The Clippers came into the season with a boatload of players who had been regular rotation players throughout their careers and one rookie who would demand playing time right away. In order to accommodate his deep roster, head coach Doc Rivers has had to shuffle his rotations throughout the season. While the starting lineup has remained mostly consistent (LA has used two different starters from opening night, compared to 32 last year), the second unit has seen several permutations thus far.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander began the year as a reserve and has seen his spot alternately occupied by Milos Teodosic and Ty Wallace. Boban Marjanovic has occasionally been a backup big, though Mike Scott has played more minutes in that role recently. And Sindarius Thornwell has gotten some minutes as a backup wing while Luc Mbah a Moute recovers from an injury.
Throughout the year, there have been two constants among the reserves — the Clippers’ sixth and seventh men, if you will. The first is Lou Williams, a gifted scorer with a preternatural ability to draw fouls and put the ball in the basket in the most important situations. Lou gets buckets, no matter who or when he is playing. The second constant has been Montrezl Harrell. His impact has been undeniable this season, and his energy and activity have continued to fuel the Clippers throughout close games. The combination of Williams and Harrell has been very successful for LA, and the chemistry between the pair has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of this team.
The pairing of Williams and Harrell has a net rating of 6.9, compared to the team’s overall net rating of 4.4. That confirms what seems obvious when watching the Clippers — that the bench consistently breathes life into the team when they come on the court.
Williams has always been a score-first guard, averaging 4.6 assists per 36 minutes in his career despite his high usage. He has assumed a larger role as a facilitator with the Clippers, raising that average to 5.8 assists per 36 minutes in the last two seasons, and has developed a particular affinity for passes to Harrell. Lou has assisted on 55 baskets this season and 23 of them have gone to Trez, including four in Monday’s dramatic win over the Golden State Warriors.
The duo has a variety of ways they can do damage, a lot of them out of the pick and roll. Harrell sets high picks for Lou and rolls to the basket. If the defense switches, he can obliterate a smaller defender, as he does to Michael Carter-Williams here.
Trez can also slip the screen and roll to the basket, where he’ll find some extra space thanks to Lou’s gravity as a scorer.
My personal favorite is the drive and dump, when Williams draws a crowd driving to the basket, and flips the ball to the Harrell for what tends to be a powerful dunk. Harrell has gotten really good at cutting to the basket in these situations, creating the opening for Williams to pass to him for an easy finish.
Harrell has been relied upon heavily to finish games for the Clippers due to the defensive limitations of LA’s other center options. He played the final 20 minutes consecutively against Milwaukee and Golden State in the team’s last two wins, both of which went into overtime. Williams naturally will be on the court during clutch situations as one of the league’s greatest closers. As long as the two Clippers are sharing the floor together, it’s a good thing that they have such a strong connection.
Obviously, none of this is to say that Lou Williams needs chemistry with anybody to be able to score. When I asked him yesterday if his role had changed with the shifting second units, Williams said, “No, my job stays the same. Put me on Mars, my job’s going to be the same.”
But Harrell has clearly benefited offensively from playing next to Lou, and that bodes well for the Clippers moving forward. The second unit will continue to evolve, and the team still has a lot of questions to answer about their crunch-time offense and how to maximize the strengths of every player in a deep rotation. For now, it’s good to see that two players who play together often are capable of bringing out the best in one another.
All stats and video courtesy of NBA.com.