The Los Angeles Clippers are 0-5 since trading for James Harden (0-4 with Harden in the lineup), and have had real issues creating good offense despite having four stars sharing the floor.
The challenge in making their new quartet work is at least three of them prefer to operate on the ball (Paul George is at least a willing secondary option) and aren’t particularly adept at moving and working off of others. The result has been a lot of stagnant offense, taking turns on the ball, and never really establishing a rhythm. Harden in particular has struggled and been overly passive, leading to Ty Lue saying they need to play through Harden more, which is likely exactly what he wants but it raises concerns about taking the ball out of Kawhi Leonard and George’s hands more.
On Tuesday night, Charles Barkley and Shaq laid out the issue that everyone seems to understand, which is they have four stars who need the ball to be at their best all on the court together, noting the fix “ain’t brain surgery” and one of them needs to move to the bench.
“Somebody’s got to come off the bench. You’ve got four guys who are great players, who all need the ball, [but] there’s only one ball. This ain’t brain surgery.”
Chuck on the Clippers' recent struggles 👀 pic.twitter.com/MYTXZ9Wl87
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 15, 2023
Barkley is right, and I do love he and Shaq rightfully losing it over Kenny trying to say Westbrook doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Smith does correctly point out other things Russ does to help the team, but pushing the pace only works when he has the ball and he is definitively not a floor-spacing threat. If anything, Harden should be a better off-ball threat given his shooting ability, but his almost confounding refusal to take catch-and-shoot threes regularly has already been a thing in his first few games with the Clippers.
At some point you expect L.A. to make a lineup change, it’s just that they almost have to prove to the stars that someone needs to make that sacrifice. What will be fascinating is who is willing (or told) to do that between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, as it almost has to be one of those two. Westbrook jumps out initially as the one to make that move, but there’s an argument to be made that he already has experience playing with George and Leonard and understands how to work with those two and does provide a few more things on the periphery even if he is not treated as a three-point threat. Harden may be the better player at this moment, but his fit is murkier, as he will slow the pace down, which Leonard already has a propensity to do, and isn’t a particularly active off-ball threat due to his preferred play style, not skill.