Sweet Lou Williams: Lou Williams is playing like an All Star. He’s averaging 19.6 points and 4.7 assists per game on 44.9/39.6/89.6 shooting, which is incredible efficiency. He generates buckets whenever the Clippers’ offense runs dry, he has chemistry with every Clippers’ big man, and he has demonstrated a proficiency for coming up clutch. Not much else needs to be said. He’s phenomenal.
Milos and Danilo Return: The Clippers are, finally, getting healthy. Yes, Gallinari missed last night’s game against the Raptors with a left glute contusion, but that’s not an injury that should keep him out for more than a game or two. Gallo also had his best game as a Clipper on Saturday against the Wizards on Saturday, getting to the line, making plays for others, and generally just looking comfortable. Meanwhile, Milos made his long awaited return yesterday, and it was worth the wait. He didn’t have any assists, but his crisp passing and sure-handed running of the offense was a welcome change from the iso-dominant ball of previous weeks. As he gets his legs under him, and the rest of the Clippers become more adjusted to his presence, expect fireworks. He can shoot, and can make passes nobody else on the team would even attempt. Between he, the rookies, and Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers shouldn’t lack for energy or excitement. If the Rooster and the passing wizard can stay healthy, this Clippers team could be something, even with Blake Griffin out.
Rooks Earning Minutes: One of the biggest complaints Clippers’ fans have had against Doc Rivers over the years is his failure to play young players. He’s bucked that trend this year, probably because all of the Clippers’ rookies have proven themselves worthy of minutes. Until this past game (where he missed all three of his shots and was benched for Sam Dekker), Jamil Wilson had been a bright spot for the Clippers, providing athleticism on defense and spacing on offense. While he might lose his spot to Dekker, he still gave the Clippers a few good games. CJ Williams is reliably competent on both ends of the court: he doesn’t force action on offense, and is a solid defender. Jawun Evans is improving every game, and looks increasingly decisive on the court. If his three-point shots continue to fall, look out. He’s fast, he has good playmaking instincts, and he tries super hard on defense. That seems like the making of an NBA rotation. Finally, there’s Sindarius Thornwell, one of five Clippers to have made an appearance in every game this season. While his offensive game needs work, especially attacking off the dribble, he is always active, and is already a good one on one defensive player. All four of these guys have shown more promise than any Clippers’ draft pick since at least 2013 (Reggie Bullock), or, more probably, 2010 with Eric Bledsoe and Al Farouq Aminu. That might be a sad statement on the Clippers’ recent draft history, but it’s also a compliment to their current batch of rookies, who have all shown promise.
Clippers in a Tough Spot in Standings: On one hand, the Clippers are sitting in a pretty good place to make a playoff push. Despite only being 10-15, they sit a mere 2 games back of the offensively challenged Utah Jazz for the 8th seed. The Thunder, regardless of their talent, don’t seem to be turning their season around any time soon. If Gallinari comes back soon, and the Clippers don’t suffer any more injuries, they could still be hanging around that 9th-10th spot in the West by the time Blake returns. All that is good if the Clippers want to make the playoffs. The dilemma is that being the 7th or 8th seed and getting destroyed by the Warriors or Rockets in the playoffs doesn’t seem nearly as helpful as being in the draft lottery and having a shot at a franchise-changing talent. Right now, the Clippers are stuck in the middle between the playoffs and the lottery. I think they should just let the games play out and see what happens, but there’s no question a tough choice awaits the Clippers front office if they stay in no-mans-land. Do they shop veterans like DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams for young players and draft picks? Or do they go all in on a playoff appearance? A lot rests on the Clippers keeping their heads above water until Blake returns (and on Blake coming back in a semi-timely manner). Until then, they have to hope the Thunder remain as hopeless as they’ve looked most of this season.
Not Seeing This Team At Full Health: It sucks that this team has been as crippled as injuries as it has been. With the young guys playing so well, and with such fantastic performances from Lou Williams and Austin Rivers, it’s tempting to dream about how good this team might have been with Pat Beverley and Blake Griffin. With how weak the West has been this season, it’s quite possible a healthier Clippers team could be up there with the Wolves fighting for 4th in the Conference. It’s not hard to see this team with Blake and Pat being four games over .500 instead of four under, and they probably would have been incredibly fun as well. Oh well. Such is life as a Clippers fan. As long as the Clippers stay mostly healthy for the rest of the year, this season is plenty salvageable. And, if they close out the season strong, there’s also a possibility most of this crew comes back again next year.
For a team that’s 10-15, especially considering it’s the Clippers, there’s a remarkable amount of positive energy around this team at the moment. With any luck it will translate into a winning streak!