clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ranking the Clippers Roster, Part 2

New, comments

We continue our breakdown of the Clippers roster in today's second unit-heavy edition of the player rankings. Are these rankings hot takes or cold truths? Let us know in the comments.

Harry How/Getty Images

If you missed Part I of this series, here's who we've ranked so far:

15. Diamond Stone

14. Paul Pierce

13. Brice Johnson

12. Alan Anderson

11. Raymond Felton

Today we're taking on #10-#6, including some controversial placements. Hate mail will be accepted through snail mail, fax, or telegram.

——————————— ———————————

10. Marreese Speights

Arguably the Clippers' biggest splash of the offseason, but only the second-best big they signed to a veteran minimum this summer. Speights is an elite mid-range shooter (42.3% and 45.5% on long 2s the last two years in Golden State) who added the three-pointer to his game last year (38.7% on 0.9 attempts per game in the regular season last year, which bumped up to 41.9% on 1.8 attempts per game in the postseason). So why is he ranked so low on this list?

Defense is certainly part of the answer; while Speights is skilled at drawing charges, he's not so good at protecting the paint. And he's not fleet-footed enough to shift down to the 4 and be effective on that end. The Clippers tied for 4th in defensive efficiency last year in large part because of Cole Aldrich's rim protection off the bench (Josh Smith gets some credit too). It's unlikely they'll place that high this year with Speights in the middle for large stretches of the game.

More importantly, it's fair to question his fit with the bench. Speights leaves the Warriors as the franchise's all-time leader in usage rate, and had the 11th-highest rate in the NBA over the past two years, a list dominated almost entirely by star players. He had the luxury of playing with low-usage bench teammates in Golden State in Livingston and Iguodala, but that won't be true with the Clippers. The famously ball-dominant Jamal Crawford wilted the first two months of last year when asked to defer more, and it seems unlikely he'll extend the courtesy again this year.

Something else to note: Speights will be this year's recipient of the 4th Annual Byron James Mullens Award, which goes to the Clippers' most heralded big man signing of the offseason. Like the three who preceded him — Byron Mullens, Spencer Hawes, and Josh Smith — Speights is touted for his range and ability to space the floor (even his very name — Mo Speights — celebrates this fact).

Previous winners don't have a strong track record with the Clippers; neither Mullens nor Smith lasted a full season, and Hawes only hung on because he signed a multi-year contract. All three ended up being outplayed by less renowned minimum bigs (Ryan Holiins, Glen Davis, and Cole Aldrich). Are we seeing history repeat itself this year with Mo Speights and Brandon Bass? Perhaps the biggest question about Speights isn't how he can help the Clippers come playoff time. It's whether he'll actually be on the roster by then.

9. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Like Speights, LRMAM is a bit of a one-trick pony, although he's gotten less acclaim for it. As one of the best wing defenders in the league, his impact far exceeds his statistical output. The Clippers didn't take off till after Thanksgiving, when they inserted Mbah a Moute into the starting lineup. That five-man group — Paul, Redick, Mbah a Moute, Griffin, Jordan — only had the best net rating of any lineup that played more than 250 minutes last year (bump down the minutes requirement and a few pop ahead, most notably the Death Lineup).

LRMAM wasn't in the rotation for the first few weeks of the season, but whenever he entered the game you could see how much better the bench played with him on the floor. Not only was his defense tremendous, but he was a fantastic team rebounder — while his individual numbers don't stand out, he had the highest on-court defensive rebound percentage on the team.

His defensive versatility can't be understated either. Night after night, Mbah a Moute drew the toughest defensive assignment from 2-4, from nimble guards to dominant wings to bruising bigs. Players he put the clamps on in games last year include Dirk Nowitzki, C.J. McCollum, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Anthony Davis.

Of course, his lack of range and offensive game limit his overall impact. Even in the regular season, teams doubled off him from the corner with impunity, something that only becomes magnified in the playoffs. It's worth asking if he'd be a better fit as a smallball 4 coming off the bench than as the starting small forward.

8. Jamal Crawford

Here's the deal with Jamal Crawford.

1. Ever since winning 6th Man of the Year back in 2014, he's been on a steady downward trend. He's now 36, and there's no reason to expect him to turn it around in the near future.

2. He plays worse when his role is smaller. Consider the first two months of this season, when he struggled while deferring to the rest of the Clippers' new-look bench. Consider also that in the five games he started this year, he shot a 62% TS% while making 45% of his threes; the rest of the time those numbers were 52% and 33%, respectively. Jamal needs his touches like a plant needs sunlight.

Jamal has never been particularly efficient to begin with, and his age he needs to defer to other players more than ever. Yet minimizing his role makes him wilt like a flower. You starting to see the dilemma?

He'll never be just a spot-up shooter (although to his credit, he's gotten better at that next to Chris Paul over the years) because he needs the ball in his hands to thrive. But he's no longer good enough that the Clippers can do that and yield positive results (depending on who you believe, he hasn't been for a while now).

