Going Small to Finish Big
Sean Nami, January 24, 2011

Randy Foye has been a starter for the majority of his career. Just two seasons ago, he was the second leading scorer for Minnesota, averaging 16.3 points per game. But now, instead of carrying the scoring load like before, Foye is a veteran on a young Clippers team that looks to him for his versatility off the bench.

Hampered by injuries to start this season, Foye was slow to crack Vinny Del Negro’s rotation when he first returned to action. Yet, in all the Clippers’ recent wins, Foye is playing more consistently -- particularly late in the fourth quarter of tight ball games.

But which guard does Del Negro send to the bench so he can play Foye down the stretch?


You would expect Foye, who is listed at 6-foot-4, to be replacing either Baron Davis or Eric Gordon when he enters the game, but often times Foye has been playing right alongside the starting backcourt, essentially making him the league’s smallest small forward.

“With the three guards we have the ability to penetrate a little bit more,” Del Negro said. “It opens up the lane a little bit more. If they come on a double, we try to make them pay on the weak side, or on the weak side glass.”

Being so outsized would worry some, but Foye feels comfortable and sees it as an advantage.

“Oh yeah, I love it,” Foye said of the lineup. “I love it because usually I get stuck with the guy that can’t guard as good as the other two.”

With the best perimeter defenders getting the assignment of Davis and Gordon, Foye is typically left with a much less talented defender to guard him. The unique lineup that is hardly seen in the NBA gives Foye a lot of options he can exploit on the floor.

Having three playmakers out on the court against defenses collapsing on Blake Griffin can spread things out and allow the trio of guards to spot up on the wings or just as easily take the ball right to the rim and play a drive-and-kick game, leaving opponents scrambling.

Going small also puts the Clippers’ best free throw shooter on the floor, as Foye leads the team by shooting 83 percent from the line this season and 85 percent on his career. When the Golden State Warriors were threatening late in the game Saturday, it was Foye who came in and sealed the deal, making 5-of-6 free throws to ice it.

When the small lineup is inserted, forward Ryan Gomes is often left the odd man out. Yet Gomes has no problem with it at all and knows exactly why Del Negro does it.

“With Randy in there, it makes the other teams think a little bit more,” said Gomes. “We have a lot of guys that if the shot-clock is winding down, and we’re not in a set, they can break their guys down off the dribble with Baron, Eric and Randy. That’s why we’ve been going with them late in games.”

But what about on the other end of the floor? How have the Clippers been able to matchup defensively with three shorter guards in the lineup?

It doesn’t seem to be much of an issue, as Del Negro has been pleased with the job Foye has done guarding the bigger opponent. In fact, he specifically praised Foye for his defensive job late in the fourth quarter of the win over Indiana -- aka Griffin’s 47-point show -- when Foye was assigned the much larger Brandon Rush.

It probably helps that Foye is no stranger to defending the bigger man. During his college days at Villanova, Foye was used at both guard spots, the small forward, and remarkably even as a power forward. The familiarity is one reason why Foye has had success matching up against different positions this year. Foye laughed and gave a big, “Yes I did!” when asked about playing the 4 in college before moving on to why the small lineup can work defensively in the league.

Well if it’s a guy like Radmanovic, for example, I can guard Radmanovic because he can probably post me up but that’s not going to help [Golden State’s] offense because he doesn’t do that on a regular basis,” Foye said.

The combo-guard has only been back 16 games since he’s returned from his injuries, so there is still plenty of rust that has to be shaken off. He’ll be the first to tell you that his rhythm is not fully back yet, but you only need to talk to him or his teammates for a few minutes to see the confidence they have in him and he has in himself. The fact that Foye is consistently being plugged in the lineup to close out tight games speaks volumes about the confidence that his coach has in him as well.

The Clippers may be going small with their lineup late in games, but thanks to Foye, they’re still coming up big.

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