If one were an optimist, they would say that this Clipper team is absolutely stacked with potential talent; they are definitely the deepest team in recent Clipper history, and may be the deepest in the league. If one were a pessimist, they would be worried about the extreme lower bound and potential for chaos this bench may have, and by the fact the Clippers have been the place many role players have come to die over the past few seasons. So in continuing with last Clip Chat's article, we'll take a look at the key reserves for this season and their Dopplegangers.
Larson: For the record I would like to say this Clip Chat took so long because Caden Kinard was lazy. It took you 10 days to write back to me, now I know how Noah felt in the Notebook when he felt abandoned, but still kept writing letters.
Caden: You didn't keep writing, you gave up. Unless you call your incessant texting writing, but I call it boredom. I'd like to apologize because I was living in a prehistoric area, one without Wi-Fi. It was a freedom I haven't felt since I was young—no social media, no iMessage, no reddit. I was like Kobe on that 2007 team with Smush Parker starting beside him, I just worried about me. Side note, I just re-watched the 81 point game, and you know what stuck out? How mundane his teammates reactions were. It was the most complacent mannerisms I've ever seen from people so close to history. I get a better reaction from meeting a random cat than Kobe received from Luke Walton at the end of regulation. Luke mustered enough effort to give a half-ass fist bump and an incredibly weak slap on the butt.
Larson: I would've loved to see you guard Kobe Bryant in that game. It was probably like when you tried to guard Stanley Johnson, the 8th pick in this year's draft, in high school summer basketball. If I remember right your strategy was to try and tickle him to throw him off. Let's look at who we expect to be the biggest contributors off the bench this season.
Larson: Let's start off with the Clippers' big offseason trade: Lance Stephenson. Coming off of an absolutely horrible year, hopefully this Clippers are getting a new an improved version of Born Ready; one can only believe the 8th Grader will be better player this upcoming season if only because it would be very hard to be worse than his previous season. On this team, Stephenson is going to have a very specific role: be the best wing defender on the team, make open three pointers, and bring some playmaking to the second unit. You know who that sounds exactly like? Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
On the Warriors Iguodala selflessly took a smaller role in coming off the bench, but always stayed ready to contribute when needed. His role for Golden State was very similar in that they often tasked him with guarding the other team's best player, let him run the break and push the tempo, and prayed he shot well enough from three to make teams pay for leaving him open. Looking at Iguodala's per 36 numbers from last year and Stephenson's from his final year in Indiana and the comparison becomes even sharper. The two had about the same assists (4.0 to 4.6), 3 point percentage (34.9% to 35.2%), efg% (both 54%), while Lance grabbed more rebounds and scored more points. Most importantly, if this offseason tells us anything, Lance is hopefully embracing the same team-first mindset of sacrifice as Iggy, already saying the right things regarding his limited role on the Clippers and coming off last year. While Stephenson may not have the same defensive pedigree or range as Iguodala, he can still be a terrific defender, guarding 1-3 including some of the bigger 3s/small ball 4s (he took on/blew on LeBron famously when on the Pacers).
Asking Lance to be replicate the Finals MVP's performance for next year may sound like an incredible task, but he is only 24 and will hopefully continue to get better. Who do you project Stephenson to be like?
Caden: Your Iggy take is one of the most seamless ideals we could have made. Igoudala personifies team basketball. Throughout every stint of his career he has played to make the team better, and he has always been a do-it-all player. Lance carries that same ability to do everything on the court. He led the league in triple doubles in the 2013-14 season. From a broken down, analytical, physical tool stand point Lance playing like Andre would be a blessing.
