The Los Angeles Clippers posted an impressive win on Monday night, notching a 92-77 home victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder — their second straight over the Kevin Durant- and Russell Westbrook-led crew — to extend their winning streak to four and stay just a game back of the Los Angeles Lakers for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with five games to play.
It was an impressive win that saw some impressive performances off the L.A. bench, which chipped in 36 points on just under 50 percent shooting for the game, plus 17 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks. After the game, Clippers guard Nick Young — who did the lion's share of the damage, leading the Clips in scoring with 19 points on 10 shots in reserve duty — dapped up his fellow second-unit players for their contributions. From Beth Harris of The Associated Press:
''We're one of the best second units in the league,'' said Young, who joined the Clippers a month ago in a trade from Washington. ''I'm excited. I was waiting for one of these type of games. To get it tonight against one of the league's top teams was great.''
It's good for Nick Young to think that — I'm sure coach Vinny Del Negro doesn't want his reserves to think that they stink or anything, and a Nick Young without confidence is a Nick Young less likely to take quite as many irrational long jumpers. (Wait, that might be a good thing.)
Realistically, though, he is wrong, and he's pumping the L.A. reserves' tires in a way that defies reality. The Clippers bench is not one of the best benches in the league. Like, definitely not.
About a month ago, SB Nation's Mike Prada identified a half-dozen second units he'd (and, really, we'd all) choose over the Clippers; my hunch is that if he wanted to make it into a top-10 list, he wouldn't have too much trouble picking four more before he got to the Clips. In addition to the six teams Prada suggested — the Philadelphia 76ers, the Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz, the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Mavericks and the Thunder — a look down the standings turns up a handful more.
Off the top, there's the San Antonio Spurs, where Gregg Popovich can look down the bench and call on Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson and the rumors of Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. And you'd rather have the Indiana Pacers' second unit (George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough and Leandro Barbosa to score, plus Louis Amundson, Dahntay Jones and Kyrylo Fesenko for some defense and laughs) or the "organized chaos" of the Phoenix Suns' somehow super-effective Michael Redd-Sebastian Telfair-Robin Lopez-Markieff Morris-Josh Childress' squad, wouldn't you?
The Milwaukee Bucks are reeling, but a line change that brings in the likes of Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and either Ersan Ilyasova or Drew Gooden is preferable to most of what the Clips can throw out there in terms of lineup depth and breadth. Ditto for the Memphis Grizzlies, with O.J. Mayo providing punch off the pine and the Marreese Speights-Dante Cunningham duo soaking up Darrell Arthur's minutes; they get especially interesting if Gilbert Arenas keeps hitting 45 percent of his shots and 38 percent of his 3-pointers.
You could argue for a Boston Celtics second line led by Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma, too. Ditto for a Houston Rockets second side that showcases just-returning Kyle Lowry along with Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger and one of Samuel Dalembert or Marcus Camby, or the Jekyll version of the New York Knicks' Jared Jeffries-Steve Novak-J.R. Smith-styled configurations (although the Hyde versions of them are pretty terrifying to watch).
Just eyeballing it, then, you'd put the Clippers' second unit somewhere around the middle of the NBA's pack, and down near the bottom of the crop of postseason contenders. The numbers on L.A.'s backup lineups make Young's case even harder to back up.
Young has been part of one very good unit for the Clips, according to BasketballValue.com's five-man lineup data, but it's not a second unit — it's him replacing Foye and running with the Clippers' other four starters. In fact, according to that site's numbers, every Clippers lineup with positive adjusted plus-minus numbers (which attempt to identify whether a player or five-man unit has a positive or negative impact on the team when he/they are on the floor) features Paul, Griffin or both.
This is to be expected; Paul's one of the best point guards in the game and Griffin, while a liability at the line who's getting beat up these days, is among the game's best power forwards. Still, though, things get significantly dicier when the bench takes over.
Of L.A.'s 10 most frequently used lineups, only two have posted a negative adjusted plus-minus and a negative "overall rating," which compares estimates of how many points a given lineup scores per 100 possessions on the floor with how many points it allows, for the season, and they're both bench units — the Kenyon Martin-Reggie Evans-Bobby Simmons-Mo Williams-Eric Bledsoe group, and Martin-Evans-Simmons-Young-Bledsoe.
This tells us a couple of things. First off, get out of here, Lineups That Put Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, Bobby Simmons and Eric Bledsoe Together. You g'wan an' git. Secondly, once you get past the Clippers' starting five, things start to get reeeeeeeal unreliable.
With the exception of Williams, none of the Clippers' primary bench players has a Player Efficiency Rating, True Shooting percentage or Effective Field Goal percentage above league average. With the exception of Martin (2.31), none of the Clippers' primary bench players have a positive overall rating. Four primary L.A. reserves hit less than two-thirds of their free throws, including Evans (50.7 percent) and Martin (an obscene 35.7 percent), which makes them liabilities even in those ideal "we got you into the bonus early!" situations.
There's definite talent there — Young and Bledsoe are gifted athletes who can provide dynamite bursts for Del Negro, and Evans can rebound, and Martin offers that all-important "guy with lips tattooed on his neck" (a slot that every contender needs filled) — but they're all limited guys who have multiple things they don't do well, and in whom it's really hard to have faith in a postseason series.
Of course, every team's bench is, to some degree, compromised — every player has flaws and no squad is chock full of guys who all deserve to be starting. And we can safely assume that in the Clippers' postseason run, Blake and CP3 will be playing about 246 minutes per game. But the Clippers' bench has routinely been outperformed this season and, despite a strong showing in a win over the Thunder, it's a pretty safe bet that they'll continue that trend into the summer; if the Clippers win, it will be because that starting lineup (and, primarily, Chris Paul) makes it so. If they don't, there's an excellent chance it will be because their reserve players were unable to keep up with the charge of their counterparts on the opposing Western Conference playoff crew.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, Nick Young is pretty wrong. I will now give y'all leave to catch your breath from the shock.