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Good, Bad, and Ugly: The Spirited Clippers

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The Clippers have been a fun team to watch this season, and a large part of that has been their “never quit” attitude. However, problems lurk on the horizon, led by the Clippers’ chief adversary: the Injury God.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Good:

Montrezl Harrell:

If Lou Williams wasn’t having the season he’s having, Montrezl Harrell would certainly be a strong candidate for the 6th Man of the Year award. For the season, Trez is averaging nearly 10 points and 4 rebounds per game in just 15.2 minutes while shooting 62.1% from the field—and that’s counting his early season games, when he didn’t play nearly as much as he does now. Harrell’s stellar play has forced Doc Rivers’ hand, and his minutes have crept up in the past two months. He just finished a February where his numbers went up to 13.2 points per game in 18.2 minutes on 68.4% shooting, and where it seemed like more often than not he was dunking on anyone and everyone within his vicinity. Harrell plays with an infectious energy that ignites his teammates and the Staples Center crowd alike. His emotional play this season has swung several games this season: there is never any doubting his effort or desire to win, and it shows. Montrezl has quickly become a true fan favorite, and watching his development and explosion in recent months has been incredible.

Clippers’ Heart:

The Clippers haven’t always executed at a high level this season. The Clippers certainly haven’t consistently put a team on the court that has featured top talent this season, mostly due to injuries. What the Clippers have done, however, is played their hearts out in almost every game in the 2017-2018 season, particularly in the last few months. Sure, individual players have had off nights and games where their effort and spirit have wanted at times. But overall, this team has fought hard each and every night, refusing to give up no matter how large the deficit. They are unafraid of any opponent and are confident that they can win a game no matter the circumstances. This attitude has shown in the four games since the All-Star break—they played the Warriors hard, held on to their lead against the Suns, came back from a massive deficit to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Denver, and made a competitive game out of what could have been a blowout against the Rockets. Their never-say-die defiance has made them entertaining to watch, and a joy for fans to root for. If they were not so snake-bitten by injuries, the Clippers might have been a real force this season.

Bad:

Milos Teodosic:

Milos’ shooting has improved as the season has gone along, especially when he catches and then shoots as opposed to shooting off the dribble. His general field goal percentage has increased every month, and he’s finally nearing 40% from the season. Milos remains an efficient passer, and the Clippers’ offense definitely moves the ball more when he’s in the game. The problem with Milos is two-fold. The first is that he has little ability to create his own shot, as he simply doesn’t possess the burst or ball-handling to free himself from NBA defenders on a consistent basis. On a Clippers’ team that no longer has a primary shot-creator in Blake Griffin, the burden of creation falls more equally on everyone else, and that might be asking too much of Milos.

The bigger problem is on defense though, where Milos has seemingly sagged from a very bad defensive player to one of the worst in the NBA. He can’t stay in front of anyone, he’s confused on help rotations, and he can’t switch against larger or smaller players due to lack of strength and quickness. The Clippers’ defensive rating with Milos on the court has increased (bad thing) every month, and the decline in his already poor lateral quickness is noticeable. It seems likely that his plantar fasciitis injury is bothering him, and he might be sitting out if the Clippers’ weren’t so thin at guard already. But right now, even though his effort and shooting are appreciated, he’s a liability against far too many teams, and his minutes should be curtailed accordingly.

Tyrone Wallace Situation:

It appears that the Clippers and Tyrone Wallace have reached an impasse regarding his signing with the on a regular NBA deal. His days in the NBA granted to him by a two-way deal are up, which means that he’s been forced to return to the G-League. The Clippers want to sign Wallace, as he’s been incredibly valuable to them as a versatile guard who can play at three different positions. Wallace wants to play in the NBA. So what’s the issue? The sticking point is apparently on the contract for next season—the Clippers want to have him, but probably not on a guaranteed deal. Wallace, on the other hand, obviously thinks he’s earned that extra season of assured money. My two cents: Wallace is good, and young, and there’s no reason the Clippers shouldn’t want to have him locked up next season. Cap flexibility is good, but Wallace is a player who the Clippers can build with, and another season at the minimum just doesn’t seem like that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.

Ugly:

Injuries:

In my last GBU, I said that the Clippers were finally getting healthy-- blame me for jinxing the Clippers, who are now once again as beaten up as they were a month or two ago. Avery Bradley and Jawun Evans are both out with sports hernias, an extremely painful injury for which rest (and potentially surgery) is the only real cure. While Doc Rivers opined that Bradley would be back in a couple weeks, he also couched that he had no idea when Bradley might return. Bradley confirmed this today, as he essentially stated if he doesn’t know if he will play at all the rest of this season. Since he supposedly probably will need the surgery this summer, it doesn’t seem like his injury is getting better anytime soon. The same applies to Evans, but he doesn’t have the pressure Bradley does of impending free agency and the prospect of a big contract slipping away daily.

Adding those two to Patrick Beverley (also confirmed out for the season) means that the Clippers’ guard rotation is getting thin again, especially with the Wallace and CJ Williams’ contract situations up in the air. Danilo Gallinari being out with a bruised hand (apparently not improving) is possibly even worse, as the Clippers’ desperately need his shooting, shot creation, and size on the perimeter on both ends. If the Clippers are to have any shot at the playoffs without Bradley, Evans, and Beverley, they really need Gallo to suit up for just about every game left on the schedule.