Stylistically, from more of an offensive standpoint, Lance could have a Manu Ginobili-like impact on the Clippers and each game. There's something immeasurable that happens when Manu comes in the game. Even at his advanced age, Manu will sometimes be a primary ball-handler for the Spurs. He slashes well, and has the talent to find passing angles that most cannot see. The ball movement on the team becomes crisper. Manu has always sacrificed his body, dove on the ball, played hurt, did whatever to win. The Spurs, for as long as Manu has been there, become a better team when he is on the floor. But what makes Manu so unique is his ability to energize the crowd. This comparison isn't about numbers, its about the narrative that shifts when Manu is in. Lance can do that! Lance can be a primary ball-handler, Lance slashes well, Lance can find passing angles that most cannot see. The Clippers have plenty of people capable of piling stats, but Lance has a chance to become a crowd favorite, just like Manu.
Larson: I think your vintage Manu v. Lance is an interesting comparison. One of the things that the Clippers will hope to get out of Lance is the type of swagger and attitude he played with in Indy, where his presence on the court changed the flow of the game, much like Manu. Hopefully for Lance he'll be able to do it with his offense, but primarily with his defense.
Larson: Because I'm still thinking of Golden State, what do you think of Josh Smith as a bigger, older version of Draymond Green. Their games have so much similarity in them, from flexibility to guard multiple positions on defense to their skilled passing ability to other teams disrespecting their three point shot by leaving them wide open; for oppositions it's a win if you end up with a Dray or Smith three usually. Obviously there's no one quite like Draymond in the league with his ability to switch and credibly cover almost every position, maybe Bron Bron if he's trying, but Smith can bring some of that defensive malleability to the Clippers. Hopefully J-Smoove will be able toggle between guarding 3-5, helping the Clips to play small ball. With Lance and Austin and Wes all being able to guard multiple positions, I wouldn't be surprised to see Doc employ a more switching heavy defense with the reserves in the style of Milwaukee or Golden State. That positional flexibility is something the Clippers haven't had before, and something that will definitely help improve a middling defense.
Second, I think Smith is a more athletic, and effective offensive player than Green. Smith has a better overall game with an ability to post and attack the basket, while Draymond usually looks to pass when run off the arc. Smith can also pass well, though his passes seem to either end up as assists or turnovers at high rates as Seth Partnow shows, maybe meaning he tries to be too clever. We've talked a lot about how Smith helps with defensive flexibility, but what that should translate to on the offensive end is a lot more small ball. If DJ ends up in foul trouble or needs is taken out because Doc wants to spare fans from watching an excruciating free throw exhibition, then Smith can slot in a small ball center, hopefully without giving up too much defensively and upgrading offensively. Imagine these pick and rolls with Blake, or even DJ, and start to salivate; Lob City just got it's newest member. Simply stated, Josh Smith is the best 3rd big that the Clippers have ever had in the Chris Paul era; that should help a lot this season. Hopefully they can keep him next year. What're your thoughts?
Caden: You're right, best case Josh Smith scenario is Draymond Green reminiscent, and there really isn't another answer. If both players hit their three's, the defensive game plan is ruined. Outside of Brandon Knight, Josh Smith might be the most caricaturized player in the league. Smith's career is one of the most affected by the rise of advanced stats. For somebody with his high of a skill level, his deficiencies are hyper-analyzed at an unbelievable level. By the basic criteria of a jump shot on stats provided by the NBA, he shot 26.3%. You would think that his three pointers would lower the percentage. Wrong! Josh Smith actually shot 30.5% from deep. So on basic jumpshots, his midrange was worse. Isn't that so strange? Hell, Josh Smith shot better from deep than Austin Rivers! Analytics have made Josh a more confusing, talented player than anybody in the league. From the left corner last year, he shots 38.5% from deep. In the right corner he shot an astonishing 48%! But, putting him in the corners takes away a lot of his other skills, such as ball-handling and passing. Then again he averages around three turnovers a game! Every good stat he has, he also has one bad one, it's absurd. You can drive yourself crazy studying Josh Smith. All this being said, J-Smoove is a good players and a steal for the Clippers. With the assets the Clippers had going into the offseason, he is the best big they could have acquired. He's going to be great as a short roller off a screen. Look at the first clip in the pick and roll video you linked, Josh reads Chandler, and once Chandler disengages and takes that half step to Josh, Smith knows to throw the lob. This year, teams are going to force Josh to shoot that, and he has to improve his finishing from the painted area. In the non-restricted paint he shot 34%. If he can improve that to even 44%, defenders will start creeping towards him, opening up the pass to DeAndre or Blake.
