The Los Angeles Clippers exceeded expectations last season and pushed the Golden State Warriors to a Game 6 in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Clippers had high hopes entering the 2019 offseason, aiming to land two top-tier stars, with Kawhi Leonard as the top priority. While it seemed as though the Clippers had been edged out in the race for Leonard by the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers, it was the Clippers who secured Leonard’s services by trading a valuable haul of players and assets in exchange for star forward Paul George. The Clippers now enter the 2019-20 NBA season as one of a handful of top-tier title contenders. Oh how times have changed.
Let’s take at a look at the Los Angeles Clippers in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
The Clippers are the clear favorites out west. They have three top-five wing defenders. Let that sink in – three of the league’s five best wing defenders are on the Clippers. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the defensive abilities of Moe Harkless, Montrezl Harrell, Mfiondu Kabengele and others. Further, they have incredible offensive versatility – most notably from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but there’s also Lou Williams for opponents to worry about. It’s hard to imagine the Clippers finishing with less than 55 wins, and their ceiling is obviously far higher – especially considering Doc Rivers is in charge of setting the tone and motivating the club to perform.
1st Place – Pacific Division
To say the Clippers had a winning offseason would be a major understatement. They had perhaps the best summer out of any team in the league. Not only did they land arguably the marquee free agent in Kawhi Leonard, but they managed to pull off a trade for Paul George, whom nobody assumed was even on the market. And to top it off, they didn’t really have to give up much of the already established core. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are all still there. They went from being a fun team to watch who gave the Golden State Warriors all they could handle in the first round, to being a championship contender. The only real question mark is the center position, but they have a promising young big man in Ivica Zubac. This team is primed for a championship run, something that seems unreal when talking about the Clippers. Steve Ballmer and the front office have put their money where their mouths are and have proven they’re serious about bringing a title to the Clippers franchise. They should be considered the preseason favorite to come out of the West.
1st Place – Pacific Division.
– David Yapkowitz
Who isn’t excited for this new, exciting rivalry in Hollywood? Already with momentum from a highly successful year and first-round series in the postseason, the Clippers landed the two big fish of the 2019 free agent class in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. We don’t need to tell you what those two can do individually, but together in the prime of their careers? That is going to be a tandem for the ages. Perhaps even more impressive is that when that duo is sitting, another one-two punch awaits in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. LA’s second unit did the brunt of its damage last year. With shooting and defense – Patrick Beverley’s tenacity being the tone-setter – from top to bottom on this roster, there’s no reason to see that slowing down. Doc Rivers hasn’t had talent like this since his days in Boston, which is ironically where he won his last NBA Championship. Could history repeat itself over a decade later?
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Spencer Davies
The Los Angeles Clippers are the winners of the 2019 offseason. Many will argue that the team gave up too many talented players and draft assets in the Paul George trade, but failing to do so could have been disastrous. If the Clippers failed to land George, Leonard could have moved on and re-signed with the Toronto Raptors or, even worse, the Los Angeles Lakers. With the options of either making the deal and landing Leonard and George, or failing to make the deal and allowing Leonard to create a Big-Three with LeBron James and Anthony Davis across the hall with the Lakers, the Clippers seemingly had to go all in. In doing so, the Clippers now have a deep roster led by two star forwards and a championship window of at least two seasons. Injuries could derail the Clippers’ upcoming season, but the team will likely be extremely careful in managing its star players’ respective health situations. Buckle up for what should be the most exciting season in Clippers’ franchise history.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
The Clippers may have won the off-season with the landing of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George while being able to keep most of the core that got to the playoffs last year. The problem with buying the Clippers hype is that George had both shoulders operated on and Leonard still does not seem like his leg is right. If both are hobbled with injuries then all of this was for nothing in a Western Conference loaded with would-be contenders. If both players get back to looking like the MVP vote-getters they were last year, then the Clippers could be scary good because of their depth and star power.
1st Place – Pacific Division
– Steve Kyler
FROM THE CAP GUY
The Clippers invested heavily over the summer, acquiring two stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George while giving additional deals to Ivica Zubac, Patrick Beverley and Rodney McGruder. The team will probably hover right below the NBA’s 132.6 million luxury tax line, and while they have no other spending tools to add free agents above minimum salaries, Los Angeles could look to make midseason trades to bolster the roster as needed.
Given that Maurice Harkless is making just over $11 million in the final year of his contract, he could become important salary ballast if the team can find a deal. Montrezl Harrell will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he plays as well as he did last year, he’ll be the team’s top priority in July.
Before November, the Clippers need to pick up team options on Landry Shamet and Jerome Robinson.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Paul George
It’s tough to not go with Kawhi Leonard here, especially considering he was a one-man offensive force throughout the 2018-19 postseason. But Paul George was a legitimate MVP candidate throughout most of last season and was particularly effective on offense. George posted 28 points and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from three-point range.
George is arguably a more polished playmaker and can effectively lead an offense as a point forward for long stretches. Both players can do it all on offense, but George is a bit more fluid with the ball in his hands, has better vision as a playmaker and his efficient high-volume shooting from distance sets him apart from Leonard. Leonard is the better overall player, but George is arguably a bit more advanced overall offensively.
Top Defensive Player: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard and George are top-tier perimeter defenders but Leonard, when healthy and motivated, is arguably the best defensive wing-defender in the league. Leonard can lock down an opposing star guard or forward, is an intelligent team-defender, has the strength to guard bigger players in the post and, at times, can be an effective weak side rim defender. Leonard isn’t quite the defender he was earlier in his career due to the leg injury that caused him to miss nearly the entire 2017-18 season and 22 games last season (load management).
Leonard insists he is healthier than he has been in some time and will not need aggressive load management this upcoming season. If Leonard is closer to full strength than he has been in the last few seasons, we could see an uptick in his defensive impact this upcoming season. This is especially true considering that George can pick up some of Leonard’s responsibilities on offense and the Clippers have a deep team that can fill in for Leonard and keep his minutes in check.
Top Playmaker: Lou Williams
A strong case can be made that this designation should go to Paul George but he gets plenty of praise throughout this preview and Williams has a strong case to make as well, so we are going with Williams on this one. Many may think that Williams is just a high-end chucker coming off the bench for the Clippers, but that sells Williams short.
First, Williams averaged more assists per game (5.4) last season than George (4.1) and Leonard (3.3) in less minutes per game (26.6) and dished out 7.3 assists per 36 minutes last season. Second, Williams forms a devastating pick-and-roll game with Montrezl Harrell and is able to either score out of this set, drop easy dimes to Harrell or find open shooters consistently. Third, Williams is such an explosive offensive player and reliable shooter that the attention he draws in isolation often creates breathing room for teammates. With all of this in mind, we are confident in giving Williams the nod for top playmaker.
Top Clutch Player: Kawhi Leonard
Paul George has proven himself to be a clutch player throughout his career, but Leonard set himself apart during the 2018-19 postseason.
Despite being labeled a system player early in his career, Leonard has established himself as an elite offensive force and is now able to get almost any shot he wants in isolation. Also, in case there’s any doubt, let’s recall Leonard’s series-winning jumper over Joel Embiid in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. If Leonard had not hit that extremely difficult shot, the Raptors could have been eliminated in the second round and been prevented from winning its first NBA championship.
The Unheralded Player: Patrick Beverley
On most nights, Patrick Beverley will probably be matched up against a point guard that is widely considered to be a better overall player. But here’s the thing – on this particular Clippers team, Beverley is arguably the perfect fit at starting point guard. Beverley is one of the most aggressive and effective defensive point guards in the league, is able to play off the ball and has developed into a very reliable shooter.
With George and Leonard needing the ball in their hands often, Beverley will have plenty of opportunities to work off the ball and spread the floor with his shooting. Additionally, Beverley has set the tone on defense for the Clippers in the past and is now teamed up with two of the best overall wing defenders in the league. The Clippers have the chance to be an elite defensive team this upcoming season, and Beverley will be an integral part of that dynamic, though he’s unlikely to get the kind of credit George and Leonard will.
Best New Addition: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard just led the Toronto Raptors to its first NBA Championship, earned the Finals MVP award and was the most coveted free agent this offseason. In any other offseason, George would have likely been the best new addition for the Clippers or likely any other team. But in this case, George was the lure to get Leonard on board. Leonard is arguably the best overall player in the NBA, and even his harshest critics wouldn’t list him outside of the top four.
– Jesse Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Doc Rivers and the Front Office
There is plenty of praise for George and Leonard throughout this preview, so we will use this section to highlight some of the other Clippers we like. Let’s start with head coach Doc Rivers and the team’s collective front office. Rivers had his team playing at a high level last season and made some noise in the first round despite not having a single star player. Additionally, in a column by Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times, Rivers stated that during the team’s meeting with Leonard, Kawhi told Rivers, “I want to play for you.”
Rivers credits the entire front office and Lawrence Frank in particular for putting in the work throughout the last year to be in a strong position to convince Leonard to sign with the Clippers. The Clippers’ front office has made smart, disciplined moves throughout the last few years to have had the trade assets to land George and the roster to convince Leonard he could win at the highest levels in LA.
2. Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl Harrell was a top candidate for last season’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, but was edged out by teammate and pick-and-roll partner Lou Williams. Last season, Harrell and Williams became the highest-scoring bench duo in NBA history. Harrell posted 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.3 blocks in just 26.3 minutes per game. The big man is well-equipped to be a high-energy force off the bench, especially when he is in a rhythm with Williams.
