Caron Butler, as you’ve likely heard by now, broke his hand at some point in the 3rd quarter of Game 1. He hasn’t been great this season on either side of the ball, but the team has counted on him at small forward night in and night up to this point. So how is he going to be replaced as the playoffs go on?
(note: the number I give these options is arbitrary. I have no idea what plan is being favored at this point)
Option #1: Nick Young at small forward
We’ve seen this at times during the season. Nick Young is probably the Clippers’ second best wing defender (Bledsoe is first, Kenyon Martin is probably only a short-term/late-game option), which is key in regards to maintaining a relative hold on Rudy Gay. Gay, as is his usual style, has gotten his against the Clippers. The good news is that he hasn’t got them with incredible efficiency (in Game 1 nor in the regular season). 20 points on 20 shot attempts is fine with me, and if the team can force him into turnovers as they did in the regular season, then I’m happy to see him isolating instead of Marc Gasol tearing the Clips apart in the post.
Offensively, I think we’re all familiar with Young’s propensity to jack shots, but we’ve seen him more recently willing to run to a corner and wait to be found by Chris Paul. The issue here is if Young should start, and if he does then what happens with the bench. Obviously Mo Williams could be used Young-style as the only offensive option in a starterless second unit, but we’ve seen Mo fade over the course of the season while Swaggy P (love that nickname) has found his stride. This leads us to…
Option #2: Bobby Simmons.
Bobby Simmons is a capable defender at the wing position. He can (theoretically, as his shooting dropped way off as the season went on) make an open corner 3. No one is going to mistake Simmons for a good NBA basketball player, even compared to Butler and Young, but for 15 or so minutes, he can likely hold his own and not ruin the Clippers’ chances of winning this series.
The main issue is that we haven’t seen much of either these guys this season, in terms of Young playing a lot of small forward minutes, nor in terms of Simmons playing all that much at all. In a limited sample (31 minutes total for the lineup), Simmons was a part of an effective (32.8 net rating !) Chris Paul-Mo Williams-Simmons-Kenyon Martin-Blake Griffin lineup. I would be intrigued to see this in the playoffs, but I’m not sure that moving Randy Foye to the bench in a Bledsoe-Foye-Young (or something along those lines) unit is a good plan in terms of bench production.
Back to focusing on the Nick Young-SF end, he was a part of an equal number of solid and horrid lineups in terms of net rating. The lineup I would argue is possibly the best offense-defense lineup the Clippers can offer up at this point (though I may be underestimating Randy Foye’s ability to cover a Pondexter or even a Mayo, and I’m annoying its relative averageness in the regular season) saw only 14 minutes in the regular season – Paul-Bledsoe-Young-Griffin-Martin 14 minutes, 1.8 net rating.
And now a brief summary of what worked in Game 1.
In 10 minutes (the 2nd most minutes of any lineup that saw the floor in Game 1), the Paul-Bledsoe-Young-Griffin-Evans lineup had a net rating of 113.9.
Williams-Bledsoe-Young-KMart-DJ was next with 5 minutes played and a net rating of +12.
The lineup that saw the most minutes in game 1? 18 minutes of Paul-Foye-Butler-Griffin-DJ. Net rating of -61.5.
Now, we’re only talking one game. Obviously that first lineup I listed is not going to be that dominant, and whatever the starting lineup ends up being with Caron replaced is not going to be that bad. Whatever happens with Caron’s minutes is unlikely to make or break this series. In general, I’m more intrigued with what happens with the bench if Nick Young isn’t scoring like mad, and what happens in terms of Eric Bledsoe seeing more minutes as a key defensive piece against the Grizzlies’ best offensive lineup(s).