Kevin Arnovitz delves into the depths of the Clippers’ 27th-ranked defense and concludes that the starters are not the issue — they rank sixth in defensive efficiency — over at TrueHoop. The bench, meanwhile, is as bad as we expected — especially lineups featuring Byron Mullens, Jamal Crawford and/or Darren Collison. Ultimately, Doc Rivers will have to find a way to limit the bench’s defensive limitations, whether by tweaking the rotation, adding a free agent big man, or both. Here’s an excerpt:
Installing a complicated system takes time, though, especially for a unit with two new starting wings and a retooled second unit. But for even the most patient, the early returns haven’t been promising for the Clippers, who rank 27th overall in defensive efficiency. That’s their high-water mark for the season thanks to a solid effort in a 102-98 win at Minnesota on Wednesday night, only one of two times in 12 games this season the Clippers have held their opponent to less than a point per possession. For a frame of reference, the Pacers’ No. 1-ranked defense allowed a team to top a point per possession once — and barely.
Those ugly numbers would suggest that if you tuned in to watch the Clippers, you’d get a whiff of that rotten defense the second the ball was tipped. J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley must be the Belmonte and Joselito of NBA wing defenders, with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan playing the role of Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee. After all, a team can’t give up 105.3 points per 100 possession unless their starters are utterly clueless, right?
That’s the crazy thing about the Clippers — not only are the starters not terrible, they’re actually very good. The starting lineup of Chris Paul, Redick, Dudley, Griffin and Jordan has played almost 40 percent of the team’s total minutes this season. As a unit, it surrenders only 99.3 points per possession, which would rank sixth in the NBA.
Take one Clippers starter off the floor and the Clippers still give up considerably less than the league average. For instance, the Clippers’ top four performers — Paul, Redick, Griffin and Jordan — maintain that 99.3 defensive rating, and they’ve been on the floor for almost exactly one half of the action this season. When those four guys aren’t on the floor, that rating drops to 111.3 — beyond awful, like 2005-06 Sonics, worst-of-all-time awful.
Put two Clippers on the bench, and the team defense is still strong — if Redick is one of the three remaining starters on the court. So long as a lineup has a strong, starter-heavy DNA, the Clippers are essentially OK.
In other words, if you want to experience a full frontal view of the Clippers’ unsightly defense, you’ll generally have to wait until the beginning of the second or the end of the third quarters.