The Clippers played their first game with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard last night, and while that was huge on its own for Clippers fans, it also gave our first real glimpse into how Doc Rivers might manage a fully healthy Clippers rotation. Of course, Landry Shamet remains out with a sprained ankle, and his return will change things, but in the meantime, there seems to be a rotation solidification.
First of all, the starting lineup, when healthy, will feature Pat Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Moe Harkless, and Ivica Zubac. There might be games where Shamet is inserted, presumably for Harkless, but Moe has played well enough that his spot should be nearly locked down. His offensive deficiencies can be frustrating, sure. Yet his defensive versatility and aptitude has been apparent every game — he’s been the Clippers best and most consistent defender this season, and that iteration of the starting lineup will smother teams on the defensive end of the court.
Behind the starters, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green, and Rodney McGruder fill out the core of the bench lineup. Lou and Trez were the primary components to one of the most potent benches in NBA history last year, and have continued their magical dance this season. Green and McGruder add defense, size, and shooting around the Lou-Trez pick and roll, and are capable of playing at multiple positions depending on lineups. That means a nine man rotation - which could be expanded when Shamet returns, or merely adjusted - with one of the starters usually in the game as well. Terance Mann and Jerome Robinson are up next for minutes, but clearly aren’t quite at the level of the top nine (or 10, when Shamet returns) players.
In terms of staggering Kawhi and PG, it’s early, but yesterday’s game again provided at least a hint of Doc’s strategy. Kawhi sat around halfway through the first, with PG remaining on the court for another few minutes. Then, PG sat, and the primary bench lineup took over. Kawhi came back early in the second, with PG returning several minutes later. Then, Kawhi sat once more for a few more minutes before closing out the last couple minutes of the half. Essentially, PG and Kawhi will start and close halves and games together, but much of the rest of their time will be spent supporting bench-heavier units, and allowing each to thrive as the primary option. It was an effective maneuvering, and while both players probably played a bit more than the Clips would have liked, it was an overtime game against one of the best teams in the NBA — it would have been a shame if either sat out for too long.
Again, all this could change as the season moves along: Ivica Zubac’s continued monstrous play, for example, could force Doc’s hand into continuing to up his minutes. Shamet’s return will shift rotations as well, though he will presumably come off the bench and get around 15-20 minutes per game. It remains to be seen how Doc will adjust as the Clippers become more familiar with one another and Kawhi and PG adapt to playing together, but we now have 14 games of evidence on Doc’s general rotations and minutes distributions. As players become more accustomed to roles and minutes, they should grow increasingly comfortable, and even better results should follow.