With 15 days until the regular season starts, the Clippers’ starting small forward situation seems a bit more complicated than a three-man race.
And, if you ask Coach Doc Rivers, delineating a winner isn’t all that important.
“You know, you guys make a bigger deal about starters and stuff. We’re just looking at combinations,” Rivers said before the Clippers practiced in Playa Vista on Wednesday. “We feel like we pretty much know where we want to go, but you’re always looking for a combination where you say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty good’ or ‘Oh, that’s awful.’
“Preseason’s pretty much the only time of year you can take those gambles.”
The Clippers have three more preseason games, starting with an exhibition against the Trail Blazers at Staples Center on Thursday night. That gives Rivers three more chances to tinker with the small forward spot and see what groups are successful against certain match-ups.
At the start of the preseason, the options at small forward were Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Wesley Johnson and 33-year-old journeyman Alan Anderson. Fourth-year guard Austin Rivers has since joined the conversation, and he’s been working against Blake Griffin to practice guarding bigger players.
Though the rest of the lineup is virtually set in stone — with all-stars Griffin and Chris Paul, all-NBA first-team center DeAndre Jordan and the sharpshooting J.J. Redick — the fifth starting spot could resemble a revolving door.
“I think it depends on the game,” Doc Rivers said of what kind of player fits best with the other four starters. “One day you need a guy that’s a great defender, some days you need another ball-handler, some days you need a space guy. There’s no one guy that does all those things, so we either are going to decide to go with one or go with many. I’m good either way.”
All four options fit at least one of those roles.
Mbah a Moute, who started 61 games last season, is known for his savvy defense. Austin Rivers provides a second ball-handler aside Paul, and Doc Rivers has said he can guard the opposition’s top guard when playing with the first line. Anderson and Johnson are both fairly capable floor spacers, with Johnson shooting particularly well from the corners.
With the Clippers’ main core so familiar with one another, Doc Rivers said it will probably be easy for them to welcome different small forwards into the fold. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy for the rotating small forwards to fit right in.
“I think it’s tougher for the younger guys than the older guys because [the older guys] have been through it a lot more,” said Anderson, who is with his fifth team in eight NBA seasons and started in Monday’s exhibition against Utah. “But like I said, when you’ve played so many different places, man, you just make sure you’re ready. You don’t know when your time is going to be called, so you got to make sure you’re ready.”
As for the penciled-in starters, the last leg of the preseason will be about tightening up their play on the defensive end.
Whoever starts alongside them in Portland on Oct. 27, and in the following games and weeks, will be in a mix that could be shaken up at any time.
“I think it’s good to have options. That’s one thing we did a really good job of this summer, having a lot of depth added to our roster,” Jordan said. “... Whoever is going to fit that position best is going to be great. And we have more ammunition for the second unit and different combinations we can use.”