What Happened To The Clippers?
As more and more teams get eliminated from the NBA playoffs, the competition gets tougher and tougher. When debating the merits of each team, we need to consider five key attributes: superstar power, depth, chemistry, versatility, and defense.
Average NBA teams check off one or two of these boxes at the most, middle-tier playoff teams check off a few of these, and NBA title-contending teams either check off just about all or have a few categories that they are extremely dominant in. The Clippers check off just about every box, so this begs the question: what happened to the Clippers?
Kawhi Leonard is a top-five player in the league, as he is one of the only players in the league who can take over the game on both sides of the floor. Likewise, Paul George is an elite player on both sides of the basketball and has proven that year after year.
Clearly, the Clippers have superstar power, but couple Paul George’s playoff struggles with Kawhi’s inability to step up in the second halves of the last few games, it makes sense that the team lost the series after being up 3-1.
The Clippers are probably the deepest team in the league. Their starting five of Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Patrick Beverley is a complete lineup, filled with ball movement, shooting, defense, and interior play. But, what about their bench players?
I believe if the Clippers’ bench was its own team in the Eastern Conference, they could win 30-35 games on their own. Their bench is filled with hustlers (Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green), shooters (Lou Williams, Landry Shamet), passers (Joakim Noah, Reggie Jackson), and defenders (Green, Noah, Patrick Patterson), and could honestly compete against most teams in the NBA. Add in their starting unit, and you have one of, if not the most devastating teams in the league.
However, their depth was a weakness in this series. Harrell did not control the paint like he usually does. Lou Williams, a professional scorer, could not buy a bucket and was exposed on defense. Pair this with the struggles of their stars, and you have a recipe for a disaster.
Chemistry has always been the Clippers’ issue. For starters, all their players have had some kind of injury this year, preventing the team from getting into a good rhythm and used to playing with all the different styles. There were also reports at the beginning of the year that certain players were not happy about the star treatment some of the players were getting, which clearly didn’t help the situation.
Furthermore, the team has had some slip-ups in terms of chemistry moments on the court, such as Kawi getting mad at teammates on defense and cursing Lou Williams in the Clippers-Mavericks series and Montrezl Harrell cursing out Paul George in game two of the Clippers-Nuggets series.
If the team was able to fix these issues, then they would have gone a lot further.
Anyone who knows the Clippers team knows they are among the most versatile teams in the league. The Clippers can go small or big, they play lineups with paint players or shooters, or star with offensively or defensively-inclined lineups.
For some reason, though, the team was not able to produce. When their defensive lineups were out, Nikola Jokic was still dominating. When they had offensive lineups, the team could not score. Heck, the Clippers had only 33 points in the second half of game seven. In today’s NBA, how can a team have 33 points in a half, and expect to win the game? Normally, teams reach that number in a quarter.
Defensively, the Clippers are among the best defensive teams in the league. They have the 5th best defensive rating (107.6) and 5th best 3PT% against (35.5%), the 3rd best FG% against (43.8%), 2nd best 2PT% against (49.9%). Their defensive numbers are fantastic, to put it bluntly.
They have numerous quality defenders, most notably Kawhi Leonard (2x DPoY, 5x All-Defensive), Paul George (4x All-Defensive), Patrick Beverley (2x All-Defensive), Joakim Noah (DPoY, 3x All-Defensive), Patrick Patterson, Ivica Zubac, and Marcus Morris. Their team is littered with players who can defend multiple positions and can step up and shut down opposing teams’ best scorers. Since we have established that the Clippers couldn’t score efficiently this series, at least their defense had to be good. right?
However, this was not the case during this seven-game series. The Nuggets shot 46.3% from the field during the series, and the Clippers had a defensive rating of 110.6, which was 3 points more than it was during the regular season.
Clearly, the Clippers did not take advantage of all of the tools they had, and if they want to win the championship next season, they need to make sure they are able to check off each and every box on the list consistently.