We’re slightly more than halfway through the NBA season and that means it’s a perfect time to offer some midseason evaluations. ClipperBlog will be running “Clipper Midterms” throughout the week, one piece a day from Monday through Friday. Here is part four from Fred Katz.
Halfway through the season, the Clipper wings have made a significant improvement from last year. The 2012 Clippers had no long defenders on the perimeter. When they faced solid wing scorers, there was nowhere to look. This year, there are two above-average defenders in Matt Barnes and Grant Hill and one respectable one in Caron Butler, who’s not bad if he’s your third choice. Can the wings defeat the guards’ average GPA of 3.25?
MATT BARNES: A-
26.2 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 47.9% FGs, 35.2% 3Ps, 73.3% FTs
Barnes might be having the best year of his career from both an efficiency and a contributor standpoint. He remains one of the most important players on the Clipper roster and is arguably the most essential player off the bench.
Barnes plays hard-nosed defense. He runs the floor well. He is a great scorer in transition, nicely complementing the rest of the all-bench line that loves to run the fast break so much. Basically, he has been an enhanced version of the typical Barnes all year. And that goes all the way down to the emotions, too.
Barnes got himself tossed last night for the first time all season and maybe rightfully so. If a player finds his forearm heading towards an opponent’s throat at super speeds, he’ll probably find himself in the locker room shortly after. Barnes is tied for the league lead in technical fouls – though he’s not close to challenging that ever-lasting Rasheed Wallace record of 41 in a single season. Right now, his tech total sits at nine. If a player accumulates 16 in a season, that means a one-game suspension. Meanwhile, Barnes may already be facing one of those after last night’s hit to Greg Stiemsma.
On the floor, though, Barnes’ value is inarguable. He has become a reliable spot-up shooter. He almost never makes – or takes – mid-range shots, but threes have been his bread and butter, especially of late. He has been on fire for more than the past month, hitting 40.2 percent of his long-range shots on 4.6 attempts per game since Dec. 23. Is it the Chris Paul effect? Maybe that has something to do with it, but Eric Bledsoe has actually assisted on six more Barnes made field goals than has Paul.
CARON BUTLER: B-
23.9 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 42.5% FGs, 39.0% 3Ps, 77.2% FTs
Over the past three years, there aren’t many NBA players than have transformed more than Caron Butler. Butler, once a attacking, athletic, aggressive small forward, has now become a knock-down, spot-up shooter. And he seems to be all right with that. He knows his role as well as anyone else on this team.
When talking about Butler, it’s usually best to specify which Caron you’re actually evaluating: Even-Quarter Caron or Odd-Quarter Caron.
It’s empirically strange. In first and third quarters, Butler can dominate. But in the even quarters, he tends to go quiet.
Tuff Juice’s averages of 14.8 points per 36 minutes and 17.8 points per 36 minutes in first and third quarters, respectively, don’t tell the whole story. (Of course, they’re enhanced by his respective second quarter and fourth quarter scoring numbers shrinking to 9.0 points per 36 and 8.7 points per 36.) Look at the volume of shooting for Butler.
First quarter: 13.8 field goal attempts per 36.
Second quarter: 9.6 field goal attempts per 36.
Third quarter: 14.0 field goal attempts per 36.
Fourth quarter: 8.7 field goal attempts per 36.
Those numbers have nothing to do with minute totals going down in the even-numbered quarters, which does happen, by the by. In reality, it’s just that Caron feels comfortable shooting right out of the gate and then Stella gets her grove back after halftime.
Butler’s game really has changed so much. He is hitting 53.5 percent of corner threes, a dominant rate. He hits 40.6 percent of his threes when spotting up. He might not be able to take over games the way he could in the past, but as a shooter, Butler has become a more-than-valuable asset.
GRANT HILL: C+
16.1 MPG, 4.6 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 42.9% FGs, 33.3% 3Ps, 64.3% FTs
Hill is still inching his way back from injury. Yes, he’s already played ten games, but none have been with a high minutes total and none have truly come with high-stress minutes.
Often, contributing to a team isn’t just about how many minutes a player plays, but it also involves how important those minutes are. Hill is yet to play more than 20 minutes in a single game, but his opportunities for big minutes might be on the horizon with a Barnes suspension seeming inevitable.
Barnes has been such a luxury thus far that Vinny Del Negro hasn’t felt the need to rush Hill into a major role, but when the former Sun is right, he could fit quite nicely into the second unit. In theory, his skill set is the perfect match to mesh with the rest of that line.
Hill is a strong mid-range jump shooter, who consistently hits more than 40 percent of his shots from 16 feet out to the three-point line (league average is about 38 percent). He adds an above-average transition game, where he’s as good a finisher on the run as any other wing on this roster. Add in feisty defense and you might have a recipe for a major contributor.
But so far we haven’t seen it.
That doesn’t mean we won’t see it from Hill. In fact, it’d be surprising not to see him improve as he continues to get more important reps. A big game (by Hill standards) might be coming soon, considering 10 games into his young season he hasn’t posted more than eight points, four assists, or four rebounds in any single contest.