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. (Note: Even though this is running on Dec. 31, this is essentially a standard Monday check-in.)
Lou Williams makes the Clippers go. He provides playmaking when the team is stagnant on offense, particularly running a mean pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell. He takes care of the ball and settles the team when turnovers are creating transition opportunities for opponents. And when the defense forces him to, he provides scoring in isolation due to his ability to draw fouls and efficiently knock down free throws.
The strength of this Clippers team isn’t its starters, though Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari are among the best frontcourt players in the conference. The Clippers are fourth in the Western Conference because of their capable bench, and that starts with Lou Williams. LA leads the league in bench scoring at 52.4 points per game. In the past week, that has gone up to 61 as the Clippers bench led the team back against the Lakers with a 22-0 run, and kept the team competitive against San Antonio, despite ultimately losing. Williams has been humming along (or strumming along), averaging 25 points in the last three games to go along with five assists, which accounts for about 30 percent of the team’s baskets when he is on the floor. That has manifested in a 122.8 offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), which is the highest on the team.
Don’t take our word for it: Williams is aware of how great he has been playing. When asked to assess his performance this season, he said, “I guess I’m playing exceptionally well, right up there with some career highs in points, with the exception of last year’s breakout, so I think I’m playing okay.”
The Clippers still haven’t gotten a handle on when to play their most unique weapon. Against San Antonio Saturday, when Boban got the start but struggled and was replaced by Marcin Gortat after halftime, Doc Rivers said postgame, “I didn’t like the matchup tonight before the game, and I just thought let’s see if [Boban] can play. We gotta find out who he can play against and who he can’t.”
Boban’s strengths would seem to come on offense, but as the season has gone on, the metrics suggest he has improved defensively while sliding on the offensive end. His size provides a deterrent to not only opponents who are trying to enter the paint, but also his teammates on the other end. Rivers has said that the Clippers like to initiate their offense with high picks from their bigs, which Harrell and Gortat execute quite well. However, Boban lacks the lateral mobility to roll to the basket at the same pace as the ball-handler. That slows down the offense or simply takes the Clippers out of what they want to do. In the last week, Boban’s offensive rating was 79.2. That’s the fifth-worst among players who play at least 10 minutes per game, and three of the four players behind him are Knicks — not exactly the company you want to keep.
On defense, the eye test suggests that Boban can’t keep up with more mobile centers, like LaMarcus Aldridge of the Spurs. A more reasonable matchup against San Antonio might have been in the second unit when Jakob Poeltl plays alongside Davis Bertans, but it’s been difficult for the Clippers to get Boban on the floor in the second quarters, since that’s when Harrell does some of his best work. The joy of watching Boban play, and people all around the league love the guy, has been tempered by the difficulty of finding a workable role for him. As the Clippers find more success playing small, those minutes may come fewer and further between.
Keep an eye on:
Beverley had a tough start to the season. The new points of emphasis discouraging contact on the perimeter impeded his style of defense, and he couldn’t hit a shot. Beverley was shooting 35 percent from the field a month into the season and lost his spot in the starting lineup. His offense may finally be starting to come around, as he is shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc in December, and his shots mostly come at the paint or from three. However, his assist rate has come down as his shooting as improved, which hopefully doesn’t become a pattern. Beverley’s foul rate is still too high, and it is a maddening sight watching him over pressure the ball handler when the Clippers are in the penalty.
Nevertheless, Beverley has the best net rating on the team in the past week at 23.9, and the third-best in December, behind Williams and Ty Wallace. He has become a productive part of the team’s bench unit, even as his individual output wavers. If the Clippers do make a trade at the deadline to receive future assets, Beverley has shown that he can still be a valuable part of a backcourt rotation.