The operative words for the Los Angeles Clippers' new roster are depth and versatility. At least that's what Doc Rivers would have us believe. The question is, will it actually help?
There's little doubt that the Clippers have gotten deeper this summer, as they've seemed to during each year of Doc Rivers' tenure as head coach. At this time last season, the Clippers second unit consisted of Jordan Farmar, Jamal Crawford, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Glen Davis and Spencer Hawes. On paper at least, that group is no comparison to Austin Rivers, Crawford, Lance Stephenson, Wesley Johnson and Josh Smith. Not to mention that the 11th through 15th players look much stronger also.
Of course we were saying something very similar about depth at this time last season. It turns out the games are not played on paper, and while player performance is fairly consistent from year to year in the NBA, if a couple of players have a down year (as Farmar and Hawes did last season), it can sink an entire unit.
So the Clippers' "improved depth" may come down to how players like Stephenson and Smith actually perform. These are guys that have vacillated between borderline all-stars and roster deadwood in the last few seasons. Which version the Clippers get will determine just how improved the depth actually is.
But then there's that other word — versatility. As of this moment, it would seem that when Doc goes to his bench, regardless of the specific makeup of the lineup, it will be one that eschews traditional roles. Austin Rivers has never been a traditional point guard, and while Cole Aldrich may be called on to provide some minutes as a traditional five, it's safe to say that the bulk of the time that DeAndre Jordan is on the bench the Clippers will play small. But versatility is real and it could be a distinct advantage for the Clippers' reserves.
The Clippers' top reserves are not without faults, but there's no question that Stephenson, Crawford and Smith can all make plays. When the team first acquired Stephenson the question seemed to be whether he and Crawford, both players who need the ball in order to be at their most effective, could co-exist. That question is still there, but Doc seems to be throwing it right back at the rest of the league. "Who is going to handle the ball for the second unit? I don't know — but neither do you, so you'd better be ready."
A second unit with Rivers, Crawford, Stephenson and Smith could see any one of those four bring the ball up the court; any one of them could initiate the offense, go to the rack, or set up a teammate. Toss Paul Pierce or Blake Griffin out there with them and it's a five-man group of flat-out ballers. Playing up-tempo, pressuring the ball, pushing the pace to look for early offense, it could be a thing of beauty — or it could be a mess.
Will it be controlled chaos? Or simply chaos? The answer will determine just how much better the Clippers second unit will be this season.