Larson: The genesis of this week's Clip Chat was complete farce. On November 23, 2015, the Clippers had just lost to the
Drakes Raptors, and fallen to a dismal 6-7. After starting 4-0, the Clippers had begun to spiral into a 2-7 tailspin, including having their hearts ripped out twice by basketball Terminator Steph Curry and the Warriors. There were a lot of reasons to start to question this team's title credentials, the biggest of which was their bench. Going into this season, many praised GM Doc for taking what little resources he had and assembling arguably one of the deepest teams in the league, and the strongest Clipper roster in the Chris Paul era. However, up until that point, the bench had been doing their best Jamal Crawford impersonation: they were hit and miss with the potential to for a stretch of hits, but usually a lot more misses. In a caffeinated rage seeking to exercise some demons, I wrote Caden the following email:
I think I know what's wrong with our bench unit this season. It isn't rebounding. It isn't defense. It isn't small ball. It isn't the new additions to the team. The problem is the Clippers are fighting a losing battle with destiny and their true selves. Instead of trying to replicate successful benches from the past or around the league, these reserves need to embrace their true calling. Going into the season the nickname for the bench was the Suicide Squad for obvious reasons related to their motley makeup. I want them to embrace that moniker; embrace it and be effing crazy.
We have Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith, who probably all think they are the best player in the NBA if given the chance to shine. Embrace that. I want the bench to have that unabashed, stupid heat check swagger that J.R. Smith or Justin Bieber carry with themselves all the time. I don't even care about them missing shots. Go down the floor and hoist as many shots as they want as long as they are trying their damn hardest because they really do think they're just straight better than their opponents. Being better means crazy effort on defense and crashing the boards on offense. Stop trying to harness the wild beast and simply let it out.
At times it feels like the second unit seems to rely upon Jamal way too much to create offense. Teammates should be getting into fist fights for the ball. If they're that crazy and aggressive against one another, how great will they be in attacking, maybe even literally, their opponents?
Here's the new go to play for the bench drawn up by assistant coach Lawrence Frank: Austin Rivers drives off a Smith pick and roll, tripping and falling, and by doing so clearing out his defender and those behind him creating an open lane. While on the ground, he somehow passes it back to Jamal Crawford who, seeing an open lane for a possible layup, decides to do a septuple crossover, waiting for the other team to get back up, so that he can take a contested mid range jump shot. But right before he releases, Lance comes over and steals the ball away, proceeding to then dribble it for another 8 second before shooting his own off balance fadeaway. He misses but Josh Smith jumps off the still doubled over Austin Rivers for the put back slam dunk. Paul Pierce just chills in the corner thinking about retirement. That's the Suicide Squad I want out on the floor.
At the time I wrote that email, I was 80% joking, and only 20% serious. Lance was in Doc's doghouse, with the ghosts of Jared Dudley and Spenser Hawes, and the Suicide Squad predicates on Lance Stephenson. But then, in the last 4 games, Doc has changed, letting Lance out of his cage and rolling with a bench unit of Austin/Jamal/Lance/Pierce/Smith, which has now played the 2nd most minutes of any lineup. Now, I'm 100% all on this idea; embrace the crazy Caden.
Caden: Larson, you're absolutely right. Critics admonish coaches for not altering styles to players' strengths. Well sorry Clipperland, the team constructed requires a little, or a lot of, craziness from the bench. Somewhere in the Book of Barkley can be found the sentence, "Erneh, every team needs a crazy guy to win a championship." The Clippers invested in crazy, and now it's time to liquidate their assets.
Letting players true personalities shine allows for more confident players. Almost any coaching hurts the Rivers, Crawford, Stephenson, and Smith squad. That core four seems to take constructive criticism personally, devaluing their confidence, and therefore their play. Reflect for a minute. Rivers excels when daddy gives him free reign. Stephenson did well in the Vogel, offensive-less Pacer system. Crawford won 6th man of the year when each possession was "give him the ball." Smith destroyed the Clippers when he disregarded every intelligent coach and analytics person by shooting threes. The recipe for bench success is absolutely no coaching. Let it happen. Instead of fighting the inevitable frustrating possession, what if Doc just said, "Go ahead and play. You guys won't listen to me anyways," while he turns to the nearest vendor for a beer. Statistically speaking, one of them has to catch fire. If they don't the lowered expectations from coaching won't hurt anybody. It's a no lose situation, except for maybe losing games. But the entertainment value certainly will increase with more lunacy.
