Terance Mann, Amir Coffey serve as unlikely point guards during Clippers’ stretch run
After the Clippers emerged from last month’s trade deadline with one traditional point guard left on their roster, coach Tyronn Lue — who played the position himself — often pointed out his dearth of ballhandling options.
In recent weeks, however, such asides have largely disappeared from his comments before and after games. It’s not because the position has been bolstered. It’s because the Clippers have grown used to a short-term plan the franchise believes is in its long-term interest too.
Once Goran Dragic chose to sign with Brooklyn, and with no clear upgrade on the buyout market and no urge to take an extended look at a younger guard, the Clippers have deemed their best option lies in putting the ball in the hands of wings such as Terance Mann and Amir Coffey.
At no point since the Feb. 10 deadline was that decision more obvious than Monday night in Cleveland, when during a 120-111 overtime loss, Mann and Coffey were among a rotating cast of ballhandlers left to pilot the offense with point guard Reggie Jackson earning a night off.
With forward Marcus Morris Sr. resting as well, and no longer an obvious destination for each play to end, the ball skipped around for 29 assists, the Clippers’ most in six games, and just 11 turnovers.
In 44 minutes, Mann finished with four assists and zero turnovers and pushed the Clippers’ pace even while missing his first eight shots. Coffey had two assists and zero turnovers in 39 minutes despite facing pressure.
Lue’s overarching goal in the regular season’s final three weeks is to prepare his team for the play-in tournament, given the Clippers are seemingly bound to finish eighth in the Western Conference. For older contributors with heavier workloads, that might mean more rest. For the others, it will mean more reps, and the prevailing thought guiding the team’s post-deadline roster construction is that there is more value for the Clippers — both this season and next — to develop wings such as Mann and Coffey whose skill sets have broadened enough to initiate Lue’s offense.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue was given a video tribute by the Cavaliers on Monday night, but what he really wanted escaped L.A., a win to end the road trip.
Last season, Mann was the ballhandler in pick and rolls on 78 possessions, generating 0.91 points per possession, and Coffey did it on 20 possessions that produced 0.9 points each time. This season, their pick-and-roll ballhandler workload has spiked: 114 possessions for Mann, for an average of 0.96 points, and 66 possessions for Coffey, at a clip of 0.94 points, according to Synergy Sports.
The transition has not been seamless, as was evidenced against the Cavaliers.
“It was just hard for us at the point of attack for pick and rolls,” Lue said. “I thought when Amir handled [the ball], they pressured him, when T-Mann [handled the ball], they pressed him a little bit, went under a little bit, so it kind of killed our triggers. But for the most part, I thought they handled it pretty well, you know? Just playing, making the right pass, making the right play.”
Without Jackson, the offense required running “a lot of stuff that we don’t get to go over because we don’t have our normal team,” Mann said. “It was a lot different, a lot different looks of guys and stuff like that we don’t normally get. It was still cool.”
Since backup guard Eric Bledsoe was traded to Portland on Feb. 4, Mann has averaged 37.8 passes per game, 10 more than he had averaged this season to that point. He has increased his assists by more than one per game, and the change in workload is reflected in a usage rate increase of two percentage points, to 17.1%.
Coffey’s increases aren’t as dramatic, but his usage rate has increased by three percentage points, also using 17.1% of the Clippers’ possessions.
Their ballhandling responsibility doesn’t figure to be as important to shoulder upon the returns of the injured offensive headliners Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Norman Powell, whether any or all come back this spring or in the fall. But team president Lawrence Frank has said that teams can never have enough wings — certainly not those versatile enough to guard multiple positions and carry out multiple roles offensively.
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It’s one reason why, even though more opportunities for resting Jackson remain during the Clippers’ final 11 games, no deal to sign a free-agent point guard as ballhandling insurance is viewed as imminent, and Mann said he would do whatever job Lue asks of him. (The Clippers have the maximum 15 players and thus would need to waive a player to create a roster spot.)
Ever since the Clippers acquired George and Leonard in 2019, the most persistent question surrounding their offense is how much, or whether at all, they need an additional ballhandler to relieve some of that workload from the team’s wings. They added Jackson in 2020 off the buyout market, but he factored little into their postseason. In 2021, they traded Lou Williams for Rajon Rondo, and Frank envisioned the veteran “orchestrator” smoothing out the offense’s rough edges, only for his role to fizzle amid a run to the conference finals.
The team’s decisions to stand pat with its backcourt at the trade deadline and not bite in the buyout market were marked changes. If a sure-fire player weren’t available, the Clippers weren’t ready to take away reps now from wings whose growth could help the team later.
“We got some guys who can fill that role, who have played it before or played with the ball, so they know how to fill in their role and I think they did a solid job tonight,” center Ivica Zubac said Monday. “How many assists? Twenty-nine. Everyone was moving the ball, making the right plays, and we missed some good looks, but overall I think the guys did a pretty good job filling in for that spot.”
When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday
On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal; Radio: 570, 1220
Update: In their last home game until March 25, the Clippers (36-35) face one of the NBA’s streakiest teams. Since late January, the Raptors (38-30) won eight in a row, then lost four of their next five before winning two, losing three, only to follow with their current four-game winning streak in which all of the victories have come on the road. Pascal Siakam is back to the form that made him an All-Star two seasons ago. He is averaging a career-high 8.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists along with 21.8 points.
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