NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Clippers

2019-20 Regular Season Record: 49-23 (.681%), 2nd in Western Conference, Lost in 2nd Rd.
Head Coach: Doc Rivers 

While the Clippers rarely showed a consistent starting-five, they were able to regularly walk away with wins in the regular season. Paul George missed the first eleven games of the regular season. Kawhi Leonard didn’t play both games in back-to-back. They made mid-season trades to acquire Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr., both of whom played less than 13 games for the Clippers prior to the COVID shutdown. Along the way, they were able to put together an excellent record in the regular season, before having to battle past Luka Doncic and the Mavs in 6 games in their 1st round series. In their 2nd round series they had their foot on the Nuggets neck, but couldn’t close in games 5 or 6 and ended up collapsing in game 7, after they built a 12 point lead in the 1st half. Was chemistry an issue for the Clippers? More than a few reports surfaced after the season that pointed to a lack of cohesiveness within the locker room. Let's take a look at how the Clippers can bounce back for the upcoming season. 

Kawhi & George

The premier wing-combo in the league, the Clippers are built around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. As they go, so go the Clippers. And go they should. Both Leonard and George excelled defensively early in their careers and grew into offensive roles as the top playmakers on their respective teams. In 2019-20, they combined for 3.2 spg/1.0 bpg,/6.5 deflections, which goes a long way in controlling a game defensively. They also control the game in the modern NBA’s most important part of the court – the 3-point line. Shutting down the other team’s top scoring threats and being able to combine for 5.5 3-point makes per game on 13.6 attempts per game – good for 40.4% - is the path to a championship. Can Leonard & George manage to pull it off this year? Even though Kawhi struggled in Game 7 against the Nuggets (shooting 1-11 in the 2nd half), he has proven that he can win the ultimate prize in the playoffs, but so far George has been unable to shake his playoff woes. The duo will cruise in the regular season, but they are getting paid to create magic in the playoffs. Unfortunately, their cross-town rivals have the only duo that's better than the Clippers, which will hurt them in the playoffs.

Tom’s Take: LAL will beat LAC in the Western Conference Finals

Can Tyronn Lue Manage the Clippers Chemistry?

It’s no secret that the Clippers were a bit of a mess internally last year, as teammates felt that both George, but especially Leonard, received preferential treatment throughout the season. And while that may be true, there are many superstar players around the league that receive preferred treatment from their teams. It’s the NBA. It’s a superstar league. Some of the chemistry issues may have come from the fact that the Clippers played large portions of the season without their complete lineup. Luckily, new head coach Tyronn Lue has experienced coaching teams with superstars, and he understands this version of the Clippers, as he was an assistant last year. With the Cavs, he took over a fractured team halfway through the 2015-16 that included LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The Cavs were winning, but were not playing to their strengths, and Lue was able to help make that transition and turn it into a championship by the end of that year. Lue will need to use all the savvy he has learned over 20+ years as a player/coach in the NBA to ensure that the Clippers chemistry is sound. They need to be on the same page in order to challenge the Lakers in the post-season.

Who will Step Up Outside the George/Leonard Tandem?

Serge Ibaka and Lou Williams will be counted on offensively to hold the fort should either George or Leonard falter, while Ibaka and Patrick Beverley round out an excellent defensive unit. Last year, Ibaka averaged a career high 15.4 ppg, with 38.5% on 3-pointers and 51.2% overall shooting. Although he averaged a career-low 0.8 bpg, his defense is still stellar as he can rim-protect at a high level and switch out on a wing in the pick-and-roll. Lou Williams will be coming off the bench once again, which is where the 3-time Sixth Man of the Year is most comfortable. Expect the usual from Sweet Lou – instant scoring off the bench. Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris Sr., Reggie Jackson and Patrick Patterson will also be counted on to play their roles and ensure that the chemistry of the team is solid.

Photo Credit: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire