Clippers looking for an answer at small forward ... again

Luc Mbah A Moute might have the inside track to start at small forward for the Clippers.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Chris Paul is cognizant of the difficulties the Clippers have endured over the years trying to solidify the small-forward position.

“It’s been a revolving door,” Paul said.

And essentially the same vortex will swirl around three players who hope they can secure the starting small-forward spot this season.

Luc Mbah a Moute, the incumbent at small forward who re-signed this summer; Wesley Johnson, the backup who also re-signed, and Alan Anderson, the newcomer, are all competing for the job. But none of them has heard much from Clippers Coach Doc Rivers about who will get the big minutes at that position.


“I came here last season and I wasn’t supposed to even be on the team,” Mbah a Moute said. “So [Rivers] doesn’t have to tell me much. I just stay ready.”

“He hasn’t said anything,” Johnson said. “But I don’t think anyone of us is worried about it.”

“I’ve played this game a long time. You ain’t got to talk to me about nothing,” Anderson, an eight-year NBA veteran, said. “I’m going to be ready.”

One will be happy because he’ll be the starter. One will be content because he’ll be the backup and one will have his patience tested because he’ll be third string and his playing time could be sporadic.


When Rivers was asked Monday about the starter for Thursday night’s regular-season opener at Portland, he wasn’t forthcoming.

“I’m not thinking about it right now,” he said. “I don’t care. You’ll see.”

But if the exhibition season was any indication, it appeared as if Mbah a Moute had the edge on maintaining the starting role he won last season when he started in 61 of the 75 games he played.

The 6-foot-8 forward started in four of the five exhibition games he played in, averaging 19.6 minutes per game and 5.4 points. He shot 60% from the field, but just 25% [one for four] on three-pointers, his shortcoming over his eight-year career in which he has made only 30.2% of his threes.


But Mbah a Moute, who missed two days of practice last week with a bruised right knee, knows his strength.

“When you look at most of the guys that end up playing that position and you look at the makeup of our team, it’s more of a defensive position,” he said. “For me, it’s my ability to guard multiple positions at a high level. I think it’s the most valuable thing at that position.”

Johnson didn’t start in any exhibition games. That was his role as the first small forward off the bench last season for the Clippers when he started in only nine of the 80 games he played in.

He’s more known for his maddening inconsistent play than anything else. In the preseason, Johnson averaged 5.3 points and shot 37.5% from the field and 33.3% from three-point range and that was in line with his history.


“I guess we’ll see how it plays out over this week,” Johnson said. “Whatever they want, however they want to do it, that’s how it’ll be done. Last year they were throwing different people in there throughout the whole year.”

Anderson, who still has left ankle issues, started once in the five exhibition games he played in. He averaged 5.4 points and made 66.7% [four of six] of his three-pointers.

“We all bring different parts of the game,” Anderson said. “I think I can shoot it, take it off the dribble, make the extra pass, make a play, guard, rebound. I don’t know if he’s [Rivers] had a guy that can do all of them. But like I said, when my time is called, I’ll be ready.”

Last season, the Clippers tried Mbah a Moute, Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, Jeff Green and Johnson at the position. During the 2014-15 season, it was Barnes, Reggie Bullock, Jordan Hamilton, Dahntay Jones and Hedo Turkoglu. And in the 2013-14 season, it was Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley, Bullock, Danny Green and Stephen Jackson.


Now the Clippers are again trying to fill their black hole at small forward.

“On one night, it may be one guy,” Rivers said. “On one might it may be another guy. Or it may be the same guy. We’ll see.”