The game against Phoenix displayed a short-handed Clippers squad that eventually the refs amputated. Blake Griffin received his second technical foul early in the second quarter. No Chris Paul, no J.J. Redick, and then no Blake. Following the ejection, hierarchal order determined the team belonged to DeAndre Jordan, right? Honestly, it was hard to tell. It is hard to score when missing the three best offensive players on the team. The pressure to score multiplied by the fact Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe decided to enter into the "best backcourt in the league" discussion. The Kentucky graduates scored 63 points on 35 shots. I'm not Kirk Goldsberry, but I created a shot chart that closely represents Knight and Bledsoe's game against the Clippers.
Down three starters, Clipper newbies played an increased role. Pablo Prigioni started and played an average game, albeit not inspiring. Paul Pierce replaced Griffin at power forward for the second half. However, "replaced" is too strong of a word. Pierce played only 7 minutes and 2 seconds - all in the third quarter - and ghosted. The future Hall-of-Famer missed one three-point attempt, stole the ball once, fouled once and finished minus-10 in 7 minutes. Blame cannot all be placed on Pierce. The team never focused on getting him the ball. However, supposedly Pierce was the missing link for championship success. Against Phoenix, he went missing. If Pierce can't produce in the flow of a game with three starters missing, ClipsNation should be a little concerned. Josh Smith continued his offensively inept season. One silver lining existed in the game against Phoenix. The Clippers twitter sphere took notice.
#FREEWEJO! Wesley Johnson deserves more minutes. Well, maybe other wing players deserve less. Either way, Johnson needs to see the floor more. For years the Clippers searched for a wing player to knock down three's and play adequate defense. Doc, the man might be on the bench! He's got hoop dreams - just give him a chance! Against Phoenix, Wesley played the most minutes in the second half. He scored 11 points and shot 50-percent from range. Can Johnson be affective with the starters? Who knows, only meaningful minutes will tell. Against Phoenix, he showed that Doc should try.
Here, late in the third, Wesley Johnson spots up in the corner. The under-out play dictates a diving cut from Jamal Crawford down the lane. Jamal primarily scores for the Clippers with Paul, Griffin or Redick out. Guarding Wesley in the corner is TJ Warren, who knows the scouting report. Jamal is option one and cheats, leaving Wes in the corner and crashes on Jamal. Prigioni locates the wide-open Johnson and slings the ball to the corner. Confidently, Wes catches the ball and makes the three.
Really this play doesn't so much except for Johnson's catch-and-shoot ability. Wait... That's what the Clippers need! Warren left WeJo for Jamal. Imagine if Blake, Chris, DJ, or Redick dove down the lane. For years defenders cheated off Matt Barnes to help on those four. Matt Barnes serviceably shot open threes. For his career, Wes possesses a worse three-point shooting percentage. But, for many years, Johnson played on lesser teams unable to produce open shots. I wrote the player preview for Wes. In the preview I explained how Wes shoots better on open shots than Matt Barnes. This year proves no different. With zero defenders within 4 feet, Johnson is shooting 45.5-percent from deep.
Again, Johnson stoically stands in the corner. The Clippers run a HORNS set, with two men at the high post. With two bigs at the high post, the Clippers constantly utilize Blake and Josh Smith's passing skills from this region. Prigioni enters the pass to Smith, cuts to the corner, pushing Jamal up for a dribble handoff. Sonny Deems denies Crawford's advances for the handoff, and Crawford adeptly backcuts Weems. Smith delivers the pass to Crawford, who passes it to Johnson in the corner for the three.
This play doesn't show much. Yet, it shows how Johnson would thrive in his starting role. Wesley perfectly sets his feet, generates lift, and confidently makes his third three of the game. Basketball isn't always beautiful. Often, players stand too much rather than cutting or setting screens, although, it is a skill to be ready despite inactivity within a system. With a team full of ball dominant players, Johnson, Lance Stephenson and Pierce go minutes without touching the ball. This season, according to basketball reference, Johnson boasts a better shooting percentage, turnover rate and PER than the others. Johnson's 125 offensive rating is 25 points better than Pierce and 40 points better than Stephenson's. These stats are skewed because of minutes and opportunities, but all numbers do correlate that Johnson makes the most of his chances.
Defensively, Johnson ties with Pierce between the three small forward options for best defensive rating. Not perfect, but Johnson noticeably improved his defensive awareness. This possession late in the third illustrates Johnson's attentiveness on the defensive side. During the Brandon Knight and Alex Len pick-and-roll, Johnson helps, stationing himself between man and ball. Johnson does not help too much one way or the other, and perfectly places himself in the spot to take a charge if Len gets the ball or recovering to TJ Warren in the corner. Josh Smith deters the pick-and-roll more than Johnson, forcing the pass Jon Leuer. TJ Warren receives the ball then a screen from Alex Len. Johnson never allows himself to become unattached from Warren. Him and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute superbly corner Warren and suffocate him as he dribbled baseline. Warren passes out to Leuer, who drives middles, forcing Mbah a Moute to step up and help. Johnson's secondary help deflects the pass to Len ending the possession.
A lot happens and each time Johnson made the correct decision. Each rotation Johnson moves to the right spot. Physically, Johnson should be a good defender. The mental aspect mired his potential. Wes's tutelage under Doc Rivers and co. contributes more credence to playing more. Paul Pierce will start against the Warriors. If Pierce doesn't shine, it is only a matter of time before Wesley Johnson gets his chance.