You mentioned switching and I've always believed the Clippers could have a game changing switching style of defense hidden in their arsenal. Or maybe a HEAT-style attacking and trapping defense. Obviously this would lead to other compounding issues, such as 4-on-3's and mismatches on the perimeter. But, used sporadically, these styles could really cause offenses to get out of their flow and ignite the fast break, where the Clippers thrive. This roster really gives Doc the chance to have some creativity offensively and defensively, and I'm hopeful he utilizes the flexibility of players' skills.
Caden: Wesley Johnson also has a chance to become a crowd favorite, maybe not for casual fans, but Clippers faithful could love him. Wes could be what Matt Barnes could never be, a younger version of himself. Last year Matt shot 36% from deep, which would only a 1 percent increase for Wes, but Matt's true shooting percentage was 57% compared to Wes's 50%. That's a realistic leap for Johnson to achieve, especially when the quality of his shots will be much better this year than last year.
Wes won't be as cerebral as Matt, but he can be scrappier and potentially a better defender. He has all the potential to guard the other team's best wing, hopefully the coaching staff can help with his technique.While looking at Wes, the first thing that sticks out are those rangy arms. Arms are usually the first thing I look at since I have little stubs. I'm 6'2'' with seemingly a 5' wingspan. Wes is 6'7" with a 7'1" wingspan. Look at his wings spread here. Like, holy shit, that block was so cool. Screw articulacy, Wes is going to be on the list of players on this team with Blake and DJ that make you make guttural noises because of his athletic gifts. During the regular season he will be splitting minutes with Paul Pierce, and, like Lance, his season will not be validated as much by numbers, but narrative.
Larson: As far as Wes is concerned, hoping that he can look like Matt Barnes is something I think many Clipper fans would gladly take. It's crazy to think just how far Johnson has fallen. In 2010 he was the 4th overall pick, someone you're hoping changes the franchise, and yet now he is praying he can live up to the production of a former D-leaguer. In reality, I think you could pick mostly any bench/role 3&D guy for Wes to try and aspire to and that would be the right comparison. What the Clippers need out of Johnson is to hit open 3's and hopefully develop on the defensive end.
A realistic player that I think personifies all those things is Quincy Pondexter. In his career, he has been tabbed by many to be the next break out 3&D guy, but for most of his career while the defense has been good, he has been an inconsistent shooter that grades out to be average or slightly above average. As a shooter, I think Wes needs to look at what made Pondexter so effective this last season with the Pelicans. Pondexter shot a blistering 43% from deep for New Orleans, largely because of his efficiency from the corners where he shot 53 and 42 percent. In comparison, last year Johnson shot only 38 and 34 percent from the corners, while attempting far more above the break threes by about 100 attempts. This season Wes will likely get more corner threes than ever before by design in the Clippers' offense, and if he could punish teams like Pondexter than would be incredible. It's much harder to cheat off of a running Redick or CP3/Blake pick and roll if you know Wes is burying that right corner three at about 48%.
As you pointed out, on defense Wes has many of the physical tools to be a plus wing defender, but has never put it all together. While he may be good on ball where he can focus primarily on his man, he often loses track off ball and doesn't really know where to be or how to help. Hopefully with Doc and the coaching staff teaching clear defensive schemes and principles, Johnson can up his BBIQ and flourish defensively. Johnson taking the leap could be extremely beneficial to the Clippers as it would allow them to rest Old Man Pierce much more regularly without the fear of drop off in production.
Caden: You're spot on, if he just fits the archetype of a 3 and D guy the Clippers got a steal. I just don't know if his jump shot will allow him to really make that leap to around the 40% mark. It's a smooth looking jump shot, but there is a lot of movement and it takes some time to release. Then again, he's never been on a good team, not even a winning team, so the mentality as well as the system is going to be a whole new world for him.