Jamal's a leader of this team and his veteran presence is extremely important to his teammates. But if the Clippers want to take a step forward, he needs to take a step back. Austin Rivers demands more touches as he matures, Raymond Felton deserves a fair share, and usage rate supermassive black hole Mo Speights is in the room too. Playing next to Speights will also further expose both players defensively — the drop from an excellent rim protector in Aldrich to a bad one in Mo Buckets (for both teams).

Crawford in place of LRMAM next to the starting lineup will still be an elite unit (one that's actually gotten better over the years, with a +17.5 net rating in 84 minutes last season), but he'll continue to create problems for his bench teammates, ones that his strengths might not be able to compensate for anymore. The flashy highlights and occasional heroics will still be there, but they'll continue to decline in frequency.

This year, the Clippers bench won't go only as far as Jamal takes them, they'll only go as far as they can carry Jamal.

7. Brandon Bass

As you'd expect, the GM Doc jokes started flying when the Clippers announced the Bass signing. Bass was a starter for those late-era Celtics teams that challenged Miami in 2011 and 2012, playing a key role as the fifth starter next to Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. But people are missing the forest for some overripe, low-hanging fruit.

Brandon Bass is a really good backup big, and a near-perfect fit next to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Like, good as in "I don't know if I can think of five backup bigs in the entire West better than him" good (Cole Aldrich of course, but other than him the list is short — Ed Davis, Enes Kanter depending how you feel about him, maybe Nene or Brandan Wright when healthy). Remember that San Antonio was pursuing him this summer too, and he chose to sign with Los Angeles instead, leaving them to scramble for David Lee.

Bass was one of the Lakers' best players last season, and like with LRMAM his team tended to play better when he was on the floor (an impression confirmed by advanced metrics and on-off court stats). Although cast as a power forward his entire career, he played a lot of smallball 5 under Byron Scott, something he struggled with at first but became competent at as the year went on. Bass was an elite midrange shooter for many years, and although his percentages dipped he took nearly 60% of his FGs within three feet of the rim, finishing 2/3 of his attempts. Although not a great offensive player, he's undoubtedly an efficient one. He's a good defender, and his ability to thrive as a low-usage player bodes well for his fit with the second unit.

Right now it sounds like Speights is the third big, but I'd be very surprised if Bass didn't play his way into a key role sooner than later. He's one of the more underrated minimum signings this summer, and for my money the one who ends up making the biggest impact on this team.

6. Wesley Johnson

Wes Johnson? That Wes Johnson? Number six? Really?

WeJo's flaws are pretty obvious. He has no faith in his handle or his FT shooting ability, meaning he can't do much with the ball but shoot (and he's not particularly good at that either). He's a decent but not great wing defender when the Clippers need a top-notch defender at that position.

There's reason to think he could be better offensively this year. He struggled with plantar fasciitis in both feet throughout the season, which would correlate with a crash in his shooting percentages after a red-hot first few weeks. After shooting 37% and 35% with the Lakers in 2014 and 2015 (per NBA.com, 37% on open threes and 44% on wide open threes in 2014; 35% and 43% in 2015), he only shot 33% from outside last year (31% and 36%).

This drop came despite having more of his attempts coming in open or wide open situations, and a higher percentage of attempts coming from the corner. He improved to 42% from the corners last year (after 36% and 37% in his two years from the Lakers), but his above-the-break accuracy crashed precipitously to 23% (from 38% in 2014 and 35% in 2015). While his 3P% could improve, there's also a small chance that his corner percentage regresses.

Clips Nation staff noted last season that while WeJo wasn't a great on-ball defender, he was very good when it came to help defense and team defense. Defensive stats like RPM seemed to agree, placing him 4th among all SFs in DRPM (for reference, LRMAM would place 8th in that category, although ESPN has him listed with power forwards). This led to one source this summer calling him one of the offseason's biggest steals.

Johnson showed a remarkable ability to get his hands on the ball defensively, averaging 1.9 steals and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes. That translates to a 2.7 STL% and 2.6 BLK%, rates matched last season only by Paul Millsap, Nerlens Noel... and Cole Aldrich. That performance might be difficult to replicate or surpass this year, but odds are that WeJo will continue to produce as a good, but slightly underrated defender.

The one knock on Johnson is that we don't know how well he fits with the starting lineup. We do know that Johnson flourished in lineups alongside Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan after Blake's injury. But the starting 5 of Paul-Redick-Johnson-Griffin-Jordan had just a +7.5 net rating last year, the lowest of any heavy-minutes lineup with the Core 4. For comparison, those 4 with LRMAM had a +19.4 net rating, with Lance they were +19.9, and with Jamal they were +17.4.

On the other hand, there's a lot of noise in that sample— the starters with Wes only played 100 minutes all year, and were +16.9 through mid-December in 86 minutes. They were -59.2 in 12 minutes the rest of December, which shows you the volatility of small sample sizes (5-man lineup data isn't considered to be a reliable future predictor until you have more than 250 minutes played together).

——————————— ———————————

Although there's likely to be more consensus with the remaining 5 players, there's still one burning question left to be answered: Will Austin Rivers make the top 3?

CLICK HERE FOR PART 3 (#5-#1)