A Tribe Called Bench, Then and Now

USA TODAY Sports

As you might guess, the Clippers haven't been as good in 2013 as they were in 2012. The record shows it, and the data (primarily team offensive and defensive ratings) supports this notion. Some of mainstream media would have you believe that it's because the Clippers' bench isn't dominating like they were. Well, I'm here to tell you that they're wrong.

TJ Simers recently wrote an article about the Clippers, where he agreed with our old friend Charles Barkley about a lack of Clipper-toughness. That's all well and good because "toughness" isn't something that can be measured, and who am I to disagree? No, that's not where I take issue. Simers went on to make the following statement:

The Clippers began with their second unit often playing better than the starters. The Clippers beat San Antonio twice, whipped Miami and won 17 games in a row. But they've lost a bounce to their step, the second unit no longer dominating, and Memphis, Denver, Oklahoma City and San Antonio look like tough outs.

The part that stuck out to me was the bit about the Clippers' bench. It just didn't sit right with me. Like Simers (and Chuck and Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smith) I had a gut feeling that made me want to comment. I wanted to say, "No way, that's not true. The Clippers' bench still wins games all the time!" But unlike Simers, I didn't decide to just say things without first doing a little fact-checking.

Note: I'm defining the Clippers' bench as Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and Lamar Odom. Also, I've taken out the period where Chris Paul was injured (1/22/2013 to 2/6/2013) as Bledsoe started these games and threw off the bench rotation.

First, I compared how the bench group performed prior to the Chris Paul injury on 1/21/2013, and after he returned on 2/8/2013:

Pre-Injury

Post-Return

FG%

44%

49%

3P%

33%

44%

PTS

39.2

39.3

REB

14.9

12.8

AST

8.3

8.8

STL

4.5

3.9

BLK

2.7

2.4

TOV

5.8

6.5

Oh look, the bench has been almost exactly the same after Chris Paul's return than they were before his injury.

First off, the bench has scored the same number of points per game, which I would have expected to be the first thing someone like Simers would have checked. Sure, they aren't rebounding quite as well, and there are some minor dropoffs in steals, blocks, and turnovers, but they are scoring far more efficiently (on the same number of FG attempts), especially from beyond the arc.

But hey, I know that small sample sizes can create problems, so I decided that a better comparison would be 2012 vs 2013. I mean, 2012 ended with a 17 game winning-streak, so this would be the ultimate test. Was the bench responsible for the Clippers' hot first half, and now to blame for their slightly less awesome second half? Well, here's your answer:

2012

2013

FG%

45%

47%

3P%

33%

41%

PTS

39.0

39.8

REB

14.5

14.0

AST

8.2

8.7

STL

4.6

3.8

BLK

2.6

2.7

TOV

5.9

6.1

Yep. TJ Simers couldn't have been more wrong. The 2013 bench is almost identical in every way to the 2012 bench, except they score much more efficiently from downtown. Again, in an effort to be completely fair and transparent, I checked the true shooting percentages, and overall the bench is scoring more efficiently (54.3% in 2012 to 56.6% in 2013).

So the question remains: have the 2013 Clippers been worse than the 2012 ones? Yes, they've been a little worse, but it's not because of a lack of production from the bench. There are plenty of other reasons as to why the Clippers are not quite as dominant, but bench production is not one of them.

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