When the Clippers’ starters lined up for the opening tip Tuesday, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams were among them.
It was only an intrasquad scrimmage at an open practice held at USC’s Galen Center, but coach Doc Rivers is considering moving the pair from the bench, where they were two of the NBA’s best reserves last season, into the starting lineup at times during the season.
“This summer one of our sales pitches was, we already have our bench, we need a starting lineup,” Rivers said. “Now if you add Paul [George] and Kawhi [Leonard], now we have a starting lineup so maybe we can keep our bench intact.
“Having said that, I will not be surprised if I did use Lou as a starter for some games. Him and Trez, even, because you do still want to keep them together.”
Playing Harrell and Williams together would be nothing new, but doing so with the starters would be a change from the way the Clippers used them as super subs last season. The team outscored opponents by 4.3 points per 100 possessions last season when both Harrell and Williams were on the floor, the seventh-best rating among all Clippers combinations that played at least 500 minutes together.
The NBA’s all-time scoring leader off the bench and a three-time sixth man of the year, Williams started once last season. Harrell did it five times.
One impediment to starting Harrell more often is his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame that is undersized against most, if not all, starting centers. That discrepancy often led to foul trouble early in his starts, as opponents attempted to back him down from the opening tip. Rivers doesn’t yet have a conclusive answer as to whether Harrell can play physically while fouling less. Rivers is not satisfied with the entire roster’s progress in that department so far.
“That’s something that we just have to get better at,” he said.
The Clippers’ lineups to begin the season will likely change because George isn’t expected to make his debut until November as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgeries. George took part in three-on-three games before Tuesday’s practice but stayed on the sideline during the full scrimmage. The only other player to sit out the scrimmage was guard Rodney McGruder, who sustained an ankle injury Oct. 8 and is not expected to play Thursday when the Clippers finish their preseason against Dallas in Vancouver.
Upon George’s return, Rivers envisions employing a “sliding” lineup in which only Leonard and George are guaranteed to start.
“We’re gonna try to keep as much shooting on the floor with [Leonard] so teams can’t help,” Rivers said. “We will try to keep one roller on the floor with him so that guy is going down the middle of the paint and he’s creating help. We don’t have to make it that difficult.”
Only Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and Utah’s Rudy Gobert scored more points last season than Harrell as the roll man out of pick-and-roll sets, per Synergy Sports. Harrell made nearly 69% of his field goals from those scenarios. Williams ranked fifth in scoring last season among all pick-and-roll ballhandlers.
“You look at a lineup of Paul, Kawhi, Lou, Trez, and we always say ‘pick ‘em’ [for the fifth starter] if you want to be big or small, you could go a lot of different ways,” Rivers said.
Rivers speaks out
Asked again about the tensions between the NBA and China, sparked by Houston general manager Daryl Morey’s Oct. 4 tweet supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, Rivers said Morey “was right in saying that, but there’s consequences to every action, as well. I’ve been saying that.”
Morey’s since-deleted tweet read, “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” Through a Clippers spokesman, Rivers later clarified that he was supporting Morey’s right to express himself.
Rivers’ latest foray into the issue came the same day that Hong Kong protesters burned the jersey of Lakers star LeBron James, who had said Monday that Morey was “misinformed” when he sent the tweet.