Welcome back to Stock Watch, a regular feature where we’ll check in on which Clippers are playing well, not so hot, or just can’t crack the rotation.
The lone silver lining of the Lou Williams injury has been the emergence of Milos Teodosic, who stepped into Lou’s spot on the second unit. Milos has a flair for the game that is almost unparalleled in the NBA, and even during a bleak stretch for the Clippers as a whole, watching Milos is just fun. At the risk of sounding too much like Gregg Popovich, there’s a certain level of homogeneity in how guards in the league operate, but Milos has a different cadence — his dribbles and passes happen a beat earlier or later than you would expect. He delights by moving the ball, completing pseudo-no-look passes, and pushing the pace.
Most importantly, Milos has also helped command a second unit that is significantly outpacing the starters. For context, the Clippers were outscored by over 30 points per 100 possessions in the first and third quarters this past week but played as an above-average team in the second and fourth quarters. There was a lot of garbage time in that stretch, but the difference is noticeable. Teodosic has the best net rating (minus-10.2, which tells you how bad these losses have been) of any Clipper not named Lou Williams in the last seven days. He also assumed a leadership role by talking to the referees after two of his teammates were called for technical fouls against Oklahoma City.
After the loss to Toronto Tuesday, Doc Rivers said, “The only positive tonight to me was I thought the second group in the second quarter came in and changed the game and got us back into the game.... I thought they got us back in because they defended. You know it’s funny, when you think Milos, you don’t think that. But that group defended, and they got us back in.”
Avery Bradley generally has the toughest defensive assignment on the perimeter, and he’s been put through the ringer this week. Bradley allowed Kyle Lowry to break out of his slump against the Clippers and had difficulty against the bigger DeMar DeRozan in San Antonio. But he can also be quite effective, like when he forced Russell Westbrook into 4-of-17 shooting for 13 points Saturday.
The problem is if Bradley isn’t adding value on defense, then he is a huge negative on the team’s offense, particularly in the starting lineup. The pairing of Bradley and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been trending downwards, but the real problem isn’t really the results, but the process. The aim of this season is to advertise the Clippers as an attractive free agent destination for the summer of 2019, and the primary way to do that is by showcasing Gilgeous-Alexander as a young piece who stars around the league will want to play with. In order for SGA to be spotlighted, he needs to assume a larger share of the offense, which is hard enough when he plays next to Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari.
It’s even harder when SGA shares the backcourt with Bradley, who regularly hijacks the offense for bad, early jumpers. Bradley has seen an uptick in his usage at the expense of Gilgeous-Alexander as the offense has sputtered, and that balance needs to tilt back towards Shai to improve the team both now and in the future. On that note, I find it baffling that Staples Center introduces Bradley as the Clippers’ point guard and Gilgeous-Alexander as the team’s other guard.
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If Bradley’s fit next to Gilgeous-Alexander has become awkward, the solution could be to prioritize a different guard pairing — Shai and Patrick Beverley. On the surface, it’s hard to see how that would help offensively. Beverley still hasn’t seen his shooting return to its career levels; his 31.7 percent mark from three would be the worst of his career by a mile, since he had been 37.6 percent from downtown before this season. However, Beverley’s usage is lower, and he mostly shoots threes and lay-ups, which would help Shai carve out his space in the mid-range. Beverley is also above average at converting at the rim, and the high volume of threes he takes means he’s been more efficient than Bradley offensively.
However, on defense, having Beverley start could run the risk of the Clippers getting their opponents into the penalty quite early, as he still hasn’t adapted to the league’s new points of emphasis regarding fouling on the perimeter. Consequently, for the season, Beverley has the worst defensive rating on the team. He has closed the gap in recent weeks, but there are still reasons to be wary of giving Beverley more minutes.