Coming into the 2016-2017 NBA season, the Clippers had made some solid moves with their limited cap-space and fortified their bench with above average role players such as Mo Speights, Brandon Bass, and Raymond Felton. Since bench struggles had plagued the Clips for the past few seasons, the new Clippers bench looked to be a breath of fresh air and ended up starting out the season as one of the best benches in the league.
The strong play of the Clipper’s reserves lasted until mid-November and then took a huge dive when Blake Griffin underwent a procedure on his knee and missed extended time. The bench’s subpar play continued when Griffin made his return and CP3 missed time with his hand injury. One of the big reasons that the bench began to struggle so badly was because Doc was unable to keep consistent rotations game to game. Sometimes he would start Austin Rivers at point guard and sometimes it would be Raymond Felton getting the nod based on the team the Clippers were facing that night.
Because the structure of the bench was different almost every night, it was hard for the bench players to keep the chemistry that had allowed them to play so well at the start of the season. Coming out of the All-Star Break with a healthy roster and the original starting lineup back intact should have resulted in the bench finding their groove again but that hasn’t been the case. This is in part because some players are having trouble moving back to the original roles they had on the team at the start of the season. For example, Rivers and Crawford are both players who excel when they have the ball in their own hands and when they were split up with Austin in the starting lineup and Jamal leading the bench, they were both more comfortable (even though Crawford was going through a major shooting slump at the time). However now that they are both on the bench again, the two are going to have to get used to sharing the ball handling duties more like at the start of the season.
In the seven games the Clippers have played since the All-Star Break, the bench has the third worst net rating in the league. In those seven games, the Clips are underwhelming 3-4 and the -10.2 rating of the bench is certainly one of the larger causes. In many of those games, the starters would make a nice run and gain momentum only to have it squandered by the bench coming in and not bringing the same intensity. Things may be on the upswing though as the Clippers have won their last two games, both coming against playoff-bound Eastern Conference teams in the Bulls and the Celtics. In those two games, the bench has looked much better and is posting a +16.5 rating, much better than the other five games since the break.
One of the main reasons for this sudden improvement in the bench’s play, other than Jamal putting up two vintage Jamal games, is Doc’s staggering of the Clipper’s stars. During the pre-season and first couple games of the season, Rivers experimented with staggering Cp3 and Griffin so that one of them was on the floor at all times. Evidently, Doc wasn’t in love with the results so he stopped the staggering, keeping it to a minimum, however in the past two games the most efficient bench lineups for the Clippers have been the ones that have one of the three stars staggered in with them.
In the third quarter of the Celtics game, the Clippers trailed 71-64 and didn’t seem to be gaining much ground. Doc sent in an unorthodox lineup with Jordan at center surrounded by Felton, Crawford, Rivers and Johnson and a spark went off. That lineup closed out the third quarter on an 11-0 run and continued to push the lead at the start of the fourth quarter, playing with rhythm on offensive and switching masterfully on defense. In the eight minutes that the lineup was on the floor, they posted a blistering 147.9 offensive rating and a stout 74.6 defensive rating resulting in an eye-opening 73.3 net rating.
The next lineup that Doc sent in only played three minutes but ended up extending the league even more in those few minutes. The lineup of Felton, Rivers, Crawford, Griffin and Speights went 5-6 from the field and had a net rating of 175.2 (233.3 offensive rating, 58.1 defensive rating.)
Those two lineups contributed to a 41-14 run that spanned sizable chunks of the third and fourth quarter and ultimately won the Clippers the game. Now the eight and three-minute spans in which the two lineups played are small sample sizes but the results that the staggering produced ended up getting the Clippers a much-needed victory. Just because the staggering worked against the Celtics and Bulls doesn’t mean that the staggered lineups will dominate against every team they face, but since the tactic procured success in the recent games, Doc may continue to see what the team can achieve when some lineups are staggered.