Through the early segment of the season, the dialogue here at ClipperBlog has revolved around the rotation and if the roster’s wellspring of talent is being milked for all it’s worth. Andrew Han, our resident Socrates, posed the following: “Who is the fifth-best Clipper on the team? Who is the fifth-most important Clipper? Is it the same thing?”
We had already reached an agreement that the idea of “best” Clippers starts with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Also, we both had DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe in the next two spots. And, again, shared the opinion that Jamal Crawford rounded out the top-five.
Here’s the exchange between Jovan and myself.
Jovan Buha: Most important player and best player sound similar conceptually, but they’re not. Best speaks to pure talent; it’s basically how gifted or skilled a player is. Most important is usually determined by the coach — who he plays and when he plays them. Guys who play more have more important roles; their minutes have a greater affect on the game. In theory, you want your best players to have the most important roles, but due to roster limitations, coaching decisions and positional depth, that’s not always the case.
Michael Shagrin: I think you’re right that who’s best and who’s most important are not the same. I’d say this is the case on most teams who don’t have a coach with an innate ability to get the most out of their guys–but especially so with the Clippers.
Buha: Chauncey Billups could be in the top five when he’s 100 percent healthy and in game shape, but for now he’s neither of those. The same can be said when/if Lamar Odom gets into better physical shape (I’m noticing a trend) and turns those flashes of old LO into long stretches and, hopefully, entire games. And we don’t know what to expect from Grant Hill whenever he comes back, but he has to be in the conversation.
Shagrin: There’s definitely something to be desired from the high profile guys left off our list. Let’s say Chauncey and Lamar return to full form, it’d be reasonable to swap them in for DeAndre or Crawford. But that’s like saying De Niro and Pacino have a shot at winning Best Actor if they performed up to their Taxi Driver/Godfather days — not all that likely.
Buha: Defining “most important” is tough, though. To me, the top-five most important guys are the ones in Del Negro’s fourth quarter crunch time lineup (or at least the five guys who play the most minutes, which isn’t necessarily the starters, obviously).
So that’d likely be Paul, Griffin, Jordan, either Crawford or Billups at shooting guard and then either Butler or Barnes at small forward, in that order. Because they’ll be handling the ball somewhat (and thus have to decide between shooting or passing in key moments), I’d lean towards Crawford or Billups as more important than the small forward spot. Since Barnes has mainly been closing games this year, I’d say he’s the fifth most important, just edging out Butler. His energy and perimeter D against wing scorers is invaluable in crunch time (his one advantage over Bledsoe is his height/length in defending larger wings).
Speaking of Bledsoe, he’d easily be higher – I think he’s the team’s fourth-best player – if he played more. His time is important, yes, but if he’s playing 15 minutes and Crawford’s playing 30 minutes, I think Crawford’s minutes will have a more significant impact on the game, good or bad.
Shagrin: I think you’ve got the right approach, however I just don’t have enough faith in Chauncey’s body and Caron’s diminished skill set to mention them in a top five. So, the three guys who round out my top five “important” Clippers are DJ, Crawford and Barnes.
DeAndre Jordan is the only guy on the Clippers than can control the paint. Watching Tyson Chandler patrol the interior against the Heat Thursday night was a beautiful thing and made me realize that I don’t actually care if DeAndre’s offensive game develops much more. It’s all about his defense. When he stays on the ground, boxes out and, most crucially, rotates as a help defender, he merits the No. 3 spot.
As for Crawford, the concept of being important to the team is intimately interwoven with coaching strategy. Thus, on the Clippers, Crawford’s importance skyrockets. Since there doesn’t seem to be a systematic means to get players good shots, the individual creativity of Crawford becomes crucial for any sort of offensive productivity in the second unit.
Then we have Barnes. He has a nose for the unhindered cutting lane and, without well-conceived off-ball motion, the space and options he creates have real value. But his defense is really what stands out. He’s got a motor, great footwork and he’s capable of creating and finishing the fast break — which should be the primary goal of bench units (particularly when Bledsoe’s out there).
Buha: Our theories are a bit varied, but we have the same general notion.
When healthy, the Clippers are undeniably versatile and loaded at multiple positions; they’re as deep as any team in the league, but we already knew that. The fact that players three through eight (or even nine if we count Odom) are almost inseparable, in terms of talent and importance, just shows how much potential they have to tinker with lineups to adapt against and overcome an opponent.
The question, as always, is if they will fulfill that potential. As we see which players are capable of consistent and significant performances this season, the results should indicate if the best players are given the most vital roles.