost automatic loss.  And indeed the Clippers lost their first 8 games without Thomas.

But then I dug a little deeper.  Opening 0-8 in games Thomas missed also meant that the team was 3-3 in the last 6 without him.  And the overall record since the All Star break, with Cassell gone and Kaman missing or ineffective, has been abysmal.  So 3-3 in recent weeks does seem unusually good.

Indeed, since the Clippers beat Milwaukee on Feb. 11, their last win before the All Star break, they are 6-19 overall.  They're 3-3 in games without Tim Thomas; leaving them 3-16 with him!  Wow.  

But the case against him is circumstantial at best.  First of all, all three wins came against sub-.500 teams - Milwaukee, Sacramento and Memphis.  More importantly, Chris Kaman played (and played well) in all three of those wins, while he has missed 12 of the 16 losses with Thomas.  In fact, the Clippers recent fortunes are much more closely tied to Chris Kaman's presence than they are to Tim Thomas' absence.

Still, 0-8 early versus 3-3 late is pretty interesting, and there are several factors that may explain it.  Most importantly, Al Thornton and Josh Powell are much more capable of stepping in and producing since Feb. 21 than they were in late December during Thomas' first injury.  It's also true that Thomas has struggled with his scoring.  His three point shot has been completely missing since November.  He was 37 for 98 (38%) in the first month of the season.  He's 43 for 161 (27%) since.  And outside of a great stretch in January where he shot 52%, his overall shooting percentage has been in the low 40's all season.  Thomas is a poor rebounder, an abysmal offensive rebounder, and a weak defender.  If he's not scoring, he's not really helping a lot.  

Finally, there's the question of motivation.  Tim Thomas has never been the most self-motivated type.  He's always played best in the playoffs, and there's a reason for that.  And on the other end of the spectrum, does anyone really expect him to play well for a 50 loss team in late March?  I'm really not trying to bash him - he is what he is.  And look at it this way - if it weren't for the Tim Thomases of the world, we wouldn't appreciate the Tyler Hansboroughs nearly as much.  

Ralph and Mike have offered Tim a back-handed compliment a couple of times this season, and I've grudgingly come to accept it has having some merit - they say he's very easy-going, always in a good mood, doesn't get upset about stuff, fun to have around.  And it's true.  It's back-handed, because it's a sneaky way of saying that he doesn't really care that much about winning and losing, but by the same token, in a locker room with 15 guys, it could get pretty brutal if they were all living and dying with the won-loss record.  Not everybody can be Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant intense - that's part of what makes them unique.  And if everybody were that intense, teams would implode.  So easy-going Tim is a good guy to have around, as long as someone else is there to lead.  (Which also brings up the departure of Sam Cassell, his buddy and former Milwaukee teammate.)

I didn't really intend for this to be a long post,  but I do go on.  Anyway, I don't want it to be an "I hate Tim Thomas" post.  That's not what I'm saying.  Tim Thomas can be a terrific asset for this Clippers team next season.  He needs to re-locate his three point shot, and I assume he will.  His three point percentage this season is below 31%, far below his 36.6% career number, and equals his second season in the league for the worst of his career.  But he'll find his stroke, and using him to spell Elton Brand or Chris Kaman next season will open the post for the other one, and Thomas should get plenty of open looks.  Besides if this really can be a playoff team, Thomas' talents pay off even more when self-motivation becomes a non-issue.  

As for the rest of this season, if he's hurting, shut him down.  Brand will be back soon, and Thornton and Powell need the minutes more.  What are we really expecting Tim Thomas to contribute to a 50 loss team in March, anyway?  He is what he is.

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