Adithya: I thought this had all settled dow for the most part last month, as the Clippers sent Josh Smith packing before settling comfortably into a 10-man rotation (with the occasional Lance Stephenson cameo). But when Austin broke his hand, those decisions became even easier. The Clippers had a dynamo starting unit, and anyone who wasn't part of that group got minutes off the bench; everyone who needed to play got to play.
Now suddenly, it seems like everything is in flux again. Jeff Green replaced Stephenson, C.J. Wilcox unleashed the greatest 90 seconds of his career on the Warriors, and Austin Rivers should be returning in a week or two to muddy up the picture. Once again, it seems like there are more Clippers deserving of minutes than there are minutes to go around. Plus, it's only a matter of time till we start to consider if Jeff Green should be starting.
Larson: You would think having a plethora of players that are deserving of minutes wouldn't be a bad thing. But the problem lies with having an abundance of average players, each flawed in their own way, that doesn't allow Doc to separate the wheat from the chaff. As Lucas and I discussed before when considering the rotation, this problem is a really hard one. It's not something that has a simple, or obvious solution.
Adithya: Plus, all these rotations questions come right as the Clippers are about to enter their most perilous stretch of games, all while trying to sneak up on Oklahoma City. How do you feel about the depth and rotations of this team? How does the imminent return of Austin Rivers, and not so imminent of Blake Griffin, change things for you?
Larson: As I see from what you're saying, there's two problems that the Clippers will encounter going forward with their rotation: 1. What do for the rest of the time with Blake out; and 2. What to do once Blake returns, primarily looking at the puzzle of playoff rotations.
Let's address #1 quickly. Austin Rivers is supposed to be out until around the end of next week, and while Doogie is on the mend, the rotation for Doc seems pretty straight forward. There's 10 guys that should be playing, which is perfect for Doc's preferred hockey line substitution pattern. Doc can go 5 in with Paul/Redick/Luc/Pierce/Jordan and 5 out with Pablo/Jamal/Wes/Green/Aldrich. There is room to debate whether Green should take over the starting spot from Paul Pierce, and he probably will eventually. In the short term, it's not the worst thing to give Pierce limited minutes with the starters, where he at least can be next to DJ and Luc to cover for him, and theoretically he's a better shooter than Green. Plus it will allow Green more time to acclimate to the team and learn the systems with less pressure. Maybe C.J. Wilcox gets spot minutes every now and then, but this 10 man rotation seems pretty easy.
However, once Austin is back, we're left with 11 dudes for seemingly 10 spots. So who's going to be the odd man out?
The easiest answer to this question, especially from a basketball perspective, is Paul Pierce. i know that Doc may want him to get nominal minutes partly out of respect, and partly in an effort to hope he can get into a rhythm come playoff time. But it's time to start asking if Pierce is playable anymore. He's been bad for large portions of the year, and yet there's a tiny part of me that is a Truth-er. I just feel like Pierce is kinda sand-bagging, and that he has more left in the tank than he's showing right now. For instance, he'll have rare moments when after a foul or a play, or after teasing from Chris Paul when playing Brooklyn, he'll just go up and dunk in a way that makes me think whhhhhatt? (I get this same feeling like every 10 games when Luc Mbah a Moute does something pretty athletic).
Adithya: Of course the obvious answer is Paul Pierce. Unfortunately, i have to disagree with you that he's leaving stuff in the tank, at least not enough to make him a positive playoff contributor. Honestly, the way he's played this year, I'm not sure he could have cracked last year's bench if he wasn't Paul Pierce. I'm probably overreacting a little to the last few games, but at this point Wilcox may be more of a plus than Pierce on the court.
I like Pierce, and I wish this year had gone better for him, but at this point it's clear to me that he doesn't really have anything left in the tank. His presence sounds like it's had a positive impact on his teammates, but the only reason he's a positive presence on the court is his reputation, which spaces the floor because of the name on the back of his jersey (much like Danny Granger down the stretch of Game 4 in OKC two years ago).
The reality is that Pierce is going to stay in the rotation regardless of what happens to anyone else. When Austin Rivers returns, Wes Johnson is going to fall out of the rotation,and Prigioni or Aldrich will likely follow when Blake comes back. Pierce is going to be entrenched in the rotation come playoff time, and I'm not sure that will change even if the Clippers go down 3-1 to the Warriors.
Larson: Let's put Pierce in a cryogenic chamber until May hypothetically, are we just assuming Green takes his spot with the starters? From there we have a bench of Pablo/Austin/Jamal/Wes/Aldrich, a group that we've seen a lot. That is actually the 4th most used lineup for the Clippers this season, and it's not great defensively and offensively, giving up a negative 7 net rating (there's some noise because of the small sample size and nature of their minutes of course).
