Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers: The closing lineups

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images) – Los Angeles Lakers /

The Los Angeles Lakers backcourt vs. the Los Angeles Clippers backcourt

The Los Angeles Lakers closing backcourt:

  • Dennis Schröder
  • Alex Caruso

The Los Angeles Clippers closing backcourt:

  • Patrick Beverley
  • Paul George

Paul George is a six-time All-Star, and he has the most name recognition out of this foursome. He is the best player out of this group, but the gap is not as big as most people think.

Paul George has been a shaky mess throughout his last three playoff runs:

  • 2018 Playoffs: 40 FG%, 37 3P%, and a -1.0 defensive box plus/minus (DBPM)
  • 2019 Playoffs: 44 FG%, 32 3P%, and a 0.6 DBPM
  • 2020 Playoffs: 40 FG%, 33 3P%, and a 0.0 DBPM

When it comes to judging a player’s worth in the NBA, we start with their playoff success. The Milwaukee Bucks recently mortgaged their future by trading Eric Bledsoe and three first-round picks plus two pick swaps for Jrue Holiday, a player whose regular season stats are eerily similar to the Bucks former starting point guard.

  • Eric Bledsoe’s 2020 regular season statistics: 15 PPG off of 11.5 FGA, 5 APG, 5 RPG, 34 3P%, and a 104 defensive rating
  • Jrue Holiday’s 2020 regular season statistics: 19 PPG off of 17 FGA, 7 APG, 5 RPG, 35 3P%, and a 112 defensive rating

The Milwaukee Bucks were willing to give up five prospects for a player who’s made precisely one All-Star game, seven years ago. They gave up all that young potential because they were tired of watching Bledsoe choke his way through the playoffs.

Let’s forget about Paul George’s postseason malfunctions for a moment and compare his 2020 regular season numbers versus Schroder’s

  • Paul George’s 2020 regular season statistics: 22 PPG, 4 APG, 6 RPG, 41 3P%, and a 106 DRtg
  • Dennis Schröder’s 2020 regular season statistics: 19 PPG, 4 APG, 4 RPG, 39 3P%, and a 112 DRtg

Paul George’s numbers are better, but not by much.

Going beyond basic stats, Dennis Schröder led the NBA last season (minimum 15 games played) in crunch time plus/minus at an excellent +3. Paul George, on the other hand, had a crunch time plus/minus of -0.5.

At this point, when you consider George’s playoff struggles and his 2020 regular season performance in conjunction with his poor crunch time play, it’s clear he’s slightly overrated.

On defense, Dennis Schröder’s a pest, but he can’t lock down wings the way PG can. He’s also not as dynamic a scorer as George. However, he’s a beast at the end of tight games, and he’s a potent scorer and defender in his own right.

Paul George is still better than Dennis Schröder, but there’s probably several GM’s throughout the NBA that would take Schröder over PG at the end of a tight playoff game.

Patrick Beverley plays point guard for the Clippers, and in this closing unit, Alex Caruso plays shooting guard for the Lakers. Despite their different positions, they play a similar role for their respective clubs—defensive stopper.

Both men have excellent 2020 defensive numbers:

  • Alex Caruso: 101 defensive rating (12 in the NBA), 2.4 defensive box plus/minus, and 1.70 defensive real plus-minus (5 among all shooting guards)
  • Patrick Beverley: 104 defensive rating (31 in the NBA), 2.5 defensive box plus/minus, and 3.01 defensive real plus-minus (1 among all point guards)

Caruso and Beverley are each lockdown defenders. Both men move their feet well, they have the strength to contain bigger players, and both go hard the entire time they are on the court.

Two attributes give Alex Caruso the edge over Patrick Beverley. At 6’5,” he is tall enough to hound shooting guards and small forwards, while Patrick Beverley, at just 6’1″, can’t cover taller wings.

More importantly, Alex Caruso has that “It Factor.” He’s got something that’s hard to quantify with numbers or even with words. Caruso makes good things happen when he’s on the court. He consistently snatches momentum-killing steals during crucial parts of tight games.

The same is true for taking charges. Alex seems to pick up offensive fouls on opposing players exactly when the Lakers need a turnover. He also makes the right read on offense every time.

Perhaps the one stat that can encapsulate Alex Caruso’s remarkable ability to make good things happen when he’s on the court is +/- rating. Caruso finished the playoffs plus 4.8 points per game (minimum 15 minutes per game), good for 11 in the NBA.

That’s not bad for a player who Frank Vogel consistently tasked with slowing down three of the most gifted offensive players in the NBA in Damian Lillard, James Harden, and Jamaal Murray.

Advantage: Clippers 

Paul George gives the LA’s other team a slight edge, and despite his playoffs struggles and his ordinary 2020 statistics, his entire body of work is excellent. With that said, the addition of Dennis Schröder, along with Alex Caruso’s innate ability to help the Purple and Gold, make this matchup closer than most people think.