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The X-Factors: Clippers

David Yapkowitz continues Basketball Insiders’ X-Factor series with a breakdown of the Los Angeles Clippers.

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The resumption of the 2019-20 NBA season took a huge step forward recently with the NBA announcing plans to finish the regular season and playoffs at the World of Disney in Orlando, Florida.

Under the NBA’s proposed plan, 22 of the 30 teams will reconvene next month with a few weeks of training camp before games begin around July 30. While it’s a major step in trying to salvage the season, there are still issues that need to be resolved as evidenced by a players’ conference call Friday evening.

We’re continuing with our X-Factor series here at Basketball Insiders, taking a look at what each team’s most pressing issues are should the season indeed resume.

The Los Angeles Clippers vaulted themselves into contender status last offseason when they signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George. After their strong showing against the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, the general consensus was that they had already had a formidable supporting cast — and they just needed a superstar to fit in.

Well, they managed grab two and immediately placed themselves into the upper echelon of the league, something no Clipper team before them had managed to do. As talented as the “Lob City” Clipper teams were, they never were a legitimate threat to win a championship.

Despite being considered a contender, the Clippers still have somewhat of an underdog identity. In Leonard’s previous championships with the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, his teams were the underdogs coming into the series. George spent a few years on the underdog Indiana Pacers who had some memorable battles with the “Big 3” Miami Heat. Key players such as Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell were all previously discarded by other teams.

And now, all together on the Clippers, they remain in the shadow of their across the hallway neighbors, the Los Angeles Lakers.

There are some key factors surrounding the Clippers as they prepare to embark on what they hope will be a championship run. Before the season was halted, the Lakers were the best team in the league record-wise, and that was largely due to their size.

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers boasted one of the biggest and most formidable frontlines that was bolstered by a rejuvenated Dwight Howard off the bench. One of the questions that’s followed the Clippers all season is if they have the requisite size to combat the Lakers over a seven-game playoff series.

Harrell has routinely played larger than his size, but having to body up against Davis over the course of seven games is different than having to do it in a regular-season matchup. Ivica Zubac has the size, but is he quick enough to defend Davis on the perimeter?

The Clippers attempted to address those concerns by signing Joakim Noah right before the season was suspended. While injuries have taken away the player that was once an All-Star in Chicago, Noah is still a very serviceable player.

Last season with the Memphis Grizzlies, he suited up in 42 games and put up 7.1 points per game, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 16.5 minutes per. He’s a big body to throw at the Lakers size who will crash the glass and protect the paint. He’s a smart player with good court vision who can act as an additional playmaker in half-court sets.

Prior to signing Noah, the Clippers’ other backup bigs aside from Harrell — who usually finishes games — were Marcus Morris, JaMychal Green and Patrick Patterson. All three are more stretch bigs who space the floor with their shooting. Noah brings a much different skill-set to the table. It’s not clear what Noah’s minutes will look like if the season resumes, but he can be a difference-maker in a game or two if he’s utilized.

Another potential issue that’s followed the Clippers this season is their point guard play. When the season began, the only real point guard on the roster was rookie Terance Mann, and he hadn’t played the point regularly since high school. Beverley is the team’s defensive ace and Williams is more of a scorer. While both can act as the team’s point guard, they aren’t true floor generals.

While a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Williams also usually closes games and with both Leonard and George on the floor, a true point guard probably isn’t too pressing of an issue. But with the second unit, that’s where Reggie Jackson comes in.

A midseason pickup off the waiver wire, Jackson had an up-and-down time in Detroit that was beset by injuries. As soon as he suited up for the Clippers, he made an immediate impact. He appeared in nine games for the Clippers while averaging 9.1 points per game, 3.2 assists and shooting 45.2 percent from the three-point line.

He knows what his role is; that’s someone who can run the second unit and provide some stability in keeping the offense running when the starters/closers need a breather.

Perhaps the most pressing issue the Clippers face as they anticipate the season resuming is their health. Leonard has dealt with injuries during his career and last season with Raptors, he sat out games here and there as part of his “load management” protocol, a practice that he’s continued with the Clippers.

George has also had his share of the injury bug, and he began this season missing the first 11 games as he recovered from shoulder surgeries. He’s also had to sit out a few times this season with nagging injuries.

The Clippers as a whole have dealt with a myriad of injuries to various players this season. They’ve had rotating lineups and changes and have not had a fully healthy roster for a sustained period of time. They’ve had 29 different starting lineups to this point.

Should the season proceed as planned, the extended time off could stand to benefit the Clippers. This team cannot afford a major injury to a key player if they truly have their sights set on competing for the first championship in franchise history.

Provided that they can remain fully healthy and any point guard/center issues are mitigated by recent arrivals, the Clippers have just as good a chance as anyone to win it all. They stand to go where no Clipper team has ever gone before. There was a different sort of vibe around the Clippers this season, where the impossible finally seems possible.

David Yapkowitz has been a staff writer for Basketball Insiders since 2017. Based in Los Angeles, he focuses on the Pacific Division as well as the NBA at large.

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