Eric Patten: Wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight. I know it’s not a Christmas tale, but it’s fitting that the one wish I have for the Clippers this holiday season is for relative health.
Last season was marred by injury, and for a team that has exceeded expectations, it would be a shame to not know what could have been if there is a rash of injuries to key players. On that note: I also wish for the Warriors to stop trying to injure Lou Williams. You’re better than that (Editor’s Note: are they?).
Sabreena Merchant: My wish for the Clippers is a healthy Luc Mbah a Moute. The most compelling lineups to me have been LA’s small-ball lineups, but those have a lot of defensive question marks. Sliding in Mbah a Moute at the four in those groupings would add a wing stopper and give the Clippers a chance to succeed for longer stretches with Gallinari at the five, especially if Mbah a Moute can keep shooting in the high-30s from beyond the arc.
Kenneth Armstrong: My Christmas wish is that Doc, upon the return of Luc Mbah a Monte, falls out of irrational love with Avery Bradley and that Luc is all that I remember him to be. It will be interesting to see how Harris, Gallo, and Luc will fit together, but I trust it will be better than what we have with Bradley.
Lucas Hann: I wish that the Clippers would turn their focus to next season.
The team is good right now. They’re fun, they’re exciting. I’ve really enjoyed their season. But if the long-term goal is to win a championship--and ownership and management insist that’s what they’re going for--then the Clips aren’t doing that in 2018-19. But their surprising start has put them in a position to really help their odds at building a championship-caliber team next summer.
While Avery Bradley, who was clearly re-signed this summer in hopes of being flipped at the 2019 deadline, has had a poor season, some of the other Clippers’ veterans are showing out. Patrick Beverley has shown in recent weeks that he’s back to his old self after last year’s knee surgery, and Danilo Gallinari might actually be reaching new heights this late in his career. If LAC hopes to sign two max free agents next summer while hanging on to Tobias Harris, they’ll have to let Beverley walk in free agency in July and trade Gallinari to open up cap space. Why not flip Beverley as a rental this season when he seems well-equipped to help teams that need point guard depth, and sell high on Gallo -- potentially recouping positive value for an injury-prone player whose contract was considered prohibitively hard to move just a few months ago?
That would also open up more minutes for guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Sindarius Thornwell, and Tyrone Wallace. Again, if the Clippers are aiming to add stars next summer and try to open up a championship window, at least three of those four young, cost-controlled players are going to be in rotation roles. Why not let them get increased reps -- both to develop them and to showcase them to lure the stars who would be their future teammates. Currently, my worst fears for SGA’s development are playing out before our eyes every night: he’s standing in the corner while 30-year-old guards bring the ball up. Shai needs to be central, playing big minutes with the ball in his hands -- it’s what’s healthy for the franchise, even if it means some more losses this season.
The last wrinkle is that the Clippers’ first-round pick this season is theirs if they’re in the lottery, but goes to Boston if they make the playoffs. That pick is potentially another cost-controlled young player to fill in the rotation next summer.
Robert Flom: My Christmas wish is for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to be given further control of running the Clippers’ offense. Avery Bradley getting as much playing time as he has thus far is infuriating to watch, but it at least might serve some purpose if he plays himself into a better deal at the trade deadline. Shai’s role in the offense, or lack thereof, is ultimately a much more serious issue. Too often he’s shunted to the corner while other players handle the ball. Not only is this a waste of his talents, and development, but it’s not even a helpful tactic for the Clippers winning games this season.
Shai is the most important player on the Clippers. In just 33 games, he’s demonstrated All-Star, All-Defense potential through his smarts, length, and natural abilities on both ends of the court. If the Clippers want to build him up, they need to do more than give him starts and minutes. They need to let him learn how to truly be a point guard in the NBA. Let him run a bunch of high pick and rolls, even if many of them lead to turnovers or missed midrange shots (I personally think the results would be positive). Empower him and encourage him to take shots that might be a bit out of his wheelhouse now, particularly from deep. One of the things that might draw free agents to the Clippers this summer is their rookie point guard, but he won’t be as big a draw if he isn’t part of the offense much of the time.
