After a hot start to the season, the Los Angeles Clippers are now on a four-game losing streak and have lost 13 of their last 22 games.
The same team that had the best winning percentage (.714) in the Western Conference at the end of November is now barely holding onto the No. 8 seed in the West. As recently noted by The Athletic’s Jovan Buha, the team has looked solid in second quarters, but has faltered in the first and third. That is typically when their starting lineup is on the court.
Their starting lineup is currently Marcin Gortat, Danilo Gallinari, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That group has been outscored by the unfathomable sum of 26.0 points per 100 possessions since December 12, per John Schumann of NBA.com.
Something needs to change for the Clippers in order for them to still have real playoff aspirations. It’s safe to say both Harris and Gallinari have earned spots in the first unit, producing legitimate All-Star campaigns.
Gallinari has averaged 21.9 points and 6.94 rebounds per 36 minutes when on the floor with Harris. When Harris has appeared next to Gallinari, he has put up 20.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per 36. These two are currently foundations of success for Los Angeles.
When these two players are on the court, Los Angeles big man Montrezl Harrell has recorded 19.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per 36. He would be the most logical addition to round out the frontcourt, especially considering he currently ranks No. 11 overall among all NBA players in Player Efficiency Rating.
But as carefully explained by Robert Flom, the Clippers are making a big mistake by playing Bradley for 28.7 minutes per game with 44 consecutive appearances in the starting lineup (via SB Nation):
“He’s been the worst Clippers’ rotation guard by a mile, dragged down by simply horrible offensive numbers. His defense has been around average at best, but he’s so limited in all other aspects of his game that non-All Defense level performances mean he’s a strongly negative overall player. Worst of all, the Clippers have four guards who have made a more positive impact than Bradley, and he plays more minutes per game than all of them.”
The guard who has made the most positive impact for the squad is 2018 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, who would be undeniably helpful with the starters. During the 316 minutes that Williams has played alongside Harris and Gallinari, he has averaged 23.9 points and 6.03 assists per 36.
The player who makes the most sense next to Williams in the backcourt is Patrick Beverley, who is known as one of the most feared defensive guards in the NBA.
These five players have been used together for 80 minutes. The Clippers have outscored opponents by 19.4 points per 100 possessions during that time. That net rating ranks No. 8 overall out of the 100 different five-man lineups that have played at least as many minutes together. But this is presumably at least a bit skewed because they face weaker competition than the starters.
Of course, the problem with such a change is that it would more than likely hurt the production in the second unit. No team has averaged more scoring (52.7 points per game) from their reserves than Los Angeles. The overall distribution is uneven, though, as only the starters for the Cleveland Cavaliers have scored fewer points per game than the starters on the Clippers (62.5) have thus far.
The most likely scenario is Doc Rivers makes a move less drastic, keeping Williams in the second unit to maintain depth. Even if the only change is to replace Bradley with Beverley, it would likely lead to more success.
If nothing else, it would be fantastic news for the emerging confidence of Gilgeous-Alexander. The Clippers have been outscored by 9.4 points per 100 during the 633 minutes when the rookie has appeared with Bradley. Yet in the 493 minutes that Gilgeous-Alexander has played without Bradley, they have been able to outscore opponents by 5.4 points per 100.
Los Angeles is 11-5 (.688) when Beverley is in the starting lineup and they are 6-1 (.857) in games Beverley and Gilgeous-Alexander both started.