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.
There were plenty of players who were better than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on the Clippers this week, but it was heartening to see the rookie take a positive turn after a stretch of inefficient play where he often took himself out of games early with foul trouble.
Shai has a fairly low usage rate for a point guard at 16.7 percent, but he’s seen a slight uptick in the last week, finishing 18.6 percent of LA’s plays himself. Part of that increase comes from a few more turnovers than usual, but SGA has been more aggressive attacking the basket. His drives per minute has gone up about 6 percent in the last week, per nba.com. Shai isn’t necessarily looking to score when he drives, but he is drawing the defense in and passing extremely well when he is close to the basket. That’s a good start for a rookie point guard, though his head coach would prefer he strike a better balance.
When asked how Shai has been better offensively recently after Sunday’s win over Orlando, Doc Rivers said, “He went downhill. We need him to go downhill, and he just hasn’t been doing that. At his size, I got on him at the beginning of the game because he got close to the basket and [DJ] Augustin’s a good defender, but honestly, he’s undersized. Shai didn’t even look at the basket, and from that point on, I thought he got aggressive.”
Shai has shown the capacity to score more frequently, even if it isn’t his default. He started the game against the Magic by scoring six of the Clippers’ first eight points, coming off of midrange floater, a drive to the hoop, and an elbow jumper. This week, he also assisted on 37.2 percent of the team’s baskets when he was on the floor, compared to 21.5 percent of the season. The complete package on offense may take some time, but SGA has flashed bits and pieces throughout the season, more so recently as he fights through the rookie wall.
It does no good to look at Sindarius Thornwell’s stats right now, especially on a week-to-week basis, because he mostly plays in games where the outcome is already decided. The important thing to note is his minute totals have been declining; for the season, he is averaging 5.5 minutes per game, but that figure drops to 3.4 minutes in the past ten games and 2.8 minutes in the past week. The Clippers have mostly kept him with the NBA team, so he isn’t getting much time to stretch his legs in the G-League either.
Thornwell’s value is supposed to be on the defensive end, but he has had some difficulties recently, which is why he can’t really break his way into the second unit. The most telling example of this was against the Philadelphia 76ers last week. Thornwell got to play in the third quarter, but was too slow to cover TJ McConnell. He made another appearance at the end of the game, when Rivers used him for a series of offense-defense substitutions, but he had a gaffe defending Ben Simmons on an inbounds play; he turned away from Simmons, allowing the 76er to inbound the ball off of Thornwell’s back and coast in for an uncontested dunk. It must be hard for Thornwell to develop a rhythm with his inconsistent minutes, but he needs to do better when he’s on the floor to earn more time.
Keep an eye on:
Mike Scott has the team’s best net rating over the past week, plus-29.0, which is significantly higher than his season-long rating of plus-1.8. Normally, you’d attribute that to a good week for the bench, and the bench has definitely done its job for the Clippers, but the rest of the reserves have very normal net ratings, ranging from 3.0 to 11.6. That begs the question: what exactly is Mike Scott doing to outpace his teammates so dramatically, particularly the ones he shares the floor with?
Scott isn’t shooting the ball particularly well. He’s shooting 38.1 percent from the field, but 35.6 percent from threes. That has plummeted in the last ten games to 31.8 percent and 21.7 percent respectively, yet his offensive rating is still second among all Clippers behind Patrick Beverley. On defense, Scott has been a legitimate terror for opponents, posting a defensive rating of 85.5 in the past week. Admittedly, much of that came against the Phoenix Suns second unit, but the other guys haven’t seen that kind of bump in their stats. Scott has been rebounding the ball at a perfectly fine rate, but none of his numbers really jump off the page.
As it turns out, I don’t really have an answer to that question. What’s clear is that when Scott is on the floor, LA is really good. Even if most of my impressions of him involve him missing shots or being boxed out by opponents, he has been contributing to winning basketball. Luc Mbah a Moute is coming back from injury, thought, and the most natural candidate to lose his spot in the rotation would be Scott. That might not be the best strategy for a Clipper team that has been performing at its best with him on the floor.