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The Clippers' small forward woes

Matt Barnes won the job last year because Jared Dudley was so ineffective. This preseason, Barnes has been terrible, the other alternatives have been worse — and Dudley is red hot in Milwaukee. Sigh.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Life is funny sometimes.

Two years ago, Matt Barnes was coming off of a season with the Los Angeles Lakers, hanging out in LA and playing ball every day at the Clippers training facility. He signed a minimum deal with the Clippers almost as an afterthought, only to become a key reserve, splitting time at the small forward position with Caron Butler and more often than not finding himself on the floor at the end of games.

Then, a little over a year ago, the Los Angeles Clippers gave up an obvious impact player, Eric Bledsoe, along with Butler, in exchange for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. Redick and Dudley were penciled in from the beginning as the starting wings, in large part because of their ability to stretch the floor. Redick was the obvious choice to start at the shooting guard. The plan was for Dudley to take over the starting spot at small forward, with Barnes again playing the backup role.

Dudley battled injuries through the first few months of the season, but played through the pain because Barnes and some of the other Clipper wings had more serious injuries. Dudley wasn't healthy — but he was the healthiest of several Clipper wings, and stayed on the court to help the team.

A career 40 percent three point shooter, Dudley never looked like a serious shooting threat for the Clippers. Surrounded by great scorers, he got open look after open look, and just didn't impress in knocking them down. His percentage on the season — 36 percent — wasn't atrocious, wasn't below average, wasn't even "bad" by tradition measures. But it sure wasn't 40 percent, and it felt very far removed from his career numbers. Dudley started the first 42 games of the season, then lost the starting job to Barnes, and fell pretty far down the rotation. How far down? After playing 475 minutes in December, he played just 101 in March (partly due to injuries, it should be noted).

When Dudley lost the starting job to Barnes, no one lost any sleep. Jared Dudley has never much looked much like an NBA player. He doesn't really make plays, he's a poor rebounder, he can't stay in front of his man defensively. He's mediocre to terrible at a lot of basketball things (on an NBA scale). But he is smart and he could always knock down shots. Without the shooting, he had very little value to the Clippers.

So a couple of months ago, the Clippers traded the guy they'd traded for Eric Bledsoe. And they traded him for a couple of guys they then cut. And they gave up a second round protected first round pick in the process. In other words, they traded him for less than nothing, though they did gain some financial flexibility in the process.

All of which left Barnes — the guy the picked up on a whim two summers ago — as the presumptive starter.

Doc Rivers would love to bring Barnes off the bench. Barnes is a typical "energy guy," the kind of player who tends to do well with the second unit, where an excess of effort can overcome a lack of refinement. Going back to the Vinny Del Negro Clippers, Bledsoe and Barnes were really the keys to a very successful second unit. Rivers brought in a couple of project threes to vie for the starting job in preseason, while also hoping that second year player Reggie Bullock had taken a step forward. But after eight preseason games, Joe Ingles is gone, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Bullock are unimpressive, and it's clear that Barnes needs to start.

Not that Barnes has been good in preseason — quite the opposite, he's been extraordinarily bad. He made six shots in 44 attempts. He made one three pointer in 24 attempts. That's amazing. That's unheard of. But no one else stepped up, and with Barnes at least there's a presumption that he'll snap out of it, or perhaps just that he'll hustle after his own misses.

Meanwhile, in the NBA backwater of Milwaukee, the exiled Dudley has made 12 threes in his last 15 attempts. So yeah, life is funny sometimes.

Preseason doesn't count. We've said that plenty of times. But it would be a very "Clippers" thing if suddenly Dudley found his three point stroke, while Barnes' game remained completely missing. Hopefully that won't be the case, but the preseason certainly did not bode well.