L.A. Clippers Must Utilize This 5-Man Unit More Often

Oren FriedmanCorrespondent IIMarch 8, 2013

With rotations likely to shrink during the postseason, Vinny Del Negro would be smart to experiment with different units to find the best five-man squad for the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Del Negro has been partial to hockey-type substitutions, often playing five starters then subbing them out for five bench players. 

As such, the Clippers most-used lineup of the season has been the players with the most starts: Chris Paul, Willie Green, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. This unit has logged 519.2 minutes together and boasts a plus/minus of plus-73, per 82games.com. 

Now that Chauncey Billups is healthy, he has been reinserted into the starting lineup in place of Green, helping the Clippers with a comparably impressive plus/minus of plus-52, per 82games.com. 

While the starters get most of the burn, Del Negro’s crunch-time unit is a combination of starters and bench players. It typically consists of Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Griffin and Lamar Odom. 

The benefits of this lineup are well calculated. 

In the backcourt, Chris Paul is perhaps the best closer in basketball. Crawford is capable of creating his own shot and is automatic from the free-throw line.

Barnes provides the Clippers with sound perimeter defense and plays well off the ball. Griffin is the Clippers’ second-best all-around player, and Lamar Odom is the team’s best big at defending the pick-and-roll. 

This lineup is also one of Del Negro’s most versatile, giving the Clippers the latitude to switch almost everything while retaining an inside presence. 

Despite the success of this unit, this five-man rotation has a plus/minus of just plus-27 in 109.3 minutes of action. Although this unit’s offensive rating is a full tenth of a point better than its defensive rating (1.12 to 1.02), this unit often plays four on five on offense, as Odom is still yet to find his scoring groove, per 82games.com.

Del Negro would be smart to make at least one critical change to this crunch-time unit.

Substituting DeAndre Jordan for Lamar Odom down the stretch could be key.


Jordan as a Deterrent

Jordan brings a different energy level than Odom and adds valuable rim protection to a team still struggling with some defensive deficiencies.

Although Jordan is only blocking 1.3 shots per game, he is a deterrent to guards trying to attack the paint.

Jordan’s rim protection is best illustrated by his impact against two of the best point guard’s in the West in the San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker and the Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook.

In 68 minutes of action on the floor against Jordan this season, Parker’s points per 36 minutes have dipped from 22.9 to 18.0. With Jordan on the bench, Parker’s numbers jump up to 25.4, per NBA.com.

Although the brilliant guard is still scoring on nearly 63 percent of his field-goal attempts in the restricted area with Jordan on the floor, his field-goal percentage near the hoop rises to 75 percent with Jordan on the sidelines, per NBA.com.

Parker’s plus/minus with Jordan on or off the floor is even more pronounced.

With DJ lingering around the basket, Parker’s plus/minus per 36 minutes is a mediocre plus-6.9. Conversely, Parker’s plus/minus leaps to plus-23.3 with Jordan on the bench, per NBA.com.

Westbrook is also adversely affected by Jordan’s presence.

The UCLA product leads all point guards in free throw-attempts per game at roughly 7.2, per NBA.com.

Without Jordan on the floor, Westbrook gets to the line a startling 9.2 times per 36 minutes against Lob City. Fittingly, with Jordan on the floor, Westbrook only gets to the charity stripe an average of 4.4 times per 36 minutes, per NBA.com.

Westbrook, nevertheless, finds other ways to contribute with Jordan on the floor, as his plus/minus actually rises from plus-8.4 to plus-13.3 with DJ in the game.

Jordan’s value as a deterrent of guard penetration is key.

Westbrook is a beast at drawing contact and subsequently slowing down the game. Anytime that DJ can force Westbrook to settle for mid-range jumpers or floaters in the lane is more beneficial than letting him easily get to the rack.

The Clippers have been stellar as of late, reeling off wins in nine of their last 11 games. The two loses, however, came at home at the hands of the Spurs and the Thunder.

Parker and Westbrook shredded Chris Paul and the backcourt in those contests.

In a 116-90 loss to the silver and black, Parker eviscerated Paul to the tune of 31 points and seven assists on 12-of-16 shooting. Westbrook also had his way with the Clippers, going off for 29 points and 10 assists on 11-of-20 shooting in a 108-104 win at Staples Center.

In both games, the Clippers sorely needed some front-line intimidation to stymie these quick and explosive point guards.


DeAndre Jordan v. Lamar Odom

Aside from his impact on defense, Jordan excels in other capacities as well.

Per 36 minutes, Jordan and Odom are rebounding at a similar clip (10.5 to 10.3, respectively), but Jordan is outscoring Odom by nearly six points (13.2 to 7.1), per Basketball-Reference.com.

DJ’s above-average PER of 16.82 also exceeds Odom’s pedestrian PER of 10.06, per ESPN.com.

Where Jordan really struggles is from the free-throw line, where he can become a liability.

Jordan is shooting a miserable 41.3 percent on the season. Odom is really thriving off reputation, as his free-throw percentage of 44.8 is not much better.

Although Jordan is making 62.5 percent of his free-throws in the final five minutes of games within five points or less, he has only taken eight attempts, per NBA.com. This is too small of a sample size to really gauge Jordan’s crunch-time effectiveness from the charity stripe.

After last season’s persistent free-throw shooting woes, the Clippers are all too conscious of the impact that poor shooting can have on a playoff game.

As such, it would be wise for Coach Del Negro to give Jordan more crunch-time reps now so that he has some confidence and comfort come the playoffs.


More than Just Lob City

The road to the championship most certainly runs through Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

The Clippers need their best five-man unit out there to compete with the mismatches posed by Parker and Tim Duncan or Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

Again, the Paul-Crawford-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan defensive unit bests the one featuring Odom.

This unit’s stingy 38.6 effective shooting percentage allowed is nearly seven percentage points better than the lineup that utilizes Odom instead of Jordan, per 82games.com.

With Chris Paul on the floor, the Clippers have a facilitator that can keep Lob City among the most efficient offenses in the game.

Defense, however, is where championships are won. For all the success that the Clippers’ reinvented defense is finding this season, one more change is necessary.

DeAndre Jordan needs to take Lamar Odom’s spot in order to form a formidable unit of Paul-Crawford-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan and help the Clippers make what could be a deep playoff run.


Statistics used in this article were accurate as of March 6, 2013.


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