While all the hype and glory has been around the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder in recent years, the Los Angeles Clippers are on the rise in contending for a hoist of the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Having Blake Griffin and Chris Paul is fun and dandy, but when it comes to being a complete team and not Lob City, the Clippers have more than alley oops. Los Angeles’ success revolves around players who can fill the void when those All-Stars need a breather.
This past summer, the Clippers’ first-year general manager, Gary Sacks, took the lead in establishing the bench for his team, including players like Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, Chauncey Billups and Ronny Turiaf.
Building a strong team requires gathering the right pieces, and the bench is the most pivotal part of that process. Sacks approached his puzzle-esque system with some leverage, adding Grant Hill and Eric Bledsoe, who could start or come off the bench. But he ultimately was building something rarely seen in the NBA — a full-strength backup squad that could swap out and relieve the high-octane starters.
Even the man himself, Shaquille O’Neal, has admiration for Vinny Del Negro‘s deep bench.
“The Clippers’ bench is probably the best in the league,” O’Neal said during a recent game. “They average a lot of points coming off the bench. They are very fun to watch, a very entertaining group.”
Los Angeles is ranked seventh in the league in scoring (101.8), primarily due to Crawford and company, who average 41.1 points per game.
In analyzing the benches of the Spurs and Thunder, there is no big-time scorer compared to what the Clippers have to offer. When the superstars like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook need a rest, there are only complimentary players to call upon.
Fear the beard no more. Oklahoma City blew its chances for another shot at the title after shipping James Harden to the Houston Rockets. His scoring presence — 16.8 points per game — was part of the Thunder’s success in competing for NBA crown. The Spurs, on the other hand, have talent, but not enough production. Danny Green, Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw are creating opportunities here and there, but if Gregg Popovich‘s team wants to be there in the end, more productivity is a must from the bench.
It’s tough to dislike the Clippers, with what they bring to the floor night in and night out. Del Negro’s bench players have the ability to start on an average NBA team. Bledsoe and Crawford especially bring a versatility and athleticism that make the Clippers stand out above all the rest.
In the past, the NBA was about the superstar, but in today’s day and age, it’s what else surrounds the team that’s most important. The quote “defense wins championships” is an understatement for the Clippers and basketball in general. Instead, it should be, “bench scoring and defense wins championships.”
If all follows suit and the bench continues its production, it’s hard not to envision a crack at the 2012-13 NBA Finals for Paul and company.
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