Immediately after losing to Golden State on Friday, Tyronn Lue was unable to determine what exactly was weighing on the Clippers’ bank, beyond the obvious: “I know we certainly didn’t fire any shots. ”
The Clippers’ reserves shot 9 for 23 and scored 20 points. That was 22 less than the boys on the warrior bench. And while the starters of the Clippers continued to perform effectively and ended up in the box rating of the 115-105 loss as plus 7, the reserves were minus 17.
It reflected a trend contrary to recent Clippers seasons when their bank was among the most effective traits (leading to consecutive sixth man of the year winners).
Not so much this season, at least not yet: In 10 games, the Clippers reserves are the worst minus 5.3 in the league, which means they have been exceeded by 53 points.
In the final round, when Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell led the bench production, the Clippers reserves were a third best plus 2.0. The year before? Plus 1.1, which took sixth place.
« We just have to figure out the right combinations to see who plays well together, whether or not we want PG (Paul George) and Kawhi (Leonard) to stagger like we did in the first seven or eight games. » I’m just trying to figure out the rotations and who’s playing best with whom, ”said the Clippers new coach ahead of Friday’s defeat, in which his team gave up a 22-point lead in the third quarter, including an evaporation of 10 points in the final 2:19 of the third quarter when Leonard was the only starter on the ground.
« We’ll find out, » added Lue. “It’s a good problem to have, especially when you get Marcus (Morris) back who was a starter and is coming off the bench now. You have this kind of talent off the bench, it gives your team a different dynamic. »
Morris returned from right knee pain Wednesday and made his first three shots; since then he’s gone 2 for 13 as he got used to his new role.
Williams’ shooting average – 43.2% from the field and 39.1% from the 3-point range – is at the same level as last season. But under Lue, the 34-year-old, three-time sixth man of the year only plays an average of 20.3 minutes per game, about eight less than last season. And it shows: He makes eight fewer attempts to shoot and only 8.9 points per game – for the first time since 2006/07 (for the time being) in the single-digit range.
With Williams’ former running mate Harrell, who now works for the team in the hallway, Ivica Zubac has worked her way into the position of the backup center. Despite the lightning-fast working relationship with Williams and the notion that the former starter might enjoy second-string opposition, Zubac’s contributions weren’t particularly robust.
Last season, Zubac was on average 17.9 minutes away from the bench as a starter. Despite shooting 71.1% off the field, he only makes 3.8 shots per game (compared to 5.3 last season) and averages just 3.8 rebounds (compared to 7.5 in 2019-20 ).
And Zubac’s influence (and chance) has decreased lately: In the last five games of the Clippers he averaged 16.6 minutes and 4.8 points. In the first five minutes he averaged 19.2 minutes and 10.4 points.
Defensively, the Clippers bench is not exactly impressive. Aside from the fact that they give more points than the 34.5 per game (19th division) they contribute, the unit – mostly with a combination of Williams, Zubac, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann – is on the penultimate Place in defensive rebound (32.5 per game) and 25th in committed fouls (22.2 per game).
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« I think we have a defensive failure because you lose Pat Beverley, Kawhi, PG and Nicolas (Batum), » said Lue. « So it’s going to be a levy … I think we need to do a better job as the coaching staff, starting with myself by just mixing it up and showing a little zone. » Try to keep the teams off balance and gain time with this second unit on the defensive.
« Of course, different situations, playoff situations are more based on matchup. But we want to keep playing our 10 guys that we played and just get a flow and a rhythm and see how it works. »
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