Despite the continuing story about the return of the Lakers, the LA Clippers are still the best team in Southern California -- and the best team in the NBA outside of Northern California.
The Clippers (14-2) rank second in ESPN's Basketball Power Indexandare the only team in BPI's top five offenses and defenses, and Chris Paul is having an MVP-caliber season. Paul leads the NBA in real plus-minusand is more than two points ahead of second-place James Harden.
But there is a scandal brewing that might cost the Clippers their chance at a championship -- and its name is Austin Rivers.
Rivers is, by minutes per game, the second guy off the Clippers bench, but there is little evidence that he does much of anything well enough on the court to warrant being on the roster. Rivers is a guard who ranks ninth on his own team in 3-point shooting percentage, among players averaging at least one 3-point attempt a game. (Center Marreese Speights is currently hitting 3s at a higher rate.) He does not pass the ball well (his assist rate of 13.6 percent ranks 80th in the league), he ranks eighth on the Clippers in steals per 100 possessions and is the only player on the team to log more than 100 minutes with a negative box plus-minus rating on both offense and defense.
Shall we go on? OK, in real plus-minus, Rivers ranks 60th among just the point guards. RPM suggests Rivers is being outplayed by such luminaries as Jonathan Gibson and Malcolm Delaney.
Advanced stats are not everything, of course, and we have not measured all aspects of what a player can contribute to his team. But we have measured a lot and there is simply no evidence that Rivers has earned a prominent role on a team that wants to challenge for a championship.
The response here is about the Clippers' options. Maybe Rivers was the best they could get? Nope. Rivers signed a deal in July that pays him $11 million this season (fifth-highest on the team), yet the Clippers could sign Jarrett Jack today (likely for a lot less than $11 million) and improve in every statistic mentioned above. Jack has better numbers than Rivers in basically every season of his career. He passes better, shoots better, plays better defense and, given that he made $6.3 million last year, would absolutely provide better value.
Signing Jack is not the Clippers' only option, or likely even their best option, but he is clearly a better option than Rivers. If coach Doc Rivers does not come to grips with that basic fact regarding his son's play, the Clippers will fall short again and waste another brilliant season from Chris Paul.
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Austin Rivers' struggles should be worrisome for LA Clippers