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It’s Time for Tyrone Wallace

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With the Clippers’ veteran guards struggling, it’s time for Tyrone Wallace to get real playing time.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Clippers were in transition. It was the first post-CP3/J.J. Redick season, and Blake Griffin was eventually dealt in January. The team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 6 years, but they remained competitive all year long despite having dumped 3 of their most talented players.

The Clippers used the transition year to get a look at some young guys. Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell, C.J. Williams, Jamil Wilson and Willie Reed all had their time to shine. The most impressive youngster of all, though, was Tyrone Wallace. Wallace averaged nearly 10 points per game across 30 games with L.A. last season. He was eventually able to parlay that strong showing into a contract offer from the New Orleans Pelicans this summer. Somewhat surprisingly, the Clippers decided to match the 2-year pact worth $3 million to bring him back.

Even after trading Austin Rivers, though, the Clippers entered the season with a crowded backcourt. Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley began the year as the starters, while rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander worked his way up in the pecking order quickly. Obviously, reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams was going to retain his big role off the bench. Minutes just weren’t there for guys like Wallace, Thornwell or Milos Teodosic.

Wallace has played sparingly. He has appeared in 21 games so far, but he’s only cracked 20 minutes once. He’s only really had much of a role when one of the other guards has been hurt, or when he’s been deployed in mop-up duty. It was hard to argue with Rivers’ decision to keep him in that role considering the team’s hot start. Why jumble the rotation when you’re at the top of the Western Conference?

Obviously, the Clippers have fallen on some hard times since. They got a much-needed win over Dallas last night, but that was just their second win in their last 8 games. The Clips’ offensive rating has fallen to 10th after hovering in the top-5 for most of the first 2 months of the campaign. The defense has been even worse. They’re currently 22nd in D-rating, allowing 110.4 points per 100 possessions.

Lou Williams’ recent absence obviously hurt, especially on the offensive end. What’s been hurting them more, though, has been fan favorite Avery Bradley. Bradley continues to play around 30 minutes a night despite not actually giving the team much of anything on either end of the floor.

The Clippers have an offensive rating of 105.4 with Bradley on the floor this season, which is about 6 points under their season average. An O-rating of 105.4 would rank 26th in the league. Bradley is known as a quality defender, but the Clips have a D-rating of 110 with him out there. He hasn’t been much of a help on that end. And, if he’s not giving you top-tier defense, he’s giving you absolutely nothing. Bradley’s -4.4 net rating is the worst mark on the team among qualified players, per NBA.com.

The Clippers have enough guards to where they don’t need to keep running Bradley out there. It would be nice to be able to “showcase” him for a potential trade, but at this point actually watching him play can only be a bad thing for any trade value he may have had. If the Clippers are serious about pushing for the playoffs this season, they need to play their best players. That means Bradley should be on the bench.

Beverley has been more useful than Bradley, but he still hasn’t played well. He’s shooting just 35.5% from the field and a career-worst 32.7% from long range. I still think Bev is more likely to turn it around than Bradley is, because Beverley has been a capable 3-point shooter in this league for years. He’s got plenty of wear-and-tear on his legs, but I’m still optimistic that he’ll be able to rediscover his stroke. Regardless, I don’t think his play this season means he should have an unquestioned role.

Is it a lock that Wallace would come in and do a better job? Of course not. Wallace is still fairly unproven at this level, but obviously the Clippers (and the Pelicans, at least) saw enough good things out of him to offer him a real NBA contract over the summer. It’s time to see what he can do in a solidified role.

Wallace flashed some defensive potential last night while continuing to look fluid offensively. After Bradley got toasted by a nice behind-the-back dribble by Luka Doncic in the second quarter, Wallace slid over to help and wound up poking the ball free. That sparked a Clipper break going the other way, and Wallace wound up finishing the play with a layup, plus a foul, on the other end. On another play, he scurried around a Montrezl Harrell screen before just bullying the smaller Jalen Brunson out of the way. Wallace effortlessly finished with a layup right over the top.

Wallace hasn’t shown much ability to shoot from long range, but there are enough capable shooters on the roster to where Rivers should be able to surround him with the right guys. A refreshing aspect of Wallace’s game is that he knows he’s not much of a marksman from deep. So, he just doesn’t take them. It sounds simple, but knowing your limitations is important, especially for a young player. It’s something Avery Bradley still apparently hasn’t figured out, unfortunately.

Wallace isn’t Kawhi Leonard defensively, but he’s shown enough on that end to where the Clippers wouldn’t be losing much, if anything, by benching Bradley and replacing him with Ty. Even if they’re exactly the same in terms of defensive quality, the added dimensions brought by Wallace on the offensive end of the floor make him look like the more appealing rotation option by default. If you’d prefer to let Wallace slice into the minutes of Beverley, that would be fine, too.

Playing Wallace big minutes alongside Williams could be tricky sometimes given Wallace’s lack of range and Lou’s need to have the ball in his hands. That said, there are plenty of other guard rotation minutes to go around. Considering Bradley and Beverley haven’t done enough this season to warrant their continued big roles, why not give Wallace a try? The Clippers could use a spark, and he’s shown enough flashes in the past to where he’s earned a shot.