I'm not so sure if I like your Quincy Pondexter aspirations. Would that even be an upgrade? He barely shot better than Johnson. Johnson can do more with the ball. Johnson is more diverse as a defender. Johnson's PER is higher points and his is at 11.14, which isn't high, but Pondexter's was 9.94. Feel free to discredit me because I'm also on the "Quincy Pondexter is one of the most overrated, over-glorified role players" bandwagon. I would just rather have Wes's skill set than Pondexter's right now.
Larson: I like Pondexter because of how incredibly he shot from the corners last year. If Wes can shoot above 40 and 50 percent sitting in the corners that would go a long way to help the Clippers, especially with a bench bereft of shooters. I agree that Wes has the physical tools to be a more diverse defender than Pondexter, being able to guard 2-4, but he's just not as good of a defender as Pondexter. The leap from Johnson's play to Pondexter's isn't that big, which is why I think it's an attainable goal.
Larson: Staying with the New Orleans Pelicans, I want Austin Rivers to look a lot more like his former teammate Tyreke Evans next year. *Warning Small Sample Size Alert* If you look at just Austin Rivers's per 36 minute stats from when he was on the Clippers, they are pretty similar to the numbers that Evans puts up. The comparison continues as both are combo guards that can't really shoot threes or effectively run an offense. Their primary strengths on offense are their ability to drive as a "downhill guard" and finish in the paint and at the rim.
However, Doogie's biggest problem is that he just isn't that great of a finisher because he doesn't take the best shots even while penetrating. He often will throw up floaters or other midrange attempts that look good only when he's hot and brings the Spurs to their knees. Here's where he can learn from Tyreke. Evans is one of the best players at attacking the basket in the league. Last season he attempted over 700 field goals in the restricted area, that's an insane amount especially for a guard. For reference, Evans took about 250 more fga attempts inside of 5 feet last year than LeBron James. If Rivers wants to excel on offense, he needs to try and mimic the way Evans drives with aggression and purpose to the rim, not stopping for lower percentage floaters and runners. That likely means part of Rivers's offseason plan should be to hit the weights and try to put on some bulk to be able to finish and get to the hole more effectively.
As a defender, Austin impressed me last year, as I thought that was often the best contribution he gave the team when he was on the court. In some other ways, I want to make some parallels to when Eric Bledsoe was on the Clippers. While I don't think anyone believes that Austin will ever be quite the defender Bloodsoe was, he can have a place as a defensive first guard that can get to the hole, much like Bledsoe did. In backing up the greatest point guard in the league, I think Austin can also learn to be more patient and how to run an offense, much like how Bledsoe improved under the tutelage of Paul. Rivers would also benefit greatly from trying to further develop his three point shot like Bledsoe, who has become a competent shooter while with the Suns. What do you think of Austin Rivers becoming a very lite version of Evans and Bledsoe?
Caden: I like your Tyreke comparison a lot. They end up in similar spots on the floor, sometimes needing too many dribbles. With the ball, Reke and Rivers have a pretty strong first step and clip the hip of their defenders. Yet, defensively, they both don't utilize their athleticism. Both are above average athletically and have potential to be plus defenders, just haven't quite reached it. Austin did improve immensely defensively once joining his father.
I just don't know how much Rivers is going to have the ball is his hands this season. Last years team didn't possess the variety of ball handlers this upcoming team will have. My comparison, as with all my other comparisons for the bench, is more about style of impact than necessarily numbers. The playoffs really proved what Rivers is capable of - taking a game over for brief stints. Rivers has this incandescent swagger on the floor. He thinks he's better than everybody, as proved by this tweet. And you know what? Every championship needs that overly-but-perfectly confident role player. Who is that overly-but-perfectly confident role player that a Rivers dream season would be like? J.R. Smith. People aren't high on him right now, with his disappointing Finals performance and all, but he really is valuable for the Cavaliers. A good secondary ball handler, can start the offense when needed, can guard one's or two's, will shoot questionable shots with an unquestioned demeanor. Austin Rivers should be J.R.-lite. Rivers probably won't raise his three-point shooting to J.R.'s career level, but aren't we talking dream season? Austin shot 30 percent last year, J.R. shot 38 percent. They do similar things, they have similar attitudes, and secretly I want Austin to be brasher in the media.
