When the 2018-19 NBA season tipped off, you would have been hard-pressed to find someone who would argue that the Los Angeles Clippers would be one of the best teams in the league.
Suggesting such a thought might’ve been grounds for ridicule.
Yet as we stand about one month into the season, the Clippers find themselves fighting for the best record in the Western Conference. Despite their recent collapse against the struggling Washington Wizards, they were on a five-game winning streak with wins over the Milwaukee Bucks, Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
They’re one of the best offensive teams in the league, averaging 117.9 points per game, which is good enough for third best in the NBA. They’re also a good defensive team, taking up the mantra of “Clamp City,” to replace the old “Lob City.”
But one aspect of the team that has really fueled their success this season has been their bench.
Winning in the NBA requires depth. It’s not enough to be top heavy anymore. In order to become one of the elite teams in the league, a good bench rotation is necessary.
The Clippers bench is currently the highest scoring bench in the league at 56.1 points per game. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams, is second on the team in scoring with 18.8 off the bench.
Backup forward Montrezl Harrell is having a career year. He’s putting up career-highs across the board with 15.5 points per game, seven rebounds and shooting 66.9 percent from the field. He attributes the Clippers’ strong bench to building up their chemistry since the offseason.
“It’s been amazing, being able to go in with the guys that I know I’ll be in with,” Harrell told Basketball Insiders. “We got a great chemistry with the guys I practice with a lot, to get that feel, to know what type of things they want, how they want it done.”
The Clippers’ bench is shooting better from the field than many NBA teams altogether. They’ve been the most efficient bench in the league shooting 50.5 percent from the field. They’re the only bench that is scoring at a 50 percent or better clip.
Not only are they outscoring every other team’s second unit, but they’re also finding success in other ways as well. They’re the sixth best rebounding bench in the league at 19.5. As Harrell explains it, they’re looking to come in and impact the game in ways the starters don’t.
“Like I said, it’s a chemistry thing for us to be out there on the floor,” Harrell told Basketball Insiders. “We gel so well together and we just do all the little things that the first team doesn’t do. We try to pick it up and just increase it times two.”
And in today’s NBA, when efficient outside shooting is a hot commodity, the Clippers’ bench is fourth in the league in three-point accuracy at 39.4 percent.
Harrell doesn’t take any three-point attempts, and while Williams is definitely a long-range gunner, perhaps the best marksman on the team thus far is stretch forward Mike Scott.
Scott carved out a role for himself with Atlanta Hawks as a shooting big man off the bench before suffering a toe injury. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns during the 2016-17 season, and they ended up cutting him.
Last season, however, he experienced a resurgence with the Washington Wizards and reestablished himself as one of the league’s better shooting big men off the bench.
“It took time. I had to get my body right and get my mind right. After all that stuff got behind me, I was just able to play my game,” Scott told Basketball Insiders. “I like to bring energy off the bench, play physical and make shots. It’s kind of what I’ve always done.”
This season, Scott has played in all 17 games for the Clippers. He’s shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 48.9 percent from the three-point line. Just recently in a win over his former team (the Hawks), Scott poured in a season-high 18 points off the bench — all off of threes.
In his first season with the Clippers, Scott has noticed the unselfish nature of the rest of the guys and how that has contributed to their success. They don’t have a ‘superstar’ player per se, but they’re playing as a unit. In Scott’s opinion, it all starts from the top with head coach Doc Rivers.
“He’s a great coach. He’s down to Earth, he keeps it real, and there’s a lot of freedom. If you play hard on defense and be unselfish on offense, you fit into the system,” Scott told Basketball Insiders. “Everybody plays unselfish, everybody plays together. We got a lot of guys who are unselfish on both ends. We just got to keep playing like this.”
And while it is still very early in the season, Scott likes what he sees happening on the court. They’re not paying too much attention to the current standings or anybody’s expectations, they’re just grinding it out as they go.
“Just keep winning these games. We don’t want to look too far in the future, we just got to keep winning,” Scott told Basketball Insiders. “We just got to take each game as it comes.”
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