Who doesn’t love A Tribe Called Bench? Here’s an in-depth look by Jacob Frankel on why the bench has been so successful this season. Enjoy.
One of the biggest parts of the Clippers’ huge success this season has been the brilliant play of the bench. The bench unit has not only held on to leads the starters have built, but added on to them. When the Clippers are down, the bench has helped the team get right back into the game.
We knew before the season that the Clippers would be one of the deepest teams in the league, but that was factoring in Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill. Even without those two, the Clippers second unit has been incredible. The 5-man unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, and Ronny Turiaf has been the Clippers second most used unit and a complete wrecking crew.
The personnel doesn’t look especially great (Ronny Turiaf?) on paper, so what is this lineup doing so well?
To answer that question we have to start on the defensive end. As the chart shows, this lineup would be at the top of the league (by a wide margin) in both defensive efficiency and opponent effective field goal percentage. Things begin on the perimeter where Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes can ball hawk and prevent penetration. Jamal Crawford isn’t a very good defender, but he can get in passing lanes and run. These three players spark this unit’s transition game, which is huge; they score 27 fast break points per 48 minutes, which makes up 27% of their offensive production, a massive percentage.
On the interior of the defense, Lamar Odom may not have much in the speed department, but he’s still a smart player and if nothing else a…big…body who eats up space. Ronny Turiaf is an above average center defensively who can concentrate on protecting the rim well while leaving everything else for the other players.
Offense is the eventual problem I see coming up with this unit. While they are scoring at a reasonable clip now, I see this going down as the season progresses. A large amount of this offense comes on midrange shots and this lineup’s focal point is a historically inefficient and inconsistent player: Jamal Crawford. Where does this unit go on a night Crawford isn’t hitting and they aren’t getting turnovers and running? I love Eric Bledsoe as much as anybody, but he isn’t going to be a focal point on offense and Shammgod forbid Ronny Turiaf gets touches in the post. That’s a question that may eventually come back to bite the Clips. 3-point shooting and floor spacing may be another problem. Lamar Odom is 6-44 on the season, Matt Barnes is shooting 36% from deep, which is his career high, and Eric Bledsoe is shooting 33%, also a career high. Even the supposed best shooter in this lineup, Crawford, is only shooting 35% on the season and is notoriously spotty shooter (ask Blazer fans).
At least in my opinion, if this lineup can keep up close to this kind of production (there will certainly be at least a small decline) throughout the season, the Clippers will become a near lock for the Western Conference Finals. It’s no coincidence that there is a near 40 (!) point difference between this unit’s net rating in wins and losses. To have a second unit this good is unheard of. Going by net rating, they are the third best lineup in the league with over 100 minutes played. Keep in mind this is largely against bench players of course. As the season progresses it will be interesting to watch how hard regression hits and if this unit can keep up their absolutely superb play, or if they can even stay together. Remember — Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill are going to want minutes.