Throughout the NBA season, a head coach must manage a team’s health, egos, and on-court play. However, manipulating lineups and managing chemistry is no easy task, no matter the experience. LA Clippers head coach Ty Lue is no stranger to any of these situations. Lue managed to create a culture within the Clippers that embraces his characteristics. The team showed its ability to remain calm under pressure and display resiliency. Which is displayed in their ability to come back from large deficits. Additionally, they have bought into being a malleable unit when facing different situations. The team is off to a modest 9-7 start and consequently, there have been rumblings about Lue’s lineup decisions. With multiple injuries and varying play from a plethora of players, Ty Lue’s rotation dilemma is evident.
Ty Lue’s Rotation Dilemma
A major talking point regarding Lue’s rotations involves the starting lineup. The unit consisting of Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Paul George, Nicolas Batum, and Ivica Zubac is posting a -9.3 net rating. The five-man group has started games slow throughout the season, creating early deficits to overcome. Although the team is capable of coming back from these deficits, this is not ideal.
On a brighter note, the Clippers’ bench has saved the team on numerous occasions. Lineups with wings Terance Mann and Luke Kennard are posting a +14.4 net rating. Add backup center Isaiah Hartenstein in the mix, and that rating shoots up to +18.8. The group known as LIT (Luke, Isaiah, Terance) is proving to be properly named as they light up the court with production and energy to shoot the Clippers in the arm.
Lue’s decision to keep the same starting lineup could be an indication that he does not want to ruin the energy and synergy that the bench brings. In addition to Mann, Kennard, and Hartenstein, the fourth spot has seen more fluidity. Inconsistent play from Justise Winslow and Amir Coffey has created more questions than answers for the backup power forward spot. Both players provide length, versatility, and energy on the defensive end. However, their offensive games have not been as impressive. Winslow’s lack of an offensive arsenal and Coffey’s spotty shooting do not bode well to create space for George and other offensive weapons.
What Changes Should Be Made?
In order to combat the slow starts, it appears evident that a starting lineup change may be necessary. But who should be inserted into that unit? Mann and Kennard both made cases this season to earn that nod.
If Lue is looking for additional offense, then he should start Kennard. Kennard is arguably the best shooter on the team, boasting a 44% clip from beyond the arc. His ability to space the floor and create off the dribble gives the starting unit another option to alleviate some scoring burden from George and Jackson. Also, Kennard’s confidence compared to last season is night and day. The fifth-year guard is now hunting shots and moving with purpose off the ball. Because of his off-ball movement, the defense has more pressure to stay attached. In turn, this would create more points of attack for George and Jackson, as Kennard’s defender will be preoccupied.
If Lue aspires for defense, then Mann deserves the spot. Mann provides defensive versatility with his length and energy with his on-ball defending. There were instances this season in which he checked the best perimeter defender when Batum rested. The combination of Mann, George, and Batum would be a nightmare for opposing scorers. Their ability to switch, play the passing lanes, and apply pressure would give one of the league’s best defenses a boost.
Additionally, Mann is averaging career highs across the board in points, rebounds, and assists. On the offensive end, he has improved as a shooter but struggles with hesitancy. When Mann doesn’t think and shoots with confidence, his shots appear purer. He also cuts hard and pushes the ball to improve the pace for the team.
Lue can’t go wrong with either decision. Ultimately, it will be up to whatever he decides will mitigate the slow starts. Whether it be offense or defense, Mann and Kennard both appear to be viable options to round out the starting lineup.
Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris Sr.’s Roles
The returns of center Serge Ibaka and forward Marcus Morris Sr. are imminent. Ibaka just finished a stint with the Clippers’ G-League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers, in an effort to get back in shape and rhythm. He had an impressive performance in which he notched 22 points and 14 rebounds. But now, he is ready to return to the main squad. His spot won’t be guaranteed as he will have to earn it back due to Hartenstein’s productive play. When Ibaka first returned, he played limited minutes as the first center off the bench, only to be replaced by Hartenstein soon after. Anticipate Lue to do the same in order to get a feel on which center will help the team more.
The main question regarding Morris’ role will be whether to start or come off the bench. With Batum playing well with the starters, a case can be made to have Morris come off the bench. Similar to what he did last season, after missing the first part of the season with a knee injury. The case to start Morris is similar to Kennard’s. A 47.3% shooter from three last season, Morris provides additional shooting and spacing for George to operate. His mid-post offense and pull-up ability give the unit another creator who can find his own shot.
If Lue decides to bring Morris off the bench, the already loaded second team will have another weapon with Morris’ switchability and mid-range and three-point shooting. Last season, the team elected to eventually start Morris in an effort to get him going. Anticipate a similar line of thinking as the team will need Morris throughout the season, and hopefully in the postseason.
Fixing Ty Lue’s Rotation Dilemma
With Morris and Ibaka returning from injury, Lue will have to go through another round of evaluations to discover his preferred rotations. The starting lineup’s slow starts have been an area of concern all season, so he will have to think about an adjustment in that regard. Whether it is Kennard or Mann, the lineup would see improvements in multiple aspects. Moving Bledsoe to the bench would add more size and energy that would boost the defense. Moving Jackson to the bench would do the same, as well as add scoring to the second unit. This would compensate for losing one of the LIT members to the starters. Overall, Lue has many options to tweak the team. As one of the best coaches in the league, Clipper fans should trust whatever decision he decides to do in order to help the team break through.
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