Last season, the Los Angeles Clippers had arguably the worst bench in the entire NBA. They certainly were the least deep of all the 2014-2015 playoff teams. The offense was inefficient, the defense nonexistent, and it wasn’t like there were bargains riding the pine. When the season ended, head coach and President of Basketball Operations Doc Rivers (known to some here as “Doc the GM”) knew he could not sugar coat the need to improve the bench. And not just internally. For real.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 18, 2015
You knew it was going down when free agent bust PF Spencer Hawes and 35-year-old SF Matt Barnes were flipped for SF Lance Stephenson, who was coming off a brutal season with the Charlotte Hornets. But even when Stephenson was acquired, Rivers made it clear that he wasn’t looking for his latest reclamation project to be the starter in a best case scenario.
The addition of future Hall-of-Fame SF Paul Pierce makes the Clippers even older at that position. Pierce turns 38 in October and he only played about 26 minutes per game in Washington last season. But late in games and late in the season, Pierce upgrades the shooting on the wing, as he’s the only player in the league who has made 100 threes every season since 2000.
Most relevantly, he keeps Born Ready on the bench.
Neither Pierce or Stephenson qualify as plus athletes on the wing at this stage of their careers, something that folks like to chide the Clippers about. But then the Clippers signed Wesley Johnson.
Johnson, the 4th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, replaces Barnes as the latest Laker to cross the halls of Staples Center. The athletic swingman has been open about his inconsistent production throughout his career. For all of Johnson’s physical tools, he has never stood out as a scorer, rebounder, passer, or defender in his five NBA seasons. He does shoot the three about as well as Barnes though (35 percent for his career and in 2014-2015), and he has experience at every position except PG and C. He’s solid insurance as the likely 12th man. Consider the fact that Hedo Turkoglu and Dahntay Jones were in the spots currently filled by Stephenson and Johnson.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 10, 2015
This brings me to Orlando Summer League. Despite SF Jordan Hamilton’s 29 points off the bench in the finale against the Thunder and SG C.J. Wilcox‘s 22 points in the Clippers’ only win this summer (also against the Thunder), those two don’t look like top 12 players on the roster right now. Hamilton made only 1-of-9 threes in three games, while Wilcox shot only 34 percent from the field in five games. The most impressive player for the Clippers in Orlando was 2nd-round rookie PF Branden Dawson, who was held out of the finale after putting up double-doubles in three of four games. That earned him a deal.
Dawson’s ceiling is limited due to his 6’6″ frame and extremely poor ballhandling and shooting ability. But he looks like a player who can defend multiple positions, rebound, and positively affect games in selected stints. That’s not bad for a fifth big man. But the Clippers still had no backups for PF Blake Griffin and C DeAndre Jordan. That changed when C Cole Aldrich was signed.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 13, 2015
Like Johnson, Aldrich was a 2010 lottery pick, selected 11th overall and landing with the Thunder. Aldrich barely played 1,000 minutes combined in his first four NBA seasons, spent in Oklahoma City, Houston, Sacramento, and New York. He played 976 minutes for a poor Knicks team last season, but he was an effective backup center in 16 minutes a game. Let’s compare what Aldrich did with what Hawes did last season:
Aldrich also had six double-doubles last season. Hawes didn’t have any. But perhaps you want to compare Aldrich to Big Baby, since Aldrich is going to fill his role as an interior presence. Well, Davis didn’t have a single 10+ rebound game last season, and only scored in double figures four times. Aldrich had 12 double-digit scoring games and 10 double-digit rebound games. The Clippers have had worse here. But Aldrich won’t need to play 20 minutes a game. That’s because the Clippers somehow convinced PF Josh Smith to leave James Harden, Dwight Howard, and the Western Conference runner-up Houston Rockets to join the Los Angeles Clippers to fill the first big off the bench role.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 17, 2015
Let’s recap. Smith went from this:
Josh Smith statement on leaving the Rockets and signing with the Clippers. pic.twitter.com/SlVmezfLEA
— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) July 16, 2015
Yeah, this only happens with Doc Rivers running the basketball side of the organization. Even with Smith’s annoyingly bad shooting percentages and advancing age (he turns 30 in December and entering his 12th NBA season), Smith is a long, athletic big man who can handle the ball, pass, score, and defend. The trolls will troll Doc the GM, while Doc the Coach can check these options out:
Speaking of trolling:
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 13, 2015
Some of you will always hate PG Austin Rivers, who is back with his father on a short-term deal. If Rivers, 23 in August, spent all four years at Duke, he would just now be a rookie. Would he be the 10th overall pick? That’s questionable at best. Rivers hasn’t been a strong finisher, shows poor mechanics on his jumper, hasn’t developed into a playmaker for others, and gets completely lost at times on defense. Plus, there’s this:
So yeah, I get why you all can’t stand Austin Rivers. But as the 10th player in the rotation, Rivers won’t be counted on as much as he was last season. Plus, Rivers did have multiple difference-making performances in the playoffs. As much as you all would like to forget, here’s one of them:
Now, there’s still work for Rivers to do. PG Lester Hudson was waived, so the Clippers have a couple of spots open. 6th man Jamal Crawford is still on the roster with a year left on his deal, so perhaps the Clippers hold onto him to start the season with Smith and Aldrich under contract. Rivers hasn’t guaranteed a roster spot to a third PG in his previous two years, so he may go that route again.
But for now? This has the makings of a competitive bench. Something tells me that you all still won’t be satisfied. Something tells me that you can’t wait to clown Doc the GM again. Something tells me that you still wish an NBA Texas front office staffer will run the team and hire Ettore Messina to coach it.
Maybe you all will get your wish, eventually. But objectively speaking, this offseason has been just what the Doc ordered for the Clippers.