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NBA Daily: Patrick Beverley’s Return Key To Clippers Potential Comeback

Patrick Beverley’s return and emphasis on defense could help lead Clippers back to playoffs, writes James Blancarte.

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Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is looking forward to the upcoming season emphatically stating recently that the team is focused on winning at a high level. The team was plagued by injuries last season but each player is projected to be healthy entering training camp. In addition, the team has the potential development of their two lottery draft picks and free agent acquisitions that will add depth from last season’s team. In fact, while the Clippers lack superstar talent, their roster may be one of the deepest in the league.

None of that means that next season will be easy. Outside of a few teams, nearly every team in the West has the capability of being a playoff contender and, to some degree, has a reasonable expectation of making the postseason. Multiple outlets and Las Vegas betting odds have the Clippers winning under forty wins and slated to miss the playoffs. So, how does one explain the difference between outside expectations and the team’s projected internal belief? Part of the answer lies in what could be a feel-good comeback story for Patrick Beverley.

Beverley is coming off a season in which he only played in 11 games before going down with a knee injury. Once lost for the season after undergoing microfracture knee surgery, the Clippers also lost their defensive identity and continued to struggle with injuries to key players. Having recently turned 30 years old and coming off a serious operation, it is fair to ask how Beverley is doing now, which, per Tomer Azarly of ClutchPoints, he is happy to address.

“I’m really ready. I like to go out there, put my game on the line & that’s more than just talking. I’m feeling really, really strong, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life & we’re going to see soon,” Beverley said.

Beverley went on to state that the team would be making the playoffs this upcoming season. In his last full season, Beverley played in and started 67 games with averages of 9.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals in 30.7 minutes per game. In 11 games last season, Beverley averaged 12.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.7 assists. As such, his scoring and steals (would have been a career-high) jumped up while his rebounding and assists dropped off. The shift was the predictable result of a new team and an adjusted role.

Whether Beverley is able to recapture a starting role and pick up where he left off remains to be seen. However, Beverley did make clear that he, unsurprisingly based on his reputation, wants to see a new emphasis on defense.

“We’re going to change that name to clamp city,” Beverley said referencing the team’s widely used former nickname of “Lob City.”

The team is coming off a season in which they finished 19th in the NBA with a defensive rating of 107.7, just ahead of the Orlando Magic and just behind the Dallas Mavericks. The Clippers’ defense last season was inconsistent and had significant shortcomings, which led to the team falling short of a playoff berth. With Beverley back on the court, it’s possible the team could have a new found emphasis on shutting down their opponents rather than simply trying to outscore them.

The team and the franchise in general are looking for a new identity after the departures of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. While the team has a lot of talent, several of its prominent players are less than stellar defenders, which may make it difficult for a defense-first identity to take hold.

For reference, Beverley also tweeted “Clamps” when it was announced that the team would be bringing back shooting guard Avery Bradley, known for his one-on-one defensive abilities. Bradley, like Beverley, was also limited by injuries and only played in six games before he was shut down. Should Beverley, and potentially Bradley, return to their prime form on defense it will, at the least, help to offset less defensively capable players such as Williams, Harris, Milos Teodosic and forward Danilo Gallinari, who is also returning from injury.

“If you look at this team, our backcourt is loaded. It is loaded,” Jerry West, an Executive Board Member of the Clippers, said. “Last year, I feel a hundred percent sure last year, if we didn’t have all the injuries we had, would have made the playoffs.”

Being optimistic, Beverley with his effort and emphasis on defense, could also serve as the right kind of example and mentor for rookie guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson. Gilgeous-Alexander showed flashes of brilliance in the Las Vegas Summer League and would do well to learn from Beverley. However, if the team and Beverley are not doing well, there may be pressure to allow Gilgeous-Alexander to play instead at some point during the season, which could cause some tension.

Should the team fail to find a new identity and struggle to keep a playoff pace, it may be more advantageous to trade capable players on cap-friendly contracts that other teams find appealing. Knowing there is a glut at guard for the Clippers, other teams may make interesting offers. But the primary goal for the Clippers is to stay competitive and make the playoffs.

The Clippers’ schedule is brutal at the outset of the season, so it’s possible that the team could start the season slowly and lose faith in achieving their goal of making the postseason. But the Clippers have an interesting mix of veteran talent, depth and now even youth. However, the Clippers will need to turn around their defense and start competing at a high level on both ends of the court. Beverley may be the key to making that happen.

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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