Larson: If we want real lunacy I've got another idea to pitch to you. Trade: Lance Stephenson to the Lakers for Nick "Swaggy P" Young and the Lou "Drake Made a song About Me" Williams. Think about that lineup for a second. Austin Rivers/ Jamal Crawford/ Lou Williams/ Swaggy P/ and Josh Smith. That's the type of team I want going out and murdering other teams. ALL BUCKETS ALL THE TIME.
Caden: I disagree with your Stephenson trade for Lou Williams and Mr. Azalea. I counter with Cole Aldrich for Clipper legend, Reggie Evans. I'm on an airplane, wifi-less, and I'm not even sure if Reggie Evans is still in the league. But if you want crazy, this roster has to have Reggie. For a player who is so illogically bad at the purpose of basketball, scoring buckets, is there a player with more boisterous confidence? He's the physical wild presence the defense needs. He yells so much that the censor button employee will probably develop arthritis. He'll body check anybody. Evans does not have a violent history, but the way he plays makes be believe somebody is going to fight on every possession. Couple him with Lance's re-born crazy antics and we have technical galore.
Larson: Thank you for finally getting back to the only thing that matters, Lance Stephenson. Is Lance back? Have we seen Lance breaking out of his shell finally? I was totally kidding when I told you Doc should go all in on crazy in my email, but it seems like he's really doing it. In the game against the Blazers, Ralph, Mike Smith, and Kyle Montgomery kept giving these Doc quotes saying he wants Lance to be Lance and go crazy. Lance needs to be the alpha dog and leader for this Suicide Squad; they need to emulate and embody his energy and lunacy. The small ball unit is doing badly in rebounding? Watch Lance Stephenson go get 10 rebounds in 17 minutes, one that he literally ripped out of Josh Smith's hands, embracing my idea to fight each other for the ball. The second unit has a pace problem at times? Watch Lance sprint into four defenders on a one man fast break on every possession before completing some ridiculous pass to an open shooter. Want Lance to score a little more? He had probably his best offensive game last night against the Pacers. I mean how relentless is a bench unit featuring Austin Rivers and Lance just charging downhill to the basket. This is what Doc envisioned in the offseason, Lance being the spark off the bench and the lead ball handler for the second unit. Lance needs to be the leader and spirit animal of the second unit. I'm all in on Lance.
A lot of people have written off the idea of Lance and Jamal and Austin being able to play together, but what about Austin, Jamal, and Psycho Lance? They seem to be starting to mesh as they trade lead ball handling duties. Austin is learning how to make plays off cuts where Lance finds him at the only place he can finish, around the basket. Plus, with Lance and Austin out there, Jamal seems to have reigned himself in a little bit, not controlling the ball and looking to others, especially Smith at times on the pick and roll.
Caden: What could be this reserve unit's kryptonite is playing Paul Pierce and Jamal together on defense. Both are not good defenders, and Pierce has been terrible this year. Plus Paul Pierce somewhat hurts the ethos of craziness that stems from Lance, Austin, Jamal, and Smoove. He can't really run with them on offense in that up and down style, and isn't hitting his shots. I'd like to replace him with Wes or Luc, depending on who starts, to really ramp this group up to their full potential.
Larson: Hold on a minute. Remember that Finals game the Celtics had against the Lakers where Paul Pierce was carted off in a wheelchair only to gloriously return and win the game? What're the chances the NBA would just let him play in that wheelchair at all times so that he could keep up with Lance Stephenson on the court? Either that or the only thing he should be practicing for the rest of the season is trailing, fast break, top of the arc three pointers.
According to NBA.com's tracking stats, this season as opponents are shooting .4% worse on average when guarded by Jamal. Pierce on the other had has opponents shooting 3.2% better when he guards them. But, we live in an NBA world with a dearth of big men and usually you can find a back up big to hide Pierce on, or just put him on the worst offensive player out there.
This bench lineup of Austin/Jamal/Lance/Pierce/Smith has a defensive rating of 93.8, the lowest of any Clipper lineup that has played over 20 minutes this season. While that has some noise being a small sample size and playing weak opponents, it may point to some signs of sustainability. With engaged, full-tilt Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson, and Josh Smith in that unit, they're going to help cover up a lot of the defensive shortcomings of Jamal and Pierce.
I like this bench unit, and think with time they can learn how to grow and be successful. If Doc is going to stick to some degree of hockey line substitutions, as well as an affinity to Pierce, I believe this unit is probably our best option. Hopefully when the starting unit is intact and healthy, we can see a lot more out of the Suicide Squad. And hopefully Doc embraces the crazy.