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.
The other day, Patrick Beverley said that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is really lucky to have two mentors like himself and Lou Williams, the so-called ‘fire and ice’ for the rookie to look up to during his first year in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander has gone through lulls over the course of the year, which is natural for most players in the league. But all throughout, he has had two veteran leaders in his corner, each with vastly different skill sets, to help him navigate the pro game and produce a wildly successful rookie season.
In the last week, SGA has averaged 16.5 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game while shooting 52 percent from the field and 5-of-9 on threes. He set a career-high with 10 assists in the Clippers’ dramatic win over the Nets Sunday and confidently hit a corner 3 with about a minute remaining that appeared to be the dagger. During March, SGA has his highest usage rate, assist-to-turnover ratio, true shooting percentage, and offensive rating of the season. He has a rare opportunity to be a rookie starter on a playoff team, and he isn’t just a token starter; LA needs him on both ends of the floor, on offense to create and take open shots, and on defense to use his length to pressure the point of attack. The past month has seen SGA rediscover the best parts of his game and be an assertive presence on the court for the Clippers.
For most of the year, the Clippers have had a 10-man rotation with a full bench unit independent of the starters that plays to start the second and fourth quarters. Obviously, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams play alongside the starters and close many games, but LA has taken advantage of its depth as much as possible.
The identity of the players in that rotation has gone through several permutations, both because of the team’s roster turnover, and because no individual Clipper has taken a stranglehold on the tenth spot. Since the trade deadline, Tyrone Wallace had been the 10th man, but he has seen his minutes erased by Wilson Chandler. The logic here isn’t super clear, as Chandler profiles more as a four at this point in his career, and he’s tasked defending perimeter players when he shares the floor alongside Harrell and JaMychal Green. In Sunday’s game against the Nets, Chandler struggled in the first half, leading Rivers to play Gilgeous-Alexander alongside the second unit in the second half instead of going to his bench for another player.
All that means that Wallace is now playing fewer minutes in March than he has since November. Admittedly, Wallace hasn’t done well on offense to justify his spot in the rotation, particularly since he needs to provide spacing around the Lou-Trez pick-and-roll when he’s in the game. However, he has been an excellent defender all season, he pushes the pace, and he’s a secondary ball-handler to Lou in the event of doubles and/or traps.
Wallace’s net rating has been strongly positive all year. Even though he sometimes doesn’t pass the eye test, the Clippers have been about 8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor this season (per Cleaning the Glass). As a young player who can fit in a variety of situations, he probably deserves a closer look than he has been getting.
Keep an eye on:
One of the two prizes of the Avery Bradley trade, Temple has the best net rating on LA in the past week at plus-18.1. That is buoyed by some outstanding defense (he historically has had an outstanding steal rate, even if that leads to some overzealous fouling) and excellent transition play. Temple runs the floor hard on fast breaks and converts well at the basket. Temple had a fantastic debut for the Clippers in the team’s historic comeback win over the Celtics, but has struggled to find consistency since then. His performance against Brooklyn was his best since Boston (excluding blowout wins), and if this current level of play continues, LA will have some needed veteran leadership in its backcourt going into the postseason.