Ever since his arrival in Los Angeles, Doc Rivers was supposed to represent the future that the franchise was apparently heading towards – i.e. a championship. The man had won one while at the helm of the Boston Celtics back in 2008 and appeared poised to help lead the Los Angeles Clippers there soon. Unfortunately, not all things are as rosy as they seem to be on the surface. If the first six games of this current season are of any indication, it looks like the boisterous head coach could be headed down a path that sees him unable to spot even the most simplistic of problems. Maybe the game has passed him by at this moment in time.
As great as a head coach as he happens to be, Doc Rivers still struggles with the fundamental ins-and-outs of managing a team on the court. While his X’s and O’s nature has earned him respect around the league, as has his ability to manage egos, his lack of understanding when it comes to rotations and strategy is currently what is holding him back. Whether you want to call him a great head coach or one of the top coaches in the game is entirely up to you. The issue at hand is his inability to spot things – basic things. The neighbors across the hall have a coach who can’t figure out what to do. They might not be the only team in STAPLES Center with that problem.
Time and time again to start this season Rivers has put his entire bench unit out there for vast stretches of time. While coaches can do this and get away with it for a few minutes here and there, Rivers insists on doing this each and every game for at least six minutes at a time during each half. The more it happens, the less it makes sense. Pointing to the struggles of Jamal Crawford is half of the equation. The other half is that a head coach knowingly and willingly thrusts him into the game for important minutes down the stretch when a wholly competent and impactful Lance Stephenson is right there on the bench. You know, the guy Doc Rivers traded for.
To date, Stephenson has played just one total minute in fourth quarters this season. That’s the lowest mark on the team. By contrast, Crawford leads the team with 47 fourth quarter minutes. Last night against the Houston Rockets, Rivers went to Stephenson in the fourth quarter for a whopping 43 seconds and had him intentionally foul once during that time. It’s a waste of resources by a coach who went out and sought extra resources this summer. It’s a marginalization of talent; plain and simple. In fact, Stephenson only played 7:23 in the second half. This isn’t just a Lance-vs-Jamal type thing, though.
So far this season, the team has played in six games. That comes out to 288 minutes. 53 of those 288 minutes, or roughly 18.4 percent of them, have been spent with zero of the five main starters – Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan – on the floor. In just six games, the Clippers have played the equivalent of basically one full game plus an overtime period without any of their starters on the floor. There’s only one phrase that comes to mind when seeing that – gross misconduct.
Compare that to the Golden State Warriors, for example. In the seven games that team has played, only 27 of the 336 minutes have seen the team without any of their five main starters on the floor. That means that Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, or Andrew Bogut have been on the floor for nearly 92 percent of Golden State’s minutes this season. It should shock absolutely no one that the more you play your best players, the better chance you have of winning games.
Not having Chris Paul against the Houston Rockets obviously hurt the team. Why wouldn’t it? However, it could have been avoided had Doc Rivers actually managed minutes and rotations better. He got outcoached by Kevin McHale. For a period of time during this game, the Rockets had James Harden or Dwight Howard in there against the entire Clippers bench. How do you think it went? Not well for the bench. Best played worst and best won. It takes simple recognition to avoid that type of problem in the future. The issue at hand is that Doc Rivers appears to not be paying attention whatsoever.
To compound matters against Houston, Rivers routinely put the team’s worst defenders on Houston’s best player. Time and time again, Jamal Crawford, Pablo Prigioni, or Paul Pierce would get stuck on Harden without any better defender taking the job. You can’t blame poor defenders for being beat like a drum when their head coach is the reason it’s happening in the first place. That’s on Doc Rivers. That’s on the coach. He owned it in the postgame press conference, but what took him so long to even realize it wasn’t going well? That’s just being late to the party.
Even going to the Hack-A-Whoever strategy bit Doc against Houston. He called for four intentional fouls last night. The duo of Clint Capela and Dwight Howard made 7 of the 8 attempts they shot during those situations. The final margin of the game was 4 points. You can do the math. While the non-goaltending call might be the most talked about missed call of the night, the fact that Doc Rivers went to the hacking strategy just shows how disjointed he has become. The fact he even resorted to the strategy and then opted to leave DeAndre Jordan in the game so that Houston could play it right back at him shows just how outcoached he was.
No one’s saying Doc Rivers is a terrible coach. No one’s saying he can’t dial up awesome plays and get the most out of certain players. The issue is that he fails at understanding simple things; things a coach who has been in the league as long as he has should understand with basic common sense. You don’t put your worst defenders on their best player. You don’t intentionally foul and leave your own poor free throw shooter in the game. You don’t play your entire bench together when they simply suck as a unit. You don’t continue to put your team behind the 8-ball.
This is no longer a team looking for quick fixes or anything like that. This has turned into a “championship or bust” type squad. You can still tinker with the final pieces, but you better know what the heck you’re doing. If you don’t, then you’re basically screwing over every single player who works hard on a daily basis because you’re not putting them in a position to succeed. Right now, Doc Rivers is hurting this team more than he is helping it. That’s a simple fact through the first six games of the season.
In a Western Conference that seems like it’ll be as tight as ever, every game matters. Yes, even right now. That game last night against Houston could be the difference between finishing second or fourth. You never know. Last season showed us that much. Doc Rivers can talk all about how much he believes this team can accomplish, but until he actually starts helping the team rather than hurting it, we won’t ever know how much they can truly achieve.