The trade deadline has come and gone and—despite the rumblings—the Clippers abstained from a trade. This is the team Los Angeles will be going into the playoffs with and whether or not it will be able to beat San Antonio and Oklahoma City is the looming question. We can break this roster down into sub-units: lineups. Vinny Del Negro’s oft-criticized rotation methods have been fairly successful this season. What are the keys of some of the Clippers’ most used lineups and how can these translate to the playoffs and against the Spurs and Thunder?
LA’s most used lineup is obviously their starters, but there are really two versions of this lineup: with Chauncey Billups or without (where Willie Green starts on a Finals caliber team). Due to his injury, we only have a limited sample of data on the first lineup (114 minutes). It posts an insane offensive efficiency of 119.3—NBA average is 106.3—but has trouble on the other end of the court. The defensive efficiency of 107.6 is easily the highest among all the Clippers’ units with 100+ minutes played and would rank 27th in the league. Of course, both the stellar o-rating and ugly d-rating are both somewhat functions of the teams the Clippers have played since they’ve had Billups back.
To get a more balanced sample size, lets look at this lineup’s stats from last season. In 2011-12 this unit’s offensive rating was lower, but one that would still rank 1st in today’s NBA. The defensive efficiency posted would be percentage points better than Indiana’s league best mark. It’s fair to say with more minutes, this unit’s statistics will even out and fit more into what we’ve seen in the past.
The Green unit posts a lesser offensive efficiency, albeit one that would still rank 3rd in the league, and a better defensive efficiency (than this year’s lineup). Again: the Billups lineup’s statistics will likely regress on offense and improve on defense as the season goes on. Billups is obviously a superior player to Green, now he just needs to stay healthy.
Mirroring the starters, there are two versions of A Tribe Called Bench: with Grant Hill and sans. There isn’t enough data (32 minutes) to come to any reasonable statistical conclusions on the ultra small unit featuring Hill. The eye test tells us should be a success; Ronny Turiaf is essentially a stiff and Hill provides a ton of versatility. The most important thing is that he will allow the Clippers to do is hide Jamal Crawford on defense more effectively. Hill can pick up Manu Ginobili or Kevin Martin while Crawford hides on the perimeter against Matt Bonner or Nick Collison. Neither OKC nor San Antonio features an offensively skilled big man that can take advantage of this unit’s size. More on the lineup that has been A Tribe Called Bench for the majority of the season here.
Now the most pressing question: who closes the game? The only thing we know at this point is that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will be on the floor. We can also assume oft-starters Willie Green and Caron Butler will not. So we have only three positions, into which we have to plug in seven worthy players (I’m counting DeAndre Jordan as a worthy player).
The ideal unit is as follows: Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes/Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, and Blake Griffin. Yes, no Jamal Crawford. He is too much of a liability on defense and, unless he’s feeling it, isn’t the ideal player to have on offense when one wants the ball in Paul’s hands at almost all times. This lineup has played only 20 minutes all season (with a fair portion of those coming late in close games) so again we’ll have to go with the eye test and my opinions.
You have an absolute dynamo in Eric Bledsoe, a strong wing defender and spot up shooter in either Hill or Barnes, and versatile big man who can hit free throws in Odom. Odom is probably the weakest link in this lineup. His subpar outside shooting can cramp spacing (the counter: DeAndre Jordan) and quicker players can take him off the dribble. If the Thunder go small with Kevin Durant at the four—something they should do as OKC’s small ball groups are miles better than their regular units—the Clippers can shift Grant Hill to the power forward slot. I see this lineup as LA’s best chance at success late in games.
In the end, successes and failures of these lineups will decide the Clippers’ fate. Can Del Negro manage them in accordance to time, score, and matchups? Or will he fail while multiple deserving players want minutes and the opponent’s rotations lay a wrecking ball on Los Angeles? Only time will tell.