Wilson Chandler is questionable to play in today’s game against the Thunder, while Luc Mbah a Moute appeared in his first Clippers practice since November on Wednesday. Both players therefore seem to be close to returning to the court – returns which have been greatly anticipated, especially Luc’s. However, a conundrum has sprouted up over the weeks since the trade deadline: who will take a seat for Luc and Chandler to get their minutes?
The Clippers’ new starting lineup of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Pat Beverley – Landry Shamet – Danilo Gallinari – Ivica Zubac has been good. In fact, it’s been excellent, with a +16.0 Net Rating and an incredible defensive rating of 95.3 in 111 minutes over the past eight games. Even though none of those players is a traditional small forward, the pesky defense of Beverley, the long arms of Shai, the smarts of Gallo, and the rim-protection of Zubac have made up for the sometimes-porous defense of Shamet. They’re not the Warriors’ Death lineup circa 2017, but they’re young, they’re good, and they get the Clippers started on the right foot.
There’s really just not much of a case for taking any one of those guys out for Chandler or Luc. They’re really 4s at this point, not 3s, but Gallo is THE fixture of the Clippers’ starting unit. Pat Beverley has been a monster for over three months now, and isn’t going anywhere. That really just leaves Shai or Shamet as the potential odd guys out, and removing either of them doesn’t make much sense. For one, while Chandler or Luc are still better defenders than Shamet at small forward, putting them in the starting group would create real problems offensively. A Shai-Bev-Luc/Chandler trio would lack real shooting (all of those guys are fine from three, but low-volume) and spacing. A Bev-Shamet-Luc/Chandler group would have plenty of shooting, but would lack ball-handling and shot creation. The starting lineup is good as is, and neither Luc nor Chandler would improve it.
That leaves, of course, the bench. Not surprisingly, the Clippers’ bench has been even better than the starters, with a ridiculous +19.5 Net Rating in 66 minutes for the Lou-Ty-Temple-Green-Trez unit. Once again, the easiest solution would be to place either Luc or Chandler over Green, but that raises a couple issues. First, Green has been really damn good since coming over at the deadline. Two, he’s a better shooter and rebounder than either Chandler or Luc, and the Clippers need both of those things. Really, Green is just flat out better than Chandler than this point, and while Luc might have the edge in a vacuum, Green’s been too good to remove, and is probably the superior fit.
That really just leaves Ty Wallace and Garrett Temple’s minutes up for grabs – and giving even these away might be riskier than at first glance. Moving past how good the new bench unit has been, both Ty and Temple offer things that Luc and Chandler can’t. Ty is a solid ball-handler to give Lou a breather, and is a demon at pushing the pace off misses. Temple is a tertiary ball-handler and release valve who can kind of create his own shot if called upon. Luc and Chandler offer no such ball-handling, and while Chandler can theoretically create some offense, he’s probably even worse at it then Temple.
Really, when it comes down to it, I’m not sure where Luc Mbah a Moute and Wilson Chandler are going to get their minutes. Luc, if healthy and in shape (both huge question marks right now), is clearly a useful, valuable player due to his defensive ability and versatility. The issue is that the only real option is to play him at backup small forward, which is not an ideal position for him at this point in his career. Wilson Chandler is a great veteran, and having him as an option off the bench is very nice. But right now, he just doesn’t seem to offer much that the Clippers really need, especially from the power forward position. It’s true that the Clippers’ new units might be on an unsustainable hot streak right now, and that their numbers could be far less favorable in a week’s time. But that doesn’t change the fact that Chandler in particular would not appear to have a role on this current roster.
I hope Doc Rivers does his best to experiment with both guys, especially Luc, but playing either of them significant minutes on a regular basis might not be the best idea right now. I think Luc getting Ty Wallace’s minutes could be fine (if not as beneficial as one might think), but on most nights, that would put him as the 10th man in the rotation, and leave Chandler out entirely. Ultimately, while this could be tough for two competitive veterans to hear, that resolution might be the best thing for the Clippers going forward. Doc will need to be careful, as this situation is a tricky one. Hopefully the Clippers are able to work it out.