Here's a slightly different idea: start Wes Johnson instead of Green. Play Wes at the 3 with Luc at the 4. Doc already plays this lineup quite a bit (it's the 5th most played), as he subs Pierce out for Wes pretty early, and it's had shocking success, outscoring opponents by 16 points per 100 possessions.
The rotation could roughly look like this minutes wise. There's even some wiggle room for Pierce in there if you want to find it. What do you think?:
|Paul - 10||Pablo - 2|
|Redick - 9||Austin - 3|
|Wes - 6||Green - 6|
|Luc - 7||Jamal - 5|
|DJ - 11||Aldrich - 1|
|Pablo - 4||Paul - 8|
|Austin - 4||Jamal - 2||Redick - 6|
|Jamal - 4||Wes - 6||Jamal or Green - 2|
|Green - 8||Luc - 4|
|Aldrich - 4||DJ - 8|
Adithya: In this alternate reality where Pierce falls out of the rotation... I completely agree on starting Wes Johnson alongside LMAM. He's been great in those games where Pierce rests and WeJo starts (although the net rating of that lineup may be skewed by those starts coming in games against the likes of the Sixers and Lakers).
Plus, this also lets Jeff Green continue to come off the bench, a role where he found the most success in during his time in Memphis. While Rivers is still out, you'd have Wilcox taking Johnson's spot on the bench (so a second unit of Prigioni/Wilcox/Crawford/Green/Aldrich). This works with the first set of proposed rotation you proposed if you sub in Wilcox for Doogie, though you could cut C.J.'s minutes a little and give more to Jamal or J.J.
Larson: On to #2. In the first scenario, we were dealing with 1 man out, Pierce, of Doc's proverbial 10-man rotation. But once you throw Blake back into the mix, now another guy has to get kicked out, which seems hard to do. Then you have to start to think about the playoffs, where it just doesn't seem quite tenable to play 10 guys, and most coaches shorter their rotations to about 8, especially as star players reach into the 40s in minutes.
Let's look at a potential playoff rotation with the Clippers top 8 guys: Paul, Blake, Redick, Jordan, Green, Wes, Jamal, and Austin. Luc can be a break glass if needed defensive guy and Aldrich, while impressive thus far, probably shouldn't be getting minutes in the playoffs. Here's the framework I'm working with minutes wise:
|Paul - 10||Austin - 2|
|Redick - 9||Jamal - 3|
|Green - 6||Jamal - 3||Wes - 3|
|Blake - 8||Wes - 1||Green - 3|
|DJ - 12|
|Austin - 3||Paul - 9|
|Jamal - 3||Austin - 1||Redick - 8|
|Wes - 3||Jamal - 3||Green - 6|
|Green - 3||Wes - 1||Blake - 8|
|Blake - 4||DJ - 8|
That 8 man rotation has Blake and DJ carrying the blunt of the minutes at 40 a game, Paul at 38, Green at 36,Redick at 34, Jamal at 24, Wes at 16, and Austin at 12. Of course a lot of this will depend on a variety of factors like matchups, foul trouble, injury, who's hot that night (in terms of Jamal), and it also largely depends on the assumption Doc will stagger his lineups to make sure that either Blake or DJ is always on the floor, and either Blake or Paul always on the floor to run the offense. A lot could change, but what do you think of that as a preliminary rotation?
Adithya: I agree on cutting out Aldrich and Prigioni for the playoffs, since I agree either Blake or DJ needs to be always on the court (presumably with Luc or Green playing the 4 when one of them is out). In think I'm a bit more positive on LMAM than you are, I think he still has a place in the lineup for a few minutes a game if he's used as the backup small ball 4 rather that starter. Otherwise, your minutes distribution seem pretty reasonable.
Ideally, you don't start playing Paul/Blake/DJ 40 minutes a game until the second round, sine you don't have to face an opponent of the Spur's caliber from last year. Hopefully, they don't run into any issues of exhaustion till the WCF (at which point you don't care because gosh darn it they finally did it!). But I'm a little concerned about whether Chris Paul is going to be healthy when the playoffs start, considering he's picking up a new bump or bruise every other game now, while carrying the offensive load.
Larson: As much as I'd love to catch Oklahoma City and avoid the Warriors in the second round, I would rather prioritize Paul's health, which may be hard to do with the coming schedule. Tell us what you think of how the Clippers should organize their rotations! (I'm going to set the over/under of "Pierce is done" comments at 10, and "Doc sucks/Doc plays favorites at 4.")