Larson: I dunno if I agree with your J.R. Smith comp. Smith is such a better shooter than Austin it's hard to think of their games the same way. If Rivers is simply league average from deep this year that will be a big improvement. Though the thing about J.R. is he's a human heat check that can swing you a playoff game on his own, and Doogie did help the Clippers win two games in the playoffs, so... maybe you're on to something.
Caden: We haven't talked about Aldrich yet, but I see Kendrick Perkins similarities. Kendrick, at his best, was a defensive enforcer that willingly guarded other large men. Perkins was always a necessity for the Thunder when they played Memphis because Memphis had other large men. Well, Cole Aldrich is also pretty good at guarding large men. He's also pretty good at protecting the rim and serviceable scoring with a right hook, just like Perkins. While most advanced metrics almost favor Cole, most coaches would favor Perkins over Aldrich. To be clear, we are talking about Perkins from a few years ago, say the 2011-2012 version. Perkins has better stats in across the board in per-game metrics. He's just played more, except for the most recent year when Aldrich could inflate his stats on a devoid-of-talent Knick team. If Cole got his nightly minutes to about Kendrick;s 15-20, matched his averages of 5 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 block, would be huge for this team. Aldrich's career averages are 3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks. For him to be a reliable backup to DeAndre for when foul trouble occurs would aid the team; he be a great sub for a defense so reliant on one player. Also, able to play DeAndre less, minimizing injury opportunities and maximizing his health, would be immeasurable, but also mentally calming. The Clippers need somebody else able to anchor this defense. Last year, when Jordan was out, there would be a large drop off to his replacement. This year, Aldrich has an opportunity to be a reliable second center, rebound well, and protect the rim. Who's your comparison for Aldrich?
Larson: As far as Cole Aldrich, I think the Perkins comparison may be a little bit off. I'll fully admit I didn't watch much of those terrible Knicks last year, so my knowledge of Aldrich may be a little lacking, but he seems to have a more well-rounded, less specialized game than Perkins. This is all me saying I don't think Aldrich is anywhere near the defender Perkins was in 2011-2012, remember Perkins was being kept in the league basically because he was the only person that could defend peak-Dwight during those years. But at the same time, I think Aldrich has a little bit more offensive usefulness with at least a jump hook move and the fact he can hit free throws fairly reliably as a career 78% shooter. I would love for Aldrich to look like your version of Perkins, or even Bulls version of Omar Asik, a defensive 7-footer that may be slow, but can rebound well and protect the rim. I think he could be 75% of those players, and frankly I think that's good enough for what role he'll be asked to play, maybe 5-10 minutes off the bench. I was hoping that Aldrich would end up looking like a center version of Tyler Hansbrough, a high energy and motor big coming off the bench that isn't spectacular in any particular way, but just solid. While I have some reservations about how Aldrich will fit in Doc's system defensively because of the molasses-like way he moves on the court, I think this season should be one of defensive experimentation for Doc and Lawrence Frank, especially with how versatile all of the players are.
Caden: You're thinking more Celtics Perkins. Perkins did well against Dwight because he was one of the few oversized centers that Dwight couldn't physically dominate, and it's not like Dwight has an array of post moves. Hell, Dwight has virtually none. The best description of Dwight I've ever heard is Dwight is LeBron James if LeBron didn't have the work ethic. LeBron still would have athletically dominated the league, just like Dwight, even without his superb work ethic, but Lebron earned his next-tier greatness. Dwight, well, he just hasn't really progressed, but he still might be the best center in the league by pure innate attributes. I believed Aldrich could be like the Perkins on the Oklahoma City finals team, maybe not the right answer against small ball, but when called upon, will play defense and hopefully make lay-ups.
