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Mbah A Moute’s Defensive Versatility Stands Out

Rowan Kavner Digital Content Coordinator

LOS ANGELES - How does a team go from the middle of the pack defensively to one of the league’s elite groups?

Start with looking at the offseason addition no one can get around.

Luc Mbah a Moute won’t be atop the league’s steals or blocks column and may not put up enough stats or play enough minutes to get recognized for national awards. But ask the Clippers where they’d be defensively without Mbah a Moute, and it’s a subject they’d rather not think about.

“He may be the single most important piece from last year, just defensively,” said head coach Doc Rivers.

The Clippers, of course, already had DeAndre Jordan, who’s now finished in the top four in voting for Defensive Player of the Year each of the last two seasons. But, one player can only bear so much responsibility.  

“We needed another wing defender,” Rivers said.

What Rivers didn’t realize when he acquired Mbah a Moute was he wasn’t just getting a solid defender; he was getting a defender who could guard four positions.

“Well, five,” said Mbah a Moute, who knows his role and believes he can guard anyone he’s asked to defend.

Mbah a Moute owned the best defensive rating on the team during the regular season among Clippers who played at least 30 games. He also held opponents this season to just .469 points per possessions in isolation – the best mark in the NBA among players with at least 50 defensive possessions.

The Clippers went 8-8 when Mbah a Moute came off the bench to start the year, then finished the regular season 42-19 when he started. 

“He wants to stop guys and help any way he can,” Jordan said. “That’s a great teammate to have.”

Need someone to guard Anthony Davis? There’s Mbah a Moute.

Need someone to defend a wing with size, such as Kevin Durant or Nicolas Batum? There’s Mbah a Moute.

A quick shooting guard, such as the one the Clippers are seeing this series in C.J. McCollum? Mbah a Moute's ready.

“I know whatever happens, I’m going to go out there and guard a team’s best player – whether it’s at the start of the game or some point during the game,” Mbah a Moute said. “I’ve got to be ready for whatever.”

At this point, eight years into his career, Mbah a Moute doesn’t need to watch much film on individual players he’s guarding. He’s seen enough to know the elite players’ tendencies, though younger players are an exception.

He hadn’t guarded McCollum much before, so he’s studying the guard’s film more diligently.

At 6-8, Mbah a Moute has the size to deal with bigger opponents, and he'll get some time on bigger Blazers such as Maurice Harkless and Noah Vonleh. But, he can also help on McCollum, who's shooting below 36 percent each of the first two games.

Paul still has the matchup on Damian Lillard, but Mbah a Moute’s presence gives J.J. Redick the ability to save much of his endurance for the offensive end if the Clippers need to give him a break. Redick scored 17 points in Game 2, while Mbah a Moute came up with three steals in 20 minutes – just another example of what might’ve been the missing link in turning the Clippers’ average defense last year into an elite group this season.

The Clippers allowed 103 points per 100 possessions last year, finishing in the middle of the pack defensively. This season, they allowed just 100.9 points per 100 possessions, stout enough to tie Golden State and Boston for the No. 4 defense in the league.

“Luc takes a lot of pressure off of not just DJ, but off of me, off of J.J.,” Paul said. “He takes the challenge every night – he defends, he runs the court, he sets screens. He does whatever we have to do to help win.”

And, with some assistance from Mbah a Moute, they’ve done that twice to start the series against Portland.

“It’s been simple – go in there and guard the best player,” Mbah a Moute said. “Whether it’s for 10 minutes, or sometimes one second, that’s what I do."