Harrell has developed into a dynamic pick-and-roll partner, aggressive finisher at the rim and underrated post player. Harrell is also aggressive on defense, but his lack of size does often put him at a disadvantage against some of the bigger post players in the league, like Joel Embiid. Harrell isn’t necessarily a liability on defense, but he isn’t a defensive anchor or elite rim protector either. Nevertheless, Harrell is a big-time contributor for the Clippers and will at times be the most impactful player on the court for LA this upcoming season, even with George and Leonard also on the court.
3. Landry Shamet
Remember how we mentioned that the Clippers’ front office has been making smart, disciplined trades over the last few seasons? One such example includes the Clippers trading Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanović and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers last season in exchange for Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and Landry Shamet – as well as Philadelphia’s own protected 2020 first-round pick, the Miami HEAT’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick and the Detroit Pistons’ 2021 and 2023 second-round picks. The Clippers used some of these acquired assets in subsequent deals, such as the trade for Paul George. LA also flipped Muscala for starting center Ivica Zubac.
Shamet turned out to be a nice prize in this deal as well. Shamet quickly earned the starting shooting guard position and established himself as a knock down shooter from distance (45 percent on six three-point attempts per game). Shamet is a bit undersized to guard some of the more physical shooting guards in the league, but is an overall effective defensive guard and was unexpectedly effective guarding Stephen Curry in the first round of the 2018-19 playoffs.
At just 22 years old, Shamet is well-equipped to fill the role that JJ Redick played so well for several seasons with the Clippers. Shamet is skilled at coming off of screens and getting three-pointers off quickly. He is also skilled as a secondary playmaker off the dribble. With George and Leonard now in the starting lineup with him, Shamet should be able to get cleaner looks more consistently and may have more room to operate off the dribble when teams overload their defensive attention on George and Leonard.
4. JaMychal Green
JaMychal Green has a strong case for the unheralded player designation as well, but we gave that to Patrick Beverley, so we will highlight Green here. Green is a versatile forward who can play both as a power forward and as a small-ball center who can stretch the floor. This is a particularly important role for the Clippers this upcoming season since it’s unclear whether Zubac can matchup against lethal three-point shooting teams like the Houston Rockets.
Doc Rivers went away from Zubac in the 2018-19 playoffs against the Golden State Warriors and turned to Green as an alternative option. Green filled in admirably, knocking down big shots against the Warriors and effectively guarding in space and at the rim as the team’s small-ball center. Additionally, Green will have to fill in and play more minutes throughout the season whenever George and Leonard are resting or injured. Don’t be surprised if Green ends up playing a big role for the Clippers this upcoming season, especially in the postseason.
– Jesse Blancarte
Defense and depth. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley all in the starting lineup, the Clippers have the talent to be an elite defensive team. Ivica Zubac will need to improve as a defensive anchor and rim protector at the center position, but there is reason to believe he has the tools to make that leap this upcoming season. Moreover, the Clippers have few, if any, players in the rotation who can be considered defensive liabilities outside of Lou Williams. When the game matters most, opposing teams are going to find it difficult to get a clutch bucket against this team.
Additionally, the Clippers have exceptional depth. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Montrezl Harrell, Mo Harkless, Patrick Patterson, Iviza Zubac and JaMychal Green are all established players who can play at least 14 minutes of quality ball each night. The Clippers also have young, talented players who could develop into reliable rotation players as early as this season, including Jerome Robinson, Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele.
– Jesse Blancarte
Paul George may miss the beginning of the upcoming season after undergoing surgery on both of his shoulders earlier this year. Kawhi Leonard missed most of the 2017-18 season and 22 regular-season games last season, in part, because of the injury issues related to his right quad. Patrick Beverley missed most of the 2017-18 season due to a knee injury that required microfracture surgery (though Beverley notably played in 78 regular-season games last season). Landry Shamet has had foot issues in the past, which required surgery as well.
Any significant injuries to either George or Leonard will knock the Clippers down from a title favorite to legitimate title contenders, though the same can essentially be said for any team if one of their respective star players goes down with an injury. Fortunately for the Clippers, the team has depth at every position and can use that depth to manage the minutes for the team’s top players.
– Jesse Blancarte
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can the Clippers effectively integrate Leonard and George into the team’s existing structure and win it all this season?
The Clippers pushed their chips into the middle of the table and went all in to win championships as early as this upcoming season. LA is banking on Leonard and George turning into one of, if not the most devastating star duo in the league. Leonard and George’s respective skill sets overlap in significant ways, but both stars have demonstrated an ability to play with other star players in the past. Both players also face injury issues that will be closely monitored by the Clippers’ medical and training staff throughout the upcoming season.
Having said all of that, the Clippers have the coaching, talent, depth, experience and star power to win the title this upcoming season. Other teams will push the Clippers and will stand in their way, but there is plenty of reason to believe the Clippers are the favorites to win it all this upcoming season.
– Jesse Blancarte
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