Larson: The only key bench player we haven't gotten to yet is the polarizing Jamal Crawford. So many Clipper fans are divided on him because this past season, and specifically in the playoffs, he just hasn't really scored, something that can be bad when basically your entire reason for being in the NBA is to put the ball in the basket. If Jamal can't score with any semblance of efficiency it hurts the team with him being on the court as a minus defender and taking shots away from the best offense in the NBA. Then there's the questions of how Jamal will fit with the rest of the second unit, with many players that want or need the ball to be effective, as well as the well established rumors the Clippers have been shopping him the past couple seasons.
I'm not sure we'll see Jamal on this roster post trade deadline, but if I had to choose the best version of Jamal for this team it's this, going full Nick Young Game 1 against Memphis in the historic 27 point comeback where he hit three 3's in a minute. Everyone can make fun of Swaggy P for celebrating 3 pointers before they actually go in, but in that game he was MONEY for the Clippers. And to think we got him for Brian Cook that year. Everyone always talks about how Jamal Crawford has the potential to get hot and win a playoff game by himself, and that's why he's so valuable to the team. Well that's what Nick Young did for us in that comeback and that's what I want to see out of Jamal. But more importantly, I want to see Jamal do it like Nick Young did in that game, as primarily a catch and shoot three point threat that doesn't bog down the offense trying to go 1 on 1 to take a contested mid range jumper. Jamal shot 38% from three on catch and shoot situations. If he took even one dribble, that percentage plummets down to about 28%. With all of the pieces Doc has brought in for this bench, Jamal doesn't have to carry the offense nearly as much as in past seasons, and could even do well in a more conservative role. What do you think for Jamal
Caden: Oh man, Jamal. The additions to this team were great for everybody but seemingly Jamal. Last year, he was essential for the second unit. Essentially, the second unit offense was Jamal. His creativity to score the ball is elite, and he's the best in the league at drawing fouls on three pointers. He's the career leader in 4 point plays with 44 in his career. That's not including the numerous he was fouled and didn't convert. It sure isn't talked about much that Jamal shot 90 percent from the free throw line last year. He gets the ball and wants to score, and with the lack of scorers last year, sure, it worked. Now he has teammates that can score, so he won't need to play hero offense. I'm attempting to get at is the fact the ball will not be in his hands as much. 44 percent of his shots last year came with three or more dribbles. He scored the 12th most post in isolation in the league, and averaged over a point per isolation, which was higher numbers than guys like Lebron, Harden, Carmelo and even CP3. That's good Jamal. Good Jamal is captivating with mesmerizing handles. He's near top of "no, noooo, NO...YES!" list. He stupefies the crowd and benumbs defenders. Good Jamal is a first-class scorer. Sadly, there's a bitter hangover with his latest postseason performance. In isolation his scoring production dropped to 0.75 points-per-iso while shooting 34 percent on those plays. Bad Jamal. Team ball movement is minimized when Jamal is playing. When he makes his shots, he's a major asset on the court. When shots are not falling, how many other reasons are there to play him? I'm with you, not entirely sold he is guaranteed to be on the roster at the end of the season, but if he is, Jamal's going to get more of his scoring from the catch and shoot variety, from which he shot 38 percent behind the three point line. I'm really not going to digress into his "dream" season because he is such a proven commodity. He's a joy to watch on offense and on the other side of the ball, he has you longing for me. His style of play will not differ, no matter whom he plays with. He's Jamal Crawford. Other players can go about their style of play differently, Jamal won't, and I don't think he should. Teams need scorers. The Clippers needed him the past couple of years, but do they need going forward? Hopefully he stays around, because he really is one of the most fun players to watch.
Larson: And that wraps up the Doppleganger comparisons for the projected key reserves on the bench. Next week we'll complete our roster coverage with the end of the bench guys and camp invites. For now, join in on the conversation and tell us your thoughts. If you agree or disagree or think we're idiots.