Max Jeffrey: Despite the difficult schedule to open the season, and despite the 3-7 record over the last 10 games, the LA Clippers are 19-14 and sitting in 6th place in the Western Conference. And they’ve done so by playing well-balanced basketball; they supply end-to-end hustle every night and there are no egos on this roster. Doc Rivers looks more relaxed and patient than ever before in his 18-plus years as an NBA head coach. The willingness and ability to play effectively by committee is a guarantee for this team, in their new-look read-and-react offense. You could say they’ve become predictably unpredictable. Because this team has overachieved to this point, demanding any adjustments feels almost like nitpicking.
That said, my one Christmas wish for the Clippers is to limit the minutes for Avery Bradley. Let’s begin with the decision to continue to start Avery Bradley over Patrick Beverley; I’m not going to give Doc all the blame for this one, since I truly believe it’s been a full organizational decision, given Bradley’s trade-friendly contract. It makes sense that they would like to increase his minutes in an effort to boost his production. Lots of teams in need of a backcourt ball hawk could look to make moves around the trade deadline. But Bradley simply doesn’t mesh with the starting group, and it’s ironically sending his trade value in the wrong direction. Of all 130 guards who have started games in the NBA this season, Bradley ranks 115th in True Shooting Percentage (45.1%) and has played in at least 12 more games than every other guard ranking lower in this category. The eye test is even more damning; he rushes into contested mid-range jumpers, regularly attempts to drive into lengthy double-teams, and passes up wide open threes all too often. Patrick Beverley simply belongs with the starting unit; while he hasn’t been great, he’s a far better decision-maker than Bradley. Beverley is dishing out 3.5 assists and committing just 1.1 turnovers per game, while Bradley is good for just 1.8 dimes and adding 1.4 turnovers a night, while also averaging roughly 5 more minutes in playing time per game than Beverley. Both guards are best-known for their defense, and Beverley still has the advantage here. Bradley is an amazing on-the-ball defender, there’s no question about that; but that’s really his only defensive gear. Beverley is much more effective at switching and is only marginally less impressive against ball handlers, not to mention his ability to communicate defensive assignments to his teammates as plays develop. Beverley has also been better at rebounding, getting to the free throw line, shooting threes, getting steals, and in being offensively efficient. This is a swap that needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Limiting Bradley’s minutes probably also needs to extend beyond those he shares with the starting unit. It’s a no-brainer to keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at the second guard spot with the starters, and Lou Williams is undoubtedly the third option at guard, and the first off the bench for the backcourt. The fourth option at guard, however, should probably be Tyrone Wallace. Wallace’s outside shooting is a major hole in his game right now, but we have a very limited sample size. What we do know is that Wallace is a very effective downhill guard whose length really disrupts opposing guards and even some forwards. Wallace can switch effectively at multiple positions on defense, and is pretty efficient shooting from the field (46.3%). He’s also quite crafty in a way that’s really only comparable to Montrezl Harrell. He might find himself trapped around the rim with multiple help defenders and often manages to precisely find the tight pockets of airspace needed to get the ball up and into the basket. He can also do damage when surrounded by a group of shooters on the floor (thinking of lineups where Danilo Gallinari is at center, as we’ve seen a few times this season).
Bradley is a gritty and agile player who certainly belongs somewhere and has had some notable moments this season, but the patience of Clipper Nation appears to be wearing thin as they continue to watch him regularly waste possessions due to the same types of miscues again and again. I won’t hold my breath expecting a change any time soon, but this holiday season, I’m certainly wishing for a game where the opening minutes don’t include #11.
Happy holidays to all our readers, and enjoy some stress-free NBA Christmas basketball!