The Clippers have missed JJ Redick and Chris Paul desperately over the past four games, all losses. Redick played in the first contest, but Paul did not, and the reverse happened in the latest game against the Pelicans. In their place, the Clippers’ reserve guards— Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and Raymond Felton— have had to log much heavier minutes than normal. While none of those players is as good as Paul or JJ, have they really been the reason the Clippers have slid? The answer: not really. Here are their basic statistics over the past four games.
Raymond Felton: 7.3 points, 3.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game in 33.7 minutes. He shot 32.5% from the field and 9% from three while turning the ball over 1.8 times per game.
Austin Rivers: 16.3 points, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game over 32 minutes. Austin shot 43.3% from the field, 39% from three, and averaged 2.8 turnovers per game.
Jamal Crawford: 19.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.3 rebounds per game in 31.5 minutes. Jamal shot 43.6% from the field, 33.3% from three, and turned the ball over 3 times a game.
Jamal and Austin have been nothing short of terrific over this stretch-- they scored a lot while maintaining their efficiency. Considering both players have been mostly inefficient scorers during their career, this is about all the Clippers could have asked for. Yes, they both put up paltry assist totals. And yes, neither of them had a great assist to turnover ratio. But expecting Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers to turn into Steve Nash is just not realistic: considering their limitations, they played as well as the Clippers could have hoped.
Raymond Felton, on the other hand, struggled. He has been a pillar of the Clippers’ bench this season, a unit that has improved a lot of last year’s in large part due to his steady hand. However, he didn’t play well at all over this recent stretch. His being ill during the Mavericks and Lakers games excuses some of his poor play (playing an NBA game with the flu must be incredibly difficult, no matter the MJ Finals game), though he actually played worse in the two most recent games. The Clippers could have used a big game or two from Ray, and he just didn’t deliver. Expecting a minimum level player to take over the reins from Chris Paul is asking a lot… but those expectations were high mostly because of how well he had played so far this season. It’s just too bad he couldn’t come through against the Pelicans or Nuggets.
Look, it’s tough to win an NBA game without 3 of your 4 best players, even against relatively weak opposition. This is especially true for a team like the Clippers, which is built entirely around their star players and their relative strengths. The offense isn’t going to be as good as usual without JJ playing, as so much of the action revolves around his perhaps NBA-best ability to get open looks off of screens and picks. Chris Paul remains one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA, so it’s no surprise the defense fell off even with DeAndre Jordan active and healthy. Jamal, Austin, and Ray, while all fine NBA players, simply can’t replace what Chris and JJ bring to the table. There are few in the NBA who can.
Chris Paul is back, and looked healthy against the Pelicans on Wednesday despite a minutes restriction. He is ready to go against the Rockets tonight. JJ should be back relatively shortly, and is questionable for the Clips next game. Even without Blake Griffin, having those two players starting will make the Clippers a whole lot better. If Austin and Jamal keep up their strong play off the bench, and Ray returns to form, the Clips will once again be a tough team to beat.