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Clippers Stock Watch: The starting lineup is starting to separate itself

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The lineup shuffling has created a strong starting unit, but the backups have suffered under the current alignment.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Trending up:

Marcin Gortat

Marcin Gortat didn’t have the easiest start to the season. Five years in Washington had conditioned him to play a certain way, and it naturally took him a little time to acclimate to a new offensive system in Los Angeles. The Clippers want Gortat to set up at the three-point line and set high screens to jumpstart the offense, while the Wizards asked him to run into the paint and seal for deep post position. In the early part of the season, the starting lineup had a variety of difficulties, and Gortat struggled to provide value for guards who weren’t inclined to create offense for themselves.

Since he re-entered the starting lineup on November 10, which coincidentally splits the season exactly in half, Gortat has the highest net rating on the team (plus-12.6) among regular rotation players. Both Jerome Robinson and Boban Marjanovic rank higher, but they play sporadic minutes. Gortat has the highest offensive rating on the team in that span (again, excluding Robinson), which is related to how well the starting lineup has performed recently.

When the center missed last week’s game against the Suns, Doc Rivers expressed what the team missed without Gortat. “Picks, early picks,” Rivers said. “One thing with Marc, he’s a good passer, and he really knows our offense.”

Gortat is the best screen-setter on the Clippers. He jokingly boasted that he deserved some credit for Tobias Harris’ player of the week award because Harris knows “every time I set a screen, he’s gonna be pretty much butt-naked open.”

Jokes aside, Gortat has regained the trust of the coaching staff and has helped LA start off each game on the right foot, particularly on offense. He even earned a second-quarter stint against the Sacramento Kings after exclusively playing in the first and third quarters for much of the season. It is unreasonable to except Gortat to be the player he was in Washington, but his production has improved for the Clippers.

Trending down:

Lou Williams

Sweet Lou has a reputation as one of the league’s preeminent closers, and he has delivered for the Clippers, helping secure close wins against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Golden State Warriors, and more. But his efficiency isn’t what it once was. His effective field goal percentage (which weights threes 1.5 times twos) is 43.5, which is the lowest of his career. The league average is 52 percent this season, and even though guards generally shoot worse, Lou should be doing better. Williams still handles the ball a lot for the Clippers, particularly since he started playing next to Patrick Beverley in the second unit, and his usage rate of 30.1 percent is the highest on the team and of his career. That doesn’t bode well for his efficiency, or for the Clippers as a whole.

LA still runs most of its crunch-time offense through Williams, and his ability to draw fouls and hit free throws makes him well-suited for this role. But the Clippers might be better off diversifying their attack down the stretch with Williams struggling from the field. Harris struggled at the end of yesterday’s game against Dallas and could benefit from some reps in clutch situations. Danilo Gallinari is also an outstanding shooter from the field and from the line and can get his shot off against just about anyone. One of LA’s strengths is its depth of options. With Lou slumping, his share of the offense should be spread out among the rest of the team.

Keep an eye on:

Sindarius Thornwell

Thornwell has been a semi-regular part of the Clippers rotation for about three weeks now. He has made a limited impact on offense, only using 7 percent of the team’s possessions and showing an unwillingness to shoot that has allowed defenders to drift off of him. But Thornwell isn’t earning time for that end of the floor — he’s on the court because of his “boatloads of toughness” on defense, per Doc Rivers. In that respect, the second-year Clipper has made his mark for LA. Thornwell’s numbers on the box score don’t jump out at you, but he has the best defensive rating on the team and generally looks the part with smart positioning and communication on defense.

Thornwell understands his role on this team. He won’t be asked to do as much as he did last year, and he’s already spent more time on the Agua Caliente Clippers than he did as a rookie, but he is ready to go whenever he is called upon.

It’s not really a superstar based team built around one person — everybody’s got to contribute.... It works good for me because I can play every position. I’m interchangeable at every spot. I kind of benefit from what the team wants and what the team is looking for, being able to guard multiple positions and play multiple spots and do multiple things.

Thornwell will have a chance to continue to contribute, especially with Luc Mbah a Moute’s return uncertain. If Sin can continue to make a positive impact on defense, he can solidify his spot.