"Who will be the starting small forward?" was one of the biggest preseason topics of conversation for the Los Angeles Clippers. Doc Rivers completely overhauled the position in the offseason, jettisoning last seasons SFs (Matt Barnes, Hedo Turkoglu, Dahntay Jones, Jordan Hamilton) and bringing in a new crop (Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson). Each of the three new guys got time with the starters during the preseason, but Rivers ultimately decided that Stephenson was the best fit with the rest of the starters.
Obviously, that hasn't worked out. Lance lasted just 10 games as the team's starter before being demoted to the fringes of the rotation altogether. He's played a total of just seven minutes in the three games in which he hasn't started, including a DNP-CD in last week's loss to the Warriors. Rivers cited a lack of spacing on offense as the primary reason for Lance's demotion, but who knows if that's really the case?
Pierce has started the three games that Stephenson didn't, with discouraging results. In his games as a starter, Pierce is shooting just 21% from the floor (33% from three) in 27 minutes a night. He was playing just under 21 minutes per game as a reserve, which is right around where his regular season minutes should be. After all, he's 38, and he was brought in to be a veteran presence that would be ready to contribute by playoff time. He's been flat-out overextended playing starter's minutes, and has looked overwhelmed as a result.
Johnson has become a bit of a fan favorite early in the season. He's easily been the Clippers' most consistent contributor on a bench severely lacking any sort of consistency, and he looks the most deserving of the lion's share of the small forward minutes. On top of being the club's second-best three-point shooter so far this season (37%, trailing only J.J. Redick), he's a capable defender. The case against simply promoting Johnson into the starting lineup is that his production is needed off-the-bench.
Luc Mbah a Moute is a name some fans clamor for, as well, but he seems best deployed as a small-ball power forward. He's a solid defender, but his lack of ability to shoot the three wouldn't alleviate Doc's spacing concerns.
Even though we're 13 games into the regular season, the "who should be the starting small forward?" question remains. Despite the argument that the bench needs his offense, Johnson seems like the best choice for the Clippers at the moment. Staggering the lineup to include a starter or two with the reserves is something Doc needs to be better about, because clearly the bench isn't capable of generating enough passable offense. L.A.'s starting lineup simply hasn't been as effective as they have been in years past either, and the addition of Johnson would be a nice way of helping to prop them back up.
Let us know in the comments which player you think should start!