Both Clippers have spent a decade-plus in the NBA, and in earlier stops both have played bigger roles.
Yet forward Robert Covington and point guard John Wall on Wednesday night said they understand the Clippers’ bigger picture for their usage, even as it has limited their minutes on the court.
Wall, the backup point guard who signed to fanfare as a free agent in July after securing a buyout in Houston, has been at his best while using his speed to transform the Clippers, one of last season’s worst transition teams, into a deadly fast-break attack. Clippers transitions that begin off of a rebound when Wall is on the floor score 28 points more per 100 possessions than when he sits, per Cleaning The Glass, a rate that more than doubles the impact of his next-closest teammate.
Yet Wall, after turbo-charging the Clippers in the first half Monday against Utah, also committed eight turnovers and didn’t play in the fourth quarter. In a 124-107 loss at Golden State on Wednesday, Wall again hardly factored late, going to the bench alongside starting guard Reggie Jackson with 10:41 remaining and the Clippers down 21. Once under a limit of 24 minutes per game, Wall said that has been bumped up to 28, but he played 21 against the Warriors.
Asked what the last two games had been like, and how he’d accepted his fourth-quarter minutes, Wall said, “it ain’t been good,” then said there had been a plan to insert him midway through Monday’s final quarter, but that coach Tyronn Lue had stuck with his guard lineup with the team playing well.
“Those guys got a rhythm and we ended up winning the game, so fine with that,” he said. “Then tonight he was like, just put all of us [on the bench], I mean I guess the game was out of hand.”
Wall added that his usage is “part of a plan they got for us and like I said, whatever those guys come up with, I’m with — I’m full bore with it.”
Lue has acknowledged that this season has been an adjustment for Wall, the former No. 1 overall draft pick and starter for virtually his first decade in the league. Earlier this month Wall bristled when Lue didn’t play his full allotment of minutes in his return to Houston to face the franchise that had exiled him from the league last season, yet two days later, after Wall was the spark that ignited a comeback victory in San Antonio, the guard took responsibility for what he called a poor attitude initially following the Houston game and reiterated the sacrifice he knew this season would require.
Wall has been healthy since training camp began but the Clippers have cautiously increased his minutes after he had played only 40 games in the previous three seasons. He still isn’t playing on consecutive nights and he said he hopes that won’t be the case for long because he physically feels at “full speed.”
“It’s frustrating but like I said, it’s a part of the plan, it’s a part of the program they got for me, so I’m all on board for it,” Wall said. “Also, I don’t think like people expected me to be as good as I am early as I am right away. And I think I’ve shown like the more minutes I get, the more my game be better.”
Said Lue: “We just got to take into account that he hasn’t played in two years and as good as he’s been for us all year it’s only his 13th or 14th game in two years. It’s going to take some time for that. We understood that and he’s actually playing way better than I expected him to this early in the season.”
Covington, a backup forward who re-signed with the team on a two-year, $24-million extension in May, was healthy but hadn’t played in four of the Clippers’ previous nine games before a short-handed roster led him to play 21 minutes against Golden State.
While acknowledging that it wasn’t easy, he said he understood why his role had dwindled after a conversation with Lue this month.
At multiple points during the last three weeks, Lue has explained that Terance Mann’s resurgence had been rewarded with a larger role but resulted in Covington being the odd man out, even telling Covington, “thank you for sacrificing.”
“He just said he wanted to try some things, he just told me, stay with him,” Covington said. “I understand that we have different dynamics and everything. It’s just about being there and figuring it out and it’s a long season.
“It’s a long season and we have so much talent and so much depth that I know it’s going to be times when people going to play and some people not. I knew what was coming and knew what to expect at times. I’m not the type of person that’s going to complain about too much, I’m going to sit up there and call and be there ready when my number’s called.”
To maintain his conditioning Covington has joined others outside the rotation in games against the team’s player development coaches.
“There’s no question it’s nothing like playing in an actual game but it’s still conditioning and it’s going to be like that at times,” Covington said. “Right now it’s early, it’s early. There’s going to be parts of the season where it’s like that but [Lue] said, stay with me.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.