The Ups and Downs of Depth

The Los Angeles Clippers recently welcomed back Chauncey Billups, who suffered a torn ACL last season. Without Chauncey Billups, the Clippers started Willie Green and went 11-deep. They have a top 10 defense and offense, which is a general indicator of being a great team. When Billups returned, Green went to the bench without so much as a peep from him. The Clippers still go 11-deep, but Green is on standby in case someone gets hurt. Everything’s peachy, and if something happens, the Clippers are well-prepared. This doesn’t include Grant Hill, who remains injured and would only add to the Clips’ depth.

The Milwaukee Bucks recently welcomed back Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from injury and had a roster stocked with lanky, talented big men. But they were all confined to one position. Coach Scott Skiles, until recently, started his veterans on bigger contracts and rotated the backup youngsters in when he saw fit. But the vets, especially Ersan Ilyasova, struggled in their time, so Skiles had no choice but to play some combination of Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, and John Henson. Then they all played well, so Skiles had to find time for all of them despite their duplicating abilities. While generally a nice problem to have, the Bucks lack depth in other areas, and the overall impact the combination of bigs can make is limited by their positional limitations. With LRMAM back, who might end up being in the mix with the young bigs, the roster gets a bit messy. And Drew Gooden, who should be available to play when he’s not requesting pictures of Bulls jerseys in toilets, is toiling away on the bench and inactive list.

Here, we have two differing pictures of depth, one of a team whose depth actively helps the team’s fortunes, the other whose depth may actually hurt the team. What are the differences?

First and foremost, the Clippers have had the need to use their depth early on, with the injuries I mentioned earlier playing not to their advantage but also not to their detriment. Milwaukee’s bigs have shared the same amount of time pretty much all year. Second, the Clippers go 2-3 deep at every position but not further than that, which allows for a relatively smooth time spread. The Bucks have about 7 forward/center types, so there’s just not enough time to spread around. Furthermore, I’d argue that Vinny Del Negro managed minutes until this point better than Skiles. Skiles has essentially jerked around everyone in that rotation except for maybe Larry Sanders and changed their minutes from game to game. John Henson had gone from DNP-CD to major minutes to one minute to starting all in about a week in a half, for instance.

Finally, the Clips’ bench is mostly comprised of veterans brought in specifically to fill bench roles. Jamal Crawford was paid to be a sixth man. Lamar Odom was given the same role, but for the big spots. Willie Green was brought aboard to be a stop-gap. Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf were signed to fill out the bench with size, and they know that. Meanwhile, the logjam in Milwaukee includes three players on rookie contracts looking to earn playing time, a starting center looking for one more decent-sized contract, one former starter who is making more than $6 million a season to not do anything, and a former starter looking to earn his $40 million. The team’s performance is naturally going to be a bit hectic, especially if there’s no real rotation or hierarchy.

Depth is such a vague term when you think about it. It can refer to a team having 3 or 4 solid bench players (like, say, the Thunder) or 7-8 of them (like either of those two teams). The Bucks and Clippers clearly have deep teams, filled with a bunch of solid players, but for only the Clips has this depth been an advantage. For the Bucks, there’s still a lot of